A Prayer of Confession by St Symeon the New Theologian

May 22, 2012

I have traveled far, O Lover of mankind,

I have lived in the desert,

hiding from You, my sweet Master.

I have been brought to this state by the night of life’s cares,

where I have suffered many bites and wounds,

where I get up bearing many wounds in my soul

and I cry in my pain and in my suffering of heart:

“Have mercy, show pity on me, the transgressor!”

O Doctor, Lover of souls, the One who only loves mercy.

You are the one who heals gratuitously the sick and wounded

heal my crimes, my wounds.

Let Your oil of grace drop, my God, and pour over my wounds,

stanch my ulcers, cauterize and revigorate

my weakened members and make all the cuts disappear,

O Savior, and give me perfect wholeness as I enjoyed before,

when I was not so stained,

when I was not a criminal,

not enflamed with wound or blemish, O my God,

but then I possessed serenity and joy,

peace and gentleness and holy humility and magnanimity

where there was a fullness of patience and of outstanding works,

an endurance and invincible power towards everything.

Then there was an abundance of consoling tears each day,

there was joyful exuberance in my heart,

which flowed out like a spring, pouring forth inexhaustibly

like a fountain from which poured forth honey, a drink of joy,

to which I ceaselessly returned in the mouth of my spirit.

There was complete health, there purity,

there the extinction of all my passions and vain thoughts,

there impassibility produced in me a face illumined,

and it has always stayed with me, spiritually speaking,

understand me properly, I beg you, read these words,

not interpreting what I say in any stupid, impure image,

but it brought me an ineffable pleasure of union

and an unlimited desire for nuptial union with God.

Receiving this, I also became impassible,

enflamed with pleasure, burning with desire for it

and I participated in the light,

yes, I became light, above every passion, beyond every evil,

for passion does not flower in the light of impassibility

any more than shadow in darkness of light flowers in the sun.

Therefore, having become such and really being such,

I relaxed, O Master, because I had confidence in myself.

I was overcome by the cares of sensible things

and I fell, O wretched one, to the worries of the concerns of life.

And as iron once it has cooled, I became black,

and dragged through the earth, I took on rust.

And this is why I cry out to You again to purify me,

to my first beauty and to let me enjoy again Your light,

now and always and forever and ever. Amen.

Hymn 46 from Hymns of Divine Love by St Symeon the New Theologian.

Why We Sing the Divine Liturgy

October 29, 2011

By Jane M. De Vyver

The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is always celebrated with unaccompanied singing, because the human voice, the only instrument that God Himself created, is considered the sole instrument worthy to be used in His praises. Only the human voice can adequately convey the heart’s love for God. The voice does not just produce a musical sound, but combines beauty of sound with intelligible words so that we can praise and glorify God with both our hearts and our minds, and so “that we may welcome the King of all, Who comes invisibly escorted by angelic hosts.”

We sing everything in the Liturgy because speech is not as beautiful as song, and only the most beautiful we can offer is good enough for God. We sing everything, because what is celebrated is the Divine Liturgy, not the human liturgy, and in the divine vision, the angels constantly sing praises to God and behold his ineffable beauty. What we do on earth in the Divine Liturgy, where we participate in and taste the first fruits of the Kingdom of God, is a reflection of the Celestial Liturgy. We sing in the Cherubic Hymn, “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim, and sing the trice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now set aside all earthly cares.” When we do set aside all earthly cares, we can indeed rejoice in the peace, love, and harmony of God’s Kingdom, and express that joy in the beautiful song.

Since we (those who sing) represent the cherubim on earth, and the cherubim constantly sing God’s praises, naturally we, likewise, sing constantly throughout the whole Liturgy, and as beautiful as we can but without any insincere showiness.

Indeed, the task of standing in the place of the cherubim at the Divine Liturgy is a very high calling.

The choir and people of St. Innocent Orthodox Church (Olmsted Falls, Ohio) join in singing the Divine Liturgy

In addition to singing the praises of God, singing the liturgical text throughout the year also fulfills the important function of teaching the people through the words of the hymns. Thus to accomplish both purposes, the singing must be done with careful attention, awe, reverence, humility, and above all, with understanding. Because we praise God with our minds as well as our hearts, the Church’s services have always been in the language of the people so that all may participate with understanding.

All of the Church’s teaching of salvation, history, all of the Church’s spirituality and inner essence in life are contained in the fulness of the Church’s liturgical life, and therefore,

If you know what you are chanting, you acquire consciousness of what you know; from this consciousness you acquire understanding; and from understanding you bring into practice what you have become conscious of,  (Theoleptos)

and this is the description of Christian life.

The Lord’s Prayer in American Sign Language

March 2, 2011

A short, but well-done interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) into ASL by Armenian Orthodox acolyte Tigran Khachikyan:

The Goal of Earthly Life: Prayer

March 1, 2011

By Fr. Touma Bitar

He came to me with the question, “I do not pray very much lately. I think I’m falling into negligence. What should I do to bring my prayer back?”

If you truly want to bring your prayer back, then you are able to do this in an instant. Through prayer you acquire prayer. Prayer is an act of will. Pray regularly. A little or a lot? It doesn’t matter. With feeling or without feeling? That doesn’t matter either. You begin with the body, with words and motions. What’s important is that you do it attentively. Don’t be hasty and don’t be slow. Don’t raise your voice and don’t hush it. Be moderate. Put your mind on what you are saying, on each word. Understand what you are saying. Whenever your mind wanders, even a little bit, bring yourself back. Prayer with the body, with the tongue, the hand, the fingers, bending the body in bows and prostrations, keeping attention and understanding the meanings, all of this and similar things, is the introduction to the prayer of the heart. In prayer, the motion is from the outside towards the inside, and upwards. Prayer through control of the body enters one into tranquility. Tranquility enters him into humility, and humility raises up within him the fragrance of peace. Everything else follows after this.

Prayer is not an issue of temperament. This is why it only comes by force. A person forces himself, and it is given to him. Indeed, it is given to him as a gift from above! Likewise, if one waits to be overcome with a desire for prayer in order to pray, then he will never pray. Prayer with desire is in general psychological prayer with no spiritual value. The basic desire for prayer, or you could say spontaneous prayer, only comes with strength and grace from the Most High. The beginning of prayer is not like this. Zeal for prayer might arise in the soul after encountering a person praying or after hearing or reading words about prayer that move the heart, and then when he begins to pray his interest quickly ceases and he finds prayer monotonous and dry. If he goes back, he loses it and if he stays firm and constant then he arrives at true prayer that spreads its roots in his soul, little by little, until it reaches its depths!

Usually the Lord God comforts one who prays at the beginning of the path, in order for him to stay firm. However, the comfort does not come when watched. You do not know when it will come to you. Pay attention that you do not wander off into imagination. Do not make room for images and feelings to slander you. That will lead you astray! Just the opposite, once you become familiar with prayer, beware of fantasies, images, and feelings because in that is a departure from prayer. Likewise be careful about sentimentality and mental laxity. Prayer is something calm and firm! Standing before God in prayer is something very serious. Naturally, God is not harsh, but He is not indulgent either. Prayer has its own special characteristics. Its joy is tranquil and its peace is alert. Its solace is mixed with thanks, a sense of unworthiness, and repentance.

Prayer connects you to God, to the Holy Trinity, to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Prayer is God’s language to man so that he will rise up to Him and enter into a relationship with Him. Thus, Prayer teaches prayer and what comes before in it leads you to what comes after, just as the number one leads you to the number two and on to three and so forth. You do not needs techniques in prayer. It comes to you of itself when you insist on standing in the presence of God and when your Lord gives you what you ask. God seeks communion and calls you to Him and when you take a step in His direction, He leads you to Him, just as a father takes the hand of his child or a guide walks ahead of a traveler. Nothing is closer to the human heart than prayer. Man is put together to be a being of prayer. At the deepest level, man realizes his humanity in which God created him in prayer. Why does the heart not incline to it spontaneously from the very beginning? Because the passions of the soul and the body have murdered man’s heart and taken control of it. For this very reason at the beginning a person needs to force himself to prayer, and then his heart will welcome it and take joy in it because it matches what is deeply rooted in him, even if it was hidden at first.

So prayer is the greatest gift to man, not only because it connects man to God, but because it is also the need and the solution for all things that man faces. People imagine that their problems and worries can be solved on the horizontal level, through human capacities. No doubt something of this is necessary, but everything without exception, all the cares and difficulties should first be faced with prayer, that is on the vertical level, by casting them at the feet of Jesus. It is no surprise that the Lord said, “Come to me all who are burdened and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Our rational solutions and initiatives are not always correct, but the Lord God knows exactly what we need. This is why through prayer, through putting the matter in God’s hands, through giving oneself and one’s concerns over, one finds the appropriate solution to all one’s problems!

However, if you correctly practice prayer, it draws you to the divine commandments, to repentance, to faith, to gentleness, and especially to love. Then if you practice the divine commandments, God’s presence will become deeper in your life and the commandments will then nourish your prayer and press you on to prayer. But if you disregard the commandments, then prayer will quickly wither. If the commandments cause the relationship with God to grow, then prayer does too. For this reason, the commandments and prayer support each other so that the faithful will grow and attain the fullness of stature of Christ, love. This support is also accompanied. One prays and one works. One strives to lift his heart upwards at every moment and in every occasion. This is with regard to ordinary believers. But there are those for whom prayer becomes their work. Such people reach the end of prayer and the goal of work at the same time!

The truth is that prayer invites prayer. As long as one is engrossed in prayer, as long as one makes a habit of it, it rules his heart. At the end of the day, it is not as prayer that it satisfies man’s being. The way is open for man to drink from prayer as much as he wants. Prayer is the goal of man’s path on earth. A person who does not pray and who does not lift his heart and his mind upwards remains just the outline of a person, no matter what he has accomplished! “What use is it for a man if he has gained the whole world but lost his soul?”

Reprinted with permission. Translated from the Arabic by Samn! at: H/T: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy

Singing “Holy God”

February 27, 2011

One of my favorite hymns of the Divine Liturgy is when we sing “Holy God” (the Trisagion). There are several melodies for this ancient hymn, reflecting the varied heritage of the Church.

Here, for example, is the choir of St. Luke Orthodox Church in Erie, Colorado:

A bit about St. Luke’s in Erie can be read here.

This is a hymn our family would sing together sometimes (along with other family favorites) while traveling in our car on long road trips. I guess it’s these memories that make the following rendition of “Holy God” by this little girl named Ana so precious! She does a great job and is even joined by one of her siblings:

St. Nikolai Velimirovich and Mahatma Gandhi

February 26, 2011

H/T: St. George Orthodox Church of Prescott

A Letter of St. Nikolai Velimirovich to British Noble “Charles B.”

As a man of faith, you are troubled by the thought — what will Providence do with Gandhi? And what is the meaning of the appearance of this strange person among the statesmen and politicians of our time?

A warning from God. That is surely the meaning of the leader of the great Indian nation. Through that person, Providence is showing politicians and the statesmen of the world, even Christian ones, that there are other methods in politics than skill, wiliness and violence. Gandhi’s political method is very simple and obvious: he does not require anything except the man who cries out and the God Who hearkens.

Against weapons, ammunition and army, Gandhi places FASTING;

against skill, wiliness and violence, PRAYER;

and against political quarrel, SILENCE.

How puny and pathetic that looks in the eyes of modern men, right? In modern political textbooks, these three methods are not even mentioned in footnotes. Fasting, prayer and silence! There is hardly a statesman in Europe or America who would not ironically see these three secrets of the Indian statesmen as three dry twigs pointed on the battlefield against a heap of steel, lead, fire and poison.

However, Gandhi succeeds with these three “spells” of his; he succeeds to the astonishment of the whole world. And whether they want to or not, political lawmakers in England and other countries will have to add a chapter into their textbooks:

“Fasting, Prayer and Silence as Powerful Weapons in Politics.”

Imagine, would it not be to the fortune of all mankind if these methods of the unbaptized Gandhi replaced the methods of the baptized Machiavelli in political science?

But it is not the Indian’s method in itself that is such a surprise to the world, as it is the person using the method. The method is Christian, as old as the Christian faith, and yet new in this day and age.

The example of fasting, prayer and silence was shown by Christ to His Disciples. They handed it down to the Church, along with their whole example, and the Church hands it to the faithful from generation to generation until this day.

Fasting is a sacrifice, silence is inward examination of oneself, prayer is crying out to God. Those are the three sources of great spiritual power which make man victorious in battle and excellent in life. Is there a man who cannot arm himself with these weapons? And which crude force in this world can defeat these weapons? Of course, these three things do not include all of the Christian faith, but are only a part of its rules, its supernatural mysteries.

Sadly, in our time, among Christians, many of these principles are disregarded, and many wonder-working mysteries are forgotten. People have started thinking that one wins only by using steel, that the hailing clouds are dispersed only by cannons, that diseases are cured only by pills, and that everything in the world can be explained simply through electricity. Spiritual and moral energies are looked upon almost as working magic.

I think that this is the reason why ever-active Providence has chosen Gandhi, an unbaptized man, to serve as a warning to the baptized, especially those baptized people who pile up one misfortune on another upon themselves and their peoples by using ruthless and harsh means. The Gospel also tells us that Providence sometimes uses such warnings for the good of the people. Your Grace will immediately realize that I am alluding to the Roman captain from Capernaum (Matt. ch. 8). On the one hand, you see the Elders of Israel who, as chosen monotheists of the time, boasted of their faith, meanwhile rejecting Christ, and, on the other hand, you see the despised Roman pagan who came to Christ with great faith and humility, asking Him to heal his servant. And when Jesus heard it, He was astonished and said to those who followed Him,

“Truly I say to you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.”

The Christian world is the new, baptized Israel. Listen! Is Christ not telling the same words today to the consciences of the Christian Elders by pointing to today’s captain of India?

Peace and health from the Lord to you.

Source: Missionary Letters of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich: Letters 1-100, trans. Hierodeacon Serafim (Baltic), Vol. VI in A Treasury of Serbian Orthodox Spirituality (Grayslake, IL: New Gracanica Monastery, 2008), pp. 171-173.


Orthodoxy 102 Lectures on the Spiritual Life Now Starting

January 31, 2011

My wife and I really enjoyed last year’s classes and have signed up for this new series. Check out the first class here.

With The Blessing of His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas a seven-week on-line introductory class on the Orthodox Christian Spiritual Life, Orthodoxy 102, will begin on Monday January 31, 2011. The class, led by Fr. Peter Paproski, will be broadcast live each week from St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Stratford, Connecticut. The class will begin at 7:00 pm (Eastern Standard Time)  and will last approximately 60 minutes.

Topics to be discussed will include:

The Nature of the Church, Teachings of the Fathers on the Spiritual Life, Sin and Repentance, Combating the Passions and Training in the Virtues, Orthodox Worship, Faith and Works, Spiritual Life and the World.

Time will allowed at the end of each session for a question and answer period based on questions raised in person or via email or instant messaging. There is no charge for participating, however, those who wish to participate must register on-line to enter the class room and access the broadcast link. Audio recordings of each session will be archived for later study.

The first lecture was held on Monday, January 31st. An archive of that lecture can be seen here.

Videos of the most recent class will be available for viewing on demand at that link within two hours of the scheduled broadcast and will remain posted until the next scheduled class.

To register for the classes (at no charge), go to this link.

Last year’s Orthodoxy 101 classes can be listened to at this link.