It often seems to me that the thorns and thistles of our life’s condition are ordained by God in view of curing precisely our soul. I see this with absolute clearness in my personal life.
If you are seized with anger towards someone, try to imagine that both you and he must die; how insignificant his fault will then appear, and how unjust your anger, even if formally justified.
Sickness is the most favorable time for us to return to our own heart, to God. As soon as our health has improved, the possibility of this drifts once more to an infinite distance.
Faith has nothing to fear from negative polemics, the ordeal by the mind; faith is able to withstand such an ordeal. But what it has to fear in us is the terrible weakness of the spirit, “the apostasy of the heart” (Kireievsky’s expression).
Those who seek proof to justify their faith are on a false track. Faith is a free choice; wherever there is a desire of proof, even a desire hidden from ourselves, there is no faith. The evidences of divine manifestation must not be taken as “proofs” – this would lower, cancel, the great virtue of faith.
To free ourselves from inner chaos, we must recognize objective order.
This is the kind of man we most often encounter; he presents a combination of three traits: (1) pride – faith in his own strength, delight in his own creations; (2) a passionate love of earthly life; and (3) freedom from any sense of sin. How can such men approach God? What is their path? Can they be transformed? As they now are, they are hopelessly isolated from God; they do not even feel the need of Him. And it is this kind of personality that is cultivated by modern life, by education, literature, et cetera. The idea of God is erased from the soul. In order that such a man should be reborn, what catastrophes are required!
There is a spirituality closely enmeshed with emotions – esthetic, sentimental, passionate – which is easily combined with selfishness, vanity, sensuality. Men of this type seek the praise and the good opinion of the priest who confesses them; their confession is very difficult for him, for they come in order to complain of others, to whimper; they are full of themselves, readily accuse others. The poor quality of their religious exaltation is best demonstrated by the facility with which they pass to a state of anger, irritation. They are further from genuine contrition than the most inveterate sinners.
The man who does not order his life according to logic and common sense but proceeds from the supreme law – the law of love – is always right. All other laws are naught in face of love, which not only directs hearts, but “moveth the sun and other stars.” He who keeps this law within him lives. He who lets himself be governed by philosophy, politics, reason alone, dies.
Faith originates in love; love, in contemplation. It is impossible not to love Christ. If we saw Him now, we should not be able to take our eyes off Him, we should “listen to Him in rapture”; we should flock around Him as did the multitudes in the Gospels. All that is required of us is not to resist. We must yield to Him, to the contemplation of His image – in the Gospels, in the saints, in the Church – and He will capture our hearts.
What is the necessity for reading the Lives of the Saints? In the infinite spectrum of the paths leading to God, which are revealed in the lives of the various saints, we can discover our own; we can obtain guidance that will help us to emerge from the jungle in which our human sinfulness has entangled us to gain access to the path leading towards Light.
Answer to the dying woman who does not suspect the approach of death; answer to her perplexity – “I am prepared neither for life nor for death”: We cannot lead a genuine and dignified life here without preparing ourselves for death, without continually meditating upon the thought of eternal life.
My rule of life: to change our residence only when circumstances become pressing; to undertake nothing in the practical sphere on our own initiative, but to mine to the depths into which God has directed us.
How pathetic the complacency of our outlook on this present life is! The insubstantial little island of our “normal” existence will be washed away in the worlds beyond the tomb.
Here is the source of sin and folly – an aimless self-will instead of voluntary and spontaneous submission to Law.
There is a certain “constricted” condition of the soul in which we find it difficult to smile; we feel neither softness nor tenderness towards anyone – in one word, a petrified insensibility. Only prayer, especially the prayer of the Church, will dispel this condition. Such a mood is habitual to the proud, the melancholy, the vain, the debauched, the miserly; but to a certain degree, it is inherent to men in general: it is the condition of sin, of the absence of grace – man’s common condition. So far as the soul is concerned, this is already a hell on earth, death despite the life of the body; and it is the natural consequence of sin, which literally is death to the soul.
The normal order within our soul: (1) A mysterious life of the spirit of which we are unaware, the genuine pledge of our salvation – that which comes to us from holy baptism, from the sacraments, from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; (2) the vaporous cloud of our pseudo-virtues, disfigured, corroded, by the acid of vainglory: our so-called good deeds, our so-called prayer, truthfulness, straightforwardness; these mists obscure the true image of our wretched soul and hinder contrition; (3) the dense clouds of the actual sins we easily forgive ourselves: our continual judgment of other men, mockery, contempt, coldness, anger; (4) lastly, interior to all this, the deep, ancient strata of hereditary corruption which we share with the whole of humanity – the fundamental sinfulness from which arise, like poisonous vapors, blasphemous thoughts and impulses, all kinds of impurities, monstrous perversions.
I think of the meaning of sweat, tears, and blood for our purification and sanctification – of work, penance, martyrdom. Through them the body is freed of its psychic-animal elements, and the spiritual impulse, meeting no obstacle, pervades the whole man; this is why the Church elevates its martyrs, emphasizing precisely the shedding of blood; and this is why people honor the dead killed in war.
We must relinquish the notion that humanity is divided into two hostile camps, two different breeds of men, the just and the sinners – the first predestined for beatitude, the second, for perdition. Nothing of the sort is true. We are all sinful, all tainted, and our Lord suffered for all of us. All are equally dear to Him, and it is to Him that the final judgment belongs. That is why Christ’s words about love are directly followed by the words about judgment: “Judge not, that you may not be judged.”
Often we are saddened by the faded appearance of a friend or relative who has grown old. Yet this decline is a purely physical one that opens the way for beneficent spiritual forces arising from the depths of our interior. That blossoming, the wane of which we observe with dismay in ourselves and in others – bright eyes, ruddy complexions, deep, melodious voices – all that is but the flowering of our psychic-animal nature, and is without value. The more a man loses outwardly, the more profound is the rebirth in his interior. Yet it is well if this is so, and if the passing years do not lead instead to melancholy, to the fear of old age and death, to spiritual degeneration.
How far false ideals lead us! In this manner have many revolutionists lost their souls; proceeding from a righteous (but narrow) concept of the good of the people, they have attained only to satanic hatred, lies, murder. A similar fate awaits the adherents of the ideal of nationalism unless they subordinate this ideal to a higher one.
Our whole interior life is energized by the love of God. But whence shall we derive this love? All our loves are fed by sensible impressions of the beloved object (the world, our friends and loved ones). How shall our love, our faith, endure the ordeal if they are not nourished by evidences? Yet what sensible impression can we receive of God, Whom “no man hath ever seen”? We have Christ. Thoughts of Him, prayer, the reading of the Gospels – such is the food by which the love of Him is nourished. But it may be (and such is often the case) that our hearts are too unformed, too unreceptive. In this case, we must return to the lives of the Saints, to the writings of the Fathers. They hold the same light of Christ, but with a softer quality, mellowed in passing through the prism of a saintly human soul.
Only men who have no experience in such things can speak of the uselessness of making an effort in prayer, in the love of God. All striving towards God-even the weakest, even if forced -yields a vivid and irrefutable experience of His love. A man who has had this experience will never forget it. The same can be said of love towards other men. All love carries with it its own satisfaction and recompense. Here we find the experimental confirmation of the words “God is Love.”
I thought this was a refreshing piece on Halloween from an Orthodox perspective. Please post any comments over at the original article.
Ten Things I Won’t Do On Halloween
By John Sanidopolous
Last year I wrote a controversial piece about Halloween titled “Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction“. I want to make it clear that I am not out to defend Halloween or promote its celebration by Christians, though I do find it important to separate fact from fiction regarding this holiday, and leave each individual to observe the day as their conscience determines. Personally I prefer to keep Halloween and Christianity separate outwardly and coherent in my heart. The fictional fundamentalist folklore and mythology surrounding Halloween is in my opinion the darkest aspect of the holiday, and it is the truth that I seek to bring to light lest Christianity be undermined, as it so often irresponsibly is in society. However, I also understand it is not within everyone’s taste to celebrate Halloween, so mutual respect plays a large role in how I present the topic to Christians.
Though I am a proud celebrant of Halloween and very much enjoy many aspects of it as a cultural and seasonal celebration separate from the Church, it has become unfortunate that some things associated with the holiday must be avoided if we wish to celebrate with a clean conscience.
How did Halloween come to be as dark and sinister as it appears in our days? It’s all quite simple really if one looks at the history honestly and carefully. Halloween has its origins in the Christian Church. The mythology that Halloween has its origins in pagan times prior to Christianity arose in the 19th century among Celtic scholars who had their own personal agendas in falsifying history. The demonization of the holiday began among Christians, especially in the 1960’s as part of the counter-cultural movement in the United States. This demonization was based on the falsified history advocated by 19th century Celtic historians. However, since Neo-Paganism was on the rise in the 1960’s, Pagans and New Agers took advantage of this falsified history by claiming Christians took the notion of All Hallow’s Eve from the ancient Celts, whom they falsely claim an association with. This started an ideological war between the two factions ever since, and both were based on false ideas and information. The absurdity of the Christian arguments soon gave way to the secular overtaking of the holiday. And since Christians wanted nothing to do with Halloween, the Neo-Pagans were more than happy to come in and reap all the benefits.
Where does this leave us as Christians? Well, thankfully there are still many aspects to Halloween that leave us room to have enough fun and enjoyment without being a burden to our Christian conscience. Yet, there are still things we must avoid. And this should not alarm us nor should it cause extreme reactions, since Christians are called to weed things out in their daily lives in a secular environment. This is no different other than it is in a different context.
I cannot speak for every individuals conscience in presenting my own personal list of ten things I do not do on Halloween. But I offer this as a guide for those who are caught up in the confusion of the season.
This is my personal list of “Ten Things I Won’t Do On Halloween”, in no particular order:
1. I will not wear an unseemly costume.
I am not against Christians wearing costumes, but sometimes things can go overboard and we need to keep this in mind when choosing our costumes. For example, the Orthodox Church has specific canons that will not allow a man to wear women’s clothing nor a woman men’s clothing. This is rooted in Scripture. So no “sweet transvestites from Transylvania” either, for those who can catch the cultural reference. I would also avoid evil personifications of real figures, such as demons or serial killers, though I personally have no problem with fictional characters or even monsters. Deities or religious figures is something I would avoid too, as well as sexually provocative outfits.
2. I will not participate in Occult activity.
This includes such things as going to a psychic, a seance, or anything rooted in the New Age Movement or Neo-Paganism. It also includes paranormal games, such as playing with a Ouija board which can cause much spiritual harm. I personally enjoy haunted houses and tours, but sometimes occultic activity is implemented playfully; I will not participate in this either and will keep silent or stand back. If I find it offensive, I will mention it to the operators, though this all is very rare. I also am interested in visiting and investigating real haunted locations, but we should not invite communication with spirits of any kind as one often sees among paranormal investigators.
3. I will not attend a party that invites temptations.
Though I don’t consider myself much of a party person, over the years I have been invited to a few parties on Halloween. And like many parties, temptations could be involved either with drugs, alcohol, sex, paranormal games, etc. I personally don’t like those types of atmospheres, so I avoid them like a plague.
4. I will not subscribe to common Secular or Neo-Pagan beliefs promoted on Halloween.
The belief I have most in mind here concern spiritual matters regarding ghosts and energies and death. The occult deals with the manipulation of energy in the universe to bring about positivity in one’s life, though it can also be used for evil. The New Age mentality also, for the most part, considers ghosts to be the souls of dead people who have not been able to pass on to the next realm of existence. These are beliefs that run in contradiction to Christian beliefs and should not be subscribed to. The manipulation of energies is in fact demonic activity, while ghosts are demons who often, though not always, masquerade as innocent victims to establish their presence in our lives. This is often encountered today on paranormal TV shows, movies and ghost tours. Though I enjoy all three for different reasons, I will not subscribe to their beliefs.
5. I will not participate in pranks, vandalism or wild behavior.
Being in my 30’s, I am way past this part of my life, but when I was younger I participated in some minor mischievous behavior. However, it was all in fun and between my friends and I. Some however go a bit too far and start throwing eggs at moving cars and house windows, toilet papering the houses of enemies (also called TP’ing), spraying whip cream and foam string on cars which leave permanent damage, etc. This and similar such things I would not participate in and I plead others do the same as well. (If you happen to be a victim, here are a few tips to get you through on November 1st.)
6. I will not become fascinated with the dark side.
Interest in the macabre and the grotesque is a part of some people’s nature. I would include myself in that category, so I understand where such people come from. However people could bring it to a whole other level when they enter into total fascination with such things. I admit that I appreciate the beauty, art and history of such things, but it does not form who I am or fog my opinion or thinking so as to call good evil or evil good. Everything must be approached with moderation, and we must also realize that such allurements have their temptations as well.
7. I will not paganize Halloween.
Halloween is not a pagan holiday. Such notions are only born out of ignorance. It is a cultural and seasonal holiday that can be celebrated either for good or for evil, whatever one chooses. We are not bound by any ritual of the day that inevitably forces us to paganize it, nor does everything about it have to contradict our moral and spiritual principles. I would even consider it less confusing than Thanksgiving, which basically encourages us to break our Nativity Fast with a lot of non-fasting foods. There are some Christians who give up amidst the confusion and just hand the day over to the Devil. I am not that type of person if I don’t have to be. With knowledge comes much freedom, and research into the deeper meaning of the holiday and all its aspects is a very liberating task.
8. I will not Christianize the holiday.
Halloween was originally a Christian holiday dating before the Great Schism, but for Orthodox Christians it is no longer the case. Our days dedicated to the dead come weekly when every Saturday is dedicated to our loved ones who have passed on and we pray for them, as well certain special Saturdays throughout the Christian year. Also, our All Saints Day is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost, which usually is celebrated in the Spring. Therefore, as I said above, we ought to keep Halloween, if we choose to keep it, as a cultural and seasonal holiday that has spiritual aspects in so much as they are natural and inspired of God, since in the autumn death permeates the atmosphere. For a Christian, such an atmosphere can aid in one’s contemplation of death, which is encouraged by the Church Fathers as an aid in one’s spiritual life, as well help one to contemplate fallen creation which awaits future glory. My pet peeve however is when I hear Orthodox people bringing in a Christianized version of the holiday to replace the seasonal and cultural, thinking instead they are replacing it with occultic aspects of the holiday. This to me shows a level of fear and vulnerability brought about by ignorance and possibly even lack of faith. I also don’t like ideas using Halloween as an Orthodox enculturation tool to have children light candles before icons prior to being awarded with a piece of candy or any other such innovation. To me, it is not the proper response to the festivities.
9. I will not participate in any blasphemy on Halloween.
Blasphemy against God, the Church and the sacred is among the worst of sins and I will not take part in anything that encourages such things. Because of certain aspects of Halloween being paganized and secularized, and thanks to the ignorance of Christians who come out fully swinging against the holiday, it should not surprise us that the holy will be blasphemed. Last year on Halloween I saw a street preacher in Salem being harassed for preaching against the “evil’s” of Halloween, but this invited only blasphemy from certain jokesters in the crowd who were willing at least to listen. It basically was not the proper atmosphere nor the right approach. There are many ways this can take form on Halloween, just like it can on Christmas or Easter, so great care should be taken to not be a part of it.
10. I will not judge those who participate in Halloween to either a greater or lesser extent than I do.
Though I do have a gripe with extremists who I believe undermine Christianity, I do not have any problem with those who choose to either abstain from the celebrations or take it in head deep. Though Orthodox Christians should watch out to a certain extent for their brethren, for we are each other’s keepers, we should be much more lenient towards non-Orthodox who are not bound by the same responsibilities we have as being guardians of the truth of the gospel of Christ. Our kindness and Christian representation should always show forth in a secular environment so that we do not undermine the hope that lies within us.
A pleasant Halloween to all!
For further reading:
Morning and Evening Prayers from St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada:
The consecration of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lewiston, Maine from earlier this year:
Visitors to an Orthodox parish may hear of or experience a Panikhida Service for someone’s loved one who has passed away. These are usually served at special anniversaries of the death (such as the fortieth day or the first anniversary of the repose). These prayers are very comforting for the families and friends of the departed.
In the Orthodox Church, the various prayers for the departed have as their purpose: to pray for the repose of the departed; to comfort the living; and to remind those who remain behind of their own mortality, and the brevity of this earthly life. For this reason, memorial services have an air of penitence about them, and tend to be served more frequently during the four fasting seasons (Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Apostles’ Fast and Dormition Fast).
If the service is for an individual, it will often take place at their graveside. If it is a general commemoration of all the departed, or if the individual’s grave is not close by, the service will take place in a church, in front of a special “memorial table”. The memorial table is a small, free-standing table to which has been attached an upright crucifix, sometimes including also icons of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) and the Apostle John. The table will also have a place for the faithful to put lighted candles.
The deacon (or, if there is no deacon the priest) will swing the censer throughout almost the entire service, and all will stand holding lighted candles. Near the end of the service, during the final Troparia, all will either put out their candles or will place them in candle holders on the memorial table. Each candle symbolizes the individual soul, which, as it were, each person holds in their own hand. The extinguishing (or giving up) of the candle at the end of the service symbolizes the fact that each person will have to surrender their soul at the end of their life.
The Panikhida service is composed of Psalms, Ektenias (litanies), hymns and prayers. In its outline it follows the general outline of Matins, and is in effect a truncated funeral service. Some of the most notable portions of the service are the Kontakion of the Departed, and the final, slow and solemn singing of “Memory Eternal” (Slavonic: Vyechnaya Pamyat).
The memorial service is most frequently served after the Divine Liturgy; however, it may also be served after Vespers, Matins, or as a separate service by itself. (Adapted from Wikipedia)
A 40 day Panikhida Service:
My friend Teófilo de Jesús over at Vivificat has published the results of his survey of lay Orthodox on attitudes towards Orthodox-Catholic reunion. While there are only 105 respondents I think it gives a fairly accurate view of where many Orthodox (especially in North America) feel about potential reunion with the Catholic Church. He writes:
Although most respondents were remarkably open to exploring reconciliation and even for receiving a Council’s decision authorizing and enabling reunion, Orthodox respondents envisioned reunion only along strictly Orthodox theological lines, leaving little room for dogmatic diversity and with a significantly redefined notion of Roman Papal Primacy if one is to be retained at all. Despite exhaustive mutual consultation and general councils, reconciliation between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches may not take place at the grassroots, where lay Orthodox Christians reject membership within the reconciled Churches, making reconciliation a mere canonical formality without practical consequences and real liturgical communion between the Churches.
The whole report of the survey is well worth reading and can be accessed here.
Teófilo de Jesús is, as I understand, planning a similar survey of Catholic respondents to see what their responses would be from a Catholic perspective. That, too, would be an interesting read.
So far the survey has generated commentary from various Orthodox discussion boards and a Byzantine Catholic board. As far as I know, there’s been no commentary from any Roman Catholic blogs or discussion boards.
Please post any commentary on this survey at the Vivificat site.
One can sometimes hear people say that they avoid approaching the Holy Mysteries because they consider themselves unworthy. But who is worthy of it? No one on earth is worthy of it, but whoever confesses his sins with heartfelt contrition and approaches the Chalice of Christ with consciousness of his unworthiness the Lord will not reject, in accordance with His words, “Him that cometh to Me I shall in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
– St. Arsenius the Russian of Stavronikita (Athonite Monastery of St. Panteleimon, Athonite Leaflets, No. 105, published in 1905)
We must not avoid communion because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul and the purification of the spirit, but with such humility and faith that considering ourselves unworthy, we would desire even more the medicine for our wounds. Otherwise it is impossible to receive communion once a year, as certain people do, considering the sanctification of heavenly Mysteries as available only to saints. It is better to think that by giving us grace, the sacrament makes us pure and holy. Such people [who commune rarely] manifest more pride than humility, for when they receive, they think of themselves as worthy. It is much better if, in humility of heart, knowing that we are never worthy of the Holy Mysteries we would receive them every Sunday for the healing of our diseases, rather than, blinded by pride, think that after one year we become worthy of receiving them.
– St. John Cassian (Conference 23, Chapter 21)
But since I have mentioned this sacrifice, I wish to say a little in reference to you who have been initiated; little in quantity, but possessing great force and profit, for it is not our own, but the words of the Divine Spirit. What then is it? Many partake of this sacrifice once in the whole year; others twice; others many times. Our word then is to all; not to those only who are here, but to those also who are settled in the desert. For they partake once in the year, and often indeed at intervals of two years. What then? Which shall we approve? Those [who receive] once [in the year]? Those who [receive] many times? Those who [receive] few times? Neither those [who receive] once, nor those [who receive] often, nor those [who receive] seldom, but those [who come] with a pure conscience, from a pure heart, with an irreproachable life. Let such draw near continually; but those who are not such, not even once. Why, you will ask? Because they receive to themselves judgment, yea and condemnation, and punishment, and vengeance. And do not wonder. For as food, nourishing by nature, if received by a person without appetite, ruins and corrupts all [the system], and becomes an occasion of disease, so surely is it also with respect to the awful mysteries. Do you feast at a spiritual table, a royal table, and again pollute your mouth with mire? Do you anoint yourself with sweet ointment, and again fill yourself with ill savors? Tell me, I beseech you, when after a year you partake of the Communion, do you think that the Forty Days are sufficient for you for the purifying of the sins of all that time? And again, when a week has passed, do you give yourself up to the former things? Tell me now, if when you have been well for forty days after a long illness, you should again give yourself up to the food which caused the sickness, have you not lost your former labor too? For if natural things are changed, much more those which depend on choice. As for instance, by nature we see, and naturally we have healthy eyes; but oftentimes from a bad habit [of body] our power of vision is injured. If then natural things are changed, much more those of choice. Thou assignest forty days for the health of the soul, or perhaps not even forty, and do you expect to propitiate God? Tell me, are you in sport? These things I say, not as forbidding you the one and annual coming, but as wishing you to draw near continually.
– St. John Chrysostom (On Hebrews, Homily 17 10:2‐9)
The Bread which truly strengthens the heart of man will obtain this for us; it will enkindle in us ardor for contemplation, destroying the torpor that weighs down our soul; it is the Bread which has come down from heaven to bring Life; it is the Bread that we must seek in every way. We must be continually occupied with this Eucharistic banquet lest we suffer famine. We must guard against allowing our soul to grow anemic and sickly, keeping away from this food under the pretext of reverence for the sacrament. On the contrary, after telling our sins to the priest, we must drink of the expiating Blood.
– St. Nicholas Cabasilas (The Life in Christ)