The inspiring story of the Hogar Rafael Ayau, an Orthodox Christian orphanage in the heart of downtown Guatemala City Guatemala. The video describes the journey to provide a home for hundred of children and the need to seek new home outside of the city:
Secular historians sometimes misrepresent early Christian monks as fanatical madmen. An excellent analysis and refutation of this charge was recently published by Paul Federer in “Uncertain Transformation: The Role of Asceticism in Death in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.” Federer cites Edward Gibbon (among others) for this negative view:
The rigorous ascetic regime of Christian monks has tempted many historians to conclude that monks believed salvation from death was the result of works preformed to atone to for sin and appease God’s wrath. Edward Gibbon provides one of the earliest incarnations of this view in his Decline and Fall of the Rome Empire, when states “inspired by a savage enthusiasm which represents man as a criminal and God as a tyrant [monks] embraced a life of misery as the price of eternal happiness.”
Federer goes on to show the fallacy of this perspective:
These criticisms paint Christian monks as dangerous fanatics and subtly link them with an intellectual decline in Late Antiquity. These audacious indictments rely on a misunderstanding of asceticism’s role in the monastic vocation. Gibbon, Dodds, and Fox impose a ghoulish God on the church of Late Antiquity who revels in the suffering of his servants. The Apothegmata rejects this view arguing that asceticism was the means of Christians’ transformation as opposed to an end that allowed them to escape the wrath of an angry God. In her introduction to The Sayings, Benidicta Ward provides an eloquent explanation of ascetic practices and their role in monastic life, “Monks went without sleep because they were watching for the Lord; they did not speak because they were listening to God; they fasted because they were fed by the Word of God. It was the end that mattered, the ascetic practices were only the means.” Gibbon, Dodd and Fox portray ascetic practices as a frantic scramble to endure sufficient personal suffering in exchange for a pardon from a vindictive God. Ward demonstrates that individual transformation and not divine pardon was the goal of such acts, “All ascetic effort, all personal relationships, life in all aspects was brought slowly into the central relationship with God in Christ.” Salvation was not a reward for a life spent in misery atoning for sin; it is a state of being.
The complete article can be read here.
From The Vitae Patrum:
An old man said, “Anyone freely praised by people is in not a little danger to his soul. But anyone not held in honor among people will finally be given glory.”
The same man said, “Seed will not germinate among weeds, and it is impossible for those who get praise and glory from the world to enjoy the harvest of heaven.”
The same man said, “When you are assaulted by thoughts of vainglory or pride, examine yourself whether you have obeyed all God’s commandments, loved your enemies, rejoiced in the success of your enemy and been saddened at his fall. If you constantly realize that you are an unprofitable servant and a greater sinner than all others, you will never then think highly of yourself however much good you may do, for you will remember that any boastful thought undoes all the good.”
An old man said, “Do not set yourself up against your brother, claiming that you are more reliable or abstinent than he. Be subject to the grace of God in the spirit of poverty and unfeigned charity, lest puffed up by the spirit of pride you lose all the fruit of your previous labors.”
Again he said, “Insofar as a man immerses himself in humility, so may he be exalted on high. Pride which would exalt itself to the skies is brought down to hell, and humility if it goes down to hell is lifted up to the heavens.”
Abba Macarius was once returning to his cell at daybreak carrying a bundle of palm leaves, when the devil met him carrying a sharp reaping hook. He tried to strike him down but failed.
“I suffer a great deal from you, Macarius,” he said, “for every time I want to harm you I am unable to do so. For whatever work you do I am forced to do even greater. You fast sometimes, I am never able to partake of any food; you frequently keep vigil, but I can never allow sleep to overcome me; but I declare that there is one thing in which you always come out the winner.”
“And what may that be?” inquired Macarius.
“Your humility alone it is that beats me.”
As the devil said this, the blessed Macarius lifted up his hands in prayer, and the unclean spirit vanished into thin air.
One of the fathers said, “Everything a monk labors at is worth nothing without humility. Humility goes before love just as John Baptist went before Christ, drawing all people to him. Humility draws you towards love, that is, to none but God, since God is love.”
A brother asked an old man what humility was. He replied, “It is the tree of life, growing up into the heavens.”
He also said, “Humility is the ground in which God told us to offer him sacrifice.”
An old man when asked how the soul could acquire humility replied, “Think only of your own sins.” He added, “Humility marks the perfection of a human being.”
Abba Motois said that humility consisted in never getting angry and never causing others to get angry.
He also said that humility consists in forgiving the brother who sins against you, even before he has repented.
Prior to the Divine Liturgy, the bread and wine used for the service are prepared in what is known as the Proskomedia (Proskomide) or the Liturgy of Preparation. Because this service takes place behind the iconostas, its rich symbolism is sometimes not appreciated by the people who attend. There are a few ways to learn more about this service. Much is available online in articles at various sources but there are also some excellent videos on the Proskomedia service that have been produced worth watching. Thus, it is possible to see the service as it is traditionally performed at the altar of prothesis behind the iconostas as well as watch explanations of the service.
For example, here is a video recording of the service from St George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Greenville, South Carolina:
Another way to learn more about the proskomedia is from catechetical presentations by clergy. Here Fr. John Peck of St George Greek Orthodox Church in Prescott, Arizona presents an instructional proskomedia to members of his parish explaining some of its spiritual significance:
For further reading and viewing:
Of Prosphoras and Pre-Cut Pieces (contrasts the traditional Orthodox proskomedia service with the latinized shortcut service done in many Eastern Catholic parishes)
Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the world’s oldest continuously inhabited monastery, with a history extending back over 1700 years. In the mid-nineteenth century, it was at this monastery that what became known as codex Sinaiticus was discovered. It is the only known complete copy of the Greek New Testament in uncial script. Although this codex is now kept in the British Museum, St. Catherine’s library contains manuscripts famous throughout the world for their antiquity and for the range of languages that appear in the collection. Father Justin will show five manuscripts in particular that have been studied by scholars within the last year, as a way of demonstrating the continuing significance of the Sinai manuscripts for our understanding of the Scriptures and of the heritage of the Church.
Father Justin was born in Ft Worth, Texas, in 1949. He lived in Chile until the age of nine, after which his family moved to El Paso. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1971, he entered a Greek Orthodox monastery three years later. He was tonsured a monk in 1977, and ordained deacon and priest the following year. He has been a member of Saint Catherine’s Monastery since 1996, where his responsibilities have included the photography of the Sinai manuscripts with a high-resolution digital camera. Five years ago, the members of the community elected him librarian.
Fr. Justin answers questions:
Another look at St. Catherine’s Monastery can be seen here:
Some gems from the Desert Fathers:
Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this: ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said.The old man said to him, ‘Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’
Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, ‘this is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.’
He also said, ‘Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. ‘He even added, ‘Without temptations, no one can be saved.’
Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, ‘What ought I to do?’ and the old man said to him ‘Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.’
Abba Anthony said, ‘I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”‘
He also said, ‘Some have afflicted their bodies by asceticism, but they lack discernment, and so they are far from God.’
He also said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’
A look at St. Catherine’s Monastery near Mount Sinai — with interviews of some of the monks there:
The novel Pilgrimage to Dzhvari by Valeria Alfeyeva describes a conversation after Vespers in the monastery refectory between Guram, a first-time visitor of a monastery and its abbot, Father Michael:
Guram, one of the restorers, came in too. He’d stood through the service for the first time, crossed himself when everyone else did, and was now continuing a conversation he’d begun previously with the abbot.
“Tell me how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. I can’t understand this at all, and so receiving it…”
Darkness was pouring in through the open door and the window grating and it filled the room. Benedict, Archil, and Mitya sat at the unlit end of the table, while I sat on a couch in the corner. Guram was leaning against the doorpost. Only Father Michael was sitting beside the lamp, leaning his hands on the table, his eyes cast down. The lamp threw shadows against the hollows of his eyes. Moths fluttered against the funnel of the lamp and their shadows flickered about the ceiling in circles.
“This is a mystery, which therefore is not to be understood with the intellect,” the abbot replied, making an effort to overcome the silence. Guram waited and no one else spoke. “Remember, in Luke’s Gospel, the Virgin Mary asked the Archangel, ‘How will this be?’ How should she give birth to the Son of God? And the angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Almighty will overshadow you.’ That’s all we may say. The Holy Spirit comes down to create the flesh of Christ in Mary’s womb, and so during the liturgy he changes the bread and wine in the cup into the Body and Blood of Christ. How? This is where the secret lies.”
His voice was hushed, and hearing him speak, I felt the mystery being poured out on us that night with its mixture of darkness and light, and in us ourselves, in our ability to see, to think, to breathe, to suffer, to long for love, to long not to be burdened by any earthly possession. (pp. 88-89)
Valeria Alfeyeva, mother of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, wrote Pilgrimage to Dzhvari in Russian back in 1989 as an autobiographical novel to describe her own spiritual journey to the Orthodox Church.