The End of the Sacraments – The End of All Things

January 13, 2023 · Fr. Stephen Freeman

Here is an excellent writing on the Holy Mysteries, we as Orthodox, partake of and why they are the completion of our purpose, the purpose we are created for!

“There are those who like to point out that the traditional Orthodox word for “sacrament” (Eucharist, Baptism, Chrismation, Unction, Ordination, Marriage, Penance) is “mystery.” Common speech, though, usually reverts to the more popular, Western word. Interestingly, the Latin “sacramentum,” originally meant an “oath.” Exactly how it came to be the word used to describe these holy events in the life of the Church is not known (I have a guess, but I’ll keep it to myself). But even the term “mystery” was slow in coming to be the primary term used in the Orthodox Church. Language sometimes evolves slowly. That Greek-thinking Orthodoxy preferred the term “mystery” to the more legal-minded “sacrament” is itself a lesson. However, I will take us all down a different path – with a word from one of the Fathers that might give a clue as to how he thought about these things…”

Click here to read the entire article, it is well worth your time!

Complete us, Lord, and elevate us to the glory you have ordained for your sons and daughters!

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Orthodoxy — the Fullness of the Faith

“People come to the Orthodox Church because it is a solid stable bastion of traditional Christian values, where marriage and family are highly valued, multiple children are encouraged and the lifestyle is focused on the services and disciplines of the Church.  In Orthodoxy, the only alternative lifestyle is monasticism.  These values and the life of the Orthodox Church are the context for raising healthy families, and for the healing of the souls of those devastated by the world, as the whole community works out its salvation together…

Here we have the essential mission of the Church: to bring consolation and healing, through repentance, to those who are suffering.  “To proclaim the good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to give sight to the blind…”  This mission and its message are not to make people feel guilty and ashamed.  That is wrong in and of itself, especially when they already are cowed by their shame and guilt. 

​Our mission is to proclaim the Kingdom of God by loving people into the Church, by teaching them that repentance means healing and transformation, and that God loves them unconditionally.  Maybe eventually they will begin to be able to accept the love of God, and of others, and be healed.

​We will only be able to do this by being healed ourselves, by overcoming our egos and self-centeredness, and by learning to love. This demands asceticism. We must overcome the effects of Protestant culture that teach that God in his Sovereignty has created some for salvation, and some for damnation. That there is such a God, we reject.  God wills that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.”

– Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen. 2022

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The Praying Mind Seeks Union with the Heart

St Ignatius Brianchaninov
Glory to God!

From The Field, cultivating salvation

The doors of my senses have closed. My tongue is silent; my eyes are closed; my ears hear nothing that is outside me. The mind that is clothed in prayer, that has put away the weight of worldly thoughts, descends to the cell of the heart. The doors of the cell are shut; everywhere there is total darkness. The mind, in fear, begins to knock on the doors of the heart through prayer; it stands patiently at the doors, knocks, waits, knocks again, again waits, again prays. There is no answer there is no voice! The deathly quiet and dark are only answered by the silence of the grave. The mind leaves the doors of the heart, saddened, and crying bitterly it seeks consolation. It was not allowed to stand before the King of kings in the sanctum of the inner cell.

  Why, why were you so rejected?  

I am marked by sin. The habit of carnal thoughts distracts me. I have no strength within me, because the Spirit does not come to me for help, the all-holy and all-good Spirit, who reestablishes the union of mind, heart, and body that was severed by the terrible fall of man. Without the all-powerful, creative help of the Spirit, my own efforts are useless! He is most compassionate, He is eternally the lover of man, but my impurity does not allow Him access to me. I will wash myself in tears, I will purify myself through the confession of my sins, I will not give my body either food or sleep, which in excess only debilitate my soul. Robed in the cry of repentance, I will descend to the doors of my heart. I will stand there, or sit, like the blind man in the Gospels, I will bear the heaviness and boredom of the dark, I will cry out to the all-powerful One: Have mercy on me!    

And I went down, and I stood, and I began to cry out with tears. I became like unto the blind man who cannot see the true, unsetting Light, like unto the deaf and dumb man who can neither speak nor hear spiritually.  I truly felt that I was blind, deaf, dumb, standing before the gates of Jericho, the heart that is inhabited by sin. I wait for healing from my Saviour, Whom I cannot see, cannot hear, but to Whom I cry out, though it be a silent cry of my appalling state. I do not know His name, so I call the Son of God the son of David, because flesh and blood cannot give honor to God as God.   Show me the way, along which the Saviour walks! This way is prayer, as the Prophet said through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “The sacrifice of praise shall glorify Me; and there is the way, by which I will show him My salvation.”l Tell me, what is the hour of the coming of the Saviour? Is it in the morning, midday, or the evening? “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.”2  

The way is known, but the time is not! I will go outside the city, I will stand or sit at the gates of Jericho, as St Paul recommends: “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”3 The world is fading; everything in it is inconstant; it is not even called a city, but a camp. I will leave behind my attachment to money that is left behind after death, whether I want it or not, and often even before death. I will leave behind the accolades and honors that die with me; I will reject the pleasures of the flesh that make me incapable of the labors of the ascetic life.

For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come,”4 which will first reveal itself to me in my heart through the mercy and grace of God, my Saviour.

Whoever will not ascend to the mystical Jerusalem with his spirit during this earthly life will have no sure way of knowing that even after the separation of his soul from his body he will be allowed to enter the spiritual Jerusalem. The first serves as the pledge of the second. 5 Amen.


1. Ps 50:23
2. Mark 13:33
3. Heb 13:13
4. Heb 13:14
5. St. Hesychius, The Philokalia, pt. 2, Ch. 4. All the other Fathers write the same.  

The Field: Cultivating Salvation. (2016). The Printshop of St Job of Pochaev. Chapter 38
May our Lord and Savior bless us
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Who do we condemn??

Glory to God!!

“There is a temptation to reduce Orthodoxy, especially among young male converts, to a rational system of doctrines and dogmas, canons and rituals.  We get all excited about the new things we are learning, and about how far superior they are to the Catholic and Protestant systems of Christian thought, or to secular and non-Christian philosophy.  But because we are not mature in the Faith, we are off balance. 

All these things, doctrines, dogmas, canons and so forth, are there in order to support one primary purpose: the transformation of our souls in theosis, in short, salvation.  Just because you have the right doctrine, pure dogmas and strict observance of the canons does not mean that you are deified.  In fact, the great spiritual fathers all say that knowledge puffs up, inflates our ego, and inflames our passions.  These things will not save you.  They are the context for the spiritual struggle but are not its content.

If we judge others, condemn others, criticize others and generally exalt ourselves, we are simply the new Pharisees.  You can have perfect obedience to all the rules, and if you do not love your neighbor, they condemn you.  You can fast perfectly, and if you judge and criticize your neighbor, you condemn yourself. 

If you judge and criticize the Roman Catholics or the Protestants and their faith, and decide they are all going to hell, you have condemned yourself.  It is not for us to judge anyone else’s faith or salvation.  We need to worry about ourselves, and our own salvation.  We must not only mercilessly persecute hypocrisy within ourselves, but any kind of arrogance, selfishness, self-centeredness, and egotism. Otherwise, we make the truth into a lie, because we take what is good and holy, and use it to not only destroy others, but inflate our own egos. If you don’t have love, St Paul says, you are a sounding gong or clanging cymbal.

The Fathers tell us, over and over, that until we have achieved a substantial degree of purification from the passions, we must not touch theology.  In the early Church, the three year period of catechesis was primarily devoted to moral teaching from the Old Testament.  You have to live Orthodox to understand the Faith.”

– Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen

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Our God Given Tools

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not

unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is“ Eph 5:9-19

God has given to us many gifts, however, it is necessary for us to use these gifts well and wisely. If a highly skilled craftsmen were to be placed in a workshop with every tool imaginable, in perfect working order, and if he were given the best supplies to work with and the plans and examples of the kind of finished pieces that were possible, it would be expected that he would produce excellent work. However in order to do this, our craftsman would have to take the tools in hand, and using the plans and examples as a guide, begin to work on the raw material. He would need to work carefully, applying his skills and talents, in order to use the tools to their best effect so that in the end he would produce a beautiful work of his craft.

On the other hand, if the craftsman did nothing, no finished product would be forthcoming; or if he misused his tools or simply was not careful, then the end result would be flawed at best and he might end up with simply spoiling the materials that he had been given. If he did not follow the plan or example that he had been given then his finished product might bear no resemblance at all to that which was desired. In order to produce a finished product that was beautiful, functional and that fulfilled its purpose, it is necessary first that the craftsman use the time he had been given in the workshop and not neglect the task at hand. It is also necessary for him to use the tools he had been given not carelessly or ineptly, but rather applying all his skill to use them to their best advantage. Finally it is necessary that the craftsman follow the plan and examples given so that what he produces resembles the desired end product.

This is the same situation in which we find ourselves as Christians. We have been placed in a workshop with every possible tool, that is, we have been placed in the Orthodox Church by the rebirth of baptism and given every aspect of the tradition of the Church as a tool. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, in our Chrismation, who guides and directs us in the use of those tools, just as the craftsman has his skill. We are given the raw material of our own self and the plan set before us is the Gospel, which we should be reading daily. Using these tools and this workshop we are to shape and form ourselves into the likeness of Christ. As examples, we have the choir of the saints, so that we can see the many forms that this likeness can take and the many means by which this form is expressed. The time we have been given for this task is this life.

In order to embark upon this task, it is necessary that we do not waste the time that has been given to us. Every moment is precious and cannot be regained once it is spent. If we are negligent and slothful, we will allow those precious moments to be wasted, as water that is spilled to the ground and there spent to no effect. Therefore Christian, awake from your slumber, do not sleep through this life, but diligently begin to use wisely the time you have been given. The spiritual book, The Way of the Ascetics, begins with this very instruction saying, “If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Long enough have you dallied, sunk in indifference and laziness, you have let much valuable time go to waste. Arise, then; but do so at once, without delay. Do not defer your purpose till tonight or tomorrow or later, when I have finished what I have to do just now. The interval may be fatal. No, this moment, the instant you make your resolution, you will show by your action that you have begun a new life.” St Herman of Alaska echoes this urgency when he says, “..from this very day, from this hour, from this minute, strive to love God above all and fulfill his holy will!” There is no time to lose for any of us, whether old or young, whether healthy or ill, no matter who we are or what our situation, from this moment on we must no longer waste time, but focus on working out our salvation.

Not only must we begin working now, but we must use all the skill that we have, and all the tools that God has placed at our disposal. For this God has given to us His Holy Spirit and He lives in us. He is the master craftsman and through the grace that He bestows upon us, we can use what He has given us with precision and skill that we might conform to His image and likeness. Therefore we must not rely upon ourselves, but

rather we must act in such a way that we say with the Apostle, not I, but Christ in me. We have many spiritual tools in the Church, some more basic than others and some more powerful than others. The proper use and application of these tools is given to us in the tradition and life of the Church. Also we are given helpers and guides who are appointed to help us apply all of these tools in the most effective manner. These helpers are our priests, our spiritual fathers and elders. The elders are those who by their lives, have gained some experience and wisdom in the use of these spiritual tools. They can give sober advice based on what they have experienced in their own lives and struggles. Also we have the clergy who are given the special grace by God in their ordination to provide the help and direction to care for the flock of Christ and bring us all safely into the heavenly kingdom. It is incumbent then that we always work under supervision and guidance so that we avoid the danger of misusing the tools that we have and thus injuring ourselves. Let me say a quick voice on Elders, talk with your Priest before you think about talking to an Elder, or so-called elder.  Your Priest is or should be your Spiritual Father.  He will guide you spiritually in your life.

Let us take the example of fasting. Fasting is a basic and powerful tool for denying oneself and clearing out the rubbish that sin has left in our lives by the unchecked passions. The regular routine of fasting that we have been given, the four fasting seasons, as well as the Wednesday and Friday fasts, is well within the ability of nearly everyone and is an effective use of this spiritual tool. However, there are those who, out of a desire to work harder or overcome some difficult obstacle might wish to undertake a stricter or longer fast. Or there may be someone, who by physical necessity or weakness might seek to lessen the fast for a time. There is nothing wrong with this in theory, however, when increasing or decreasing the intensity of the fast, one must do so with care so that on one hand you don’t take on a task greater than your strength and fall into despair or pride, or on the other hand you don’t dilute the fast so much that it has really no beneficial effect but you are deceived into thinking that you have accomplished much when in fact there is nothing. The guard against this is to have an experienced helper oversee such departures from the norm and so one should undertake these changes only with the blessing of the priest, your spiritual father. This similar kind of proper and misuse of the tools of spiritual labor can be found in every specific. Therefore, not only must we begin working now, but we must begin working with wisdom and carefully so that we do not harm ourselves and fall into delusion and despair on one hand, or so that we do not waste our efforts and believe that we have accomplished much when nothing has been done at all.

We are also given the plan of the Gospel and the examples of the saints. It is necessary when working, always to have the goal of Jesus Christ before us as we struggle to follow the path of salvation that He has set before us. If we are constantly referring to the plan, His Plan, we can see quickly any deviation or imperfection that might arise in our work and correct it while it is still small.

If on the other hand we allow such errors to go on, they continue to grow and become more and more serious until a great deal of work is required to correct what in the beginning might have been only a small effort. This we do by daily reading the Gospel and by reading also the lives of the saints so that they are familiar to us. In our prayers it is good to ask the saints to assist us by their own prayers before the throne of God for as the scripture tells us, the prayer of the righteous man avails much.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, redeem the time, do not wait or delay but begin, this very day, this very hour, this very minute to follow Christ and walk in the path of salvation. Do this with wisdom and

with care walking vigilantly and with wisdom. Follow the traditions of the Church and the directions of your spiritual guide for in this way, we know that we use what God has given to us, properly and wisely. Finally do not lose sight of your goal but always, by psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs, that is by the reading of scripture and the prayers and services of the Church, keep our Lord Jesus Christ always before your eyes and in your heart; be not unwise but understand what the will of the Lord is. Keep your attention on the One Who has made you and Who loves you with the perfect love. In this way work out your salvation and bring to fulfillment and expression within yourself the image and likeness of God with which you were created.

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Through the Intercessions of Elder Ephraim of Arizona — lessons from a monastery

Three years ago today the world lost a holy father, Elder Ephraim of Arizona. However, in as much as he “completed the race” and was found worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we gained a saint! Now we have him as our heavenly intercessor, but even during his earthly life his prayers could move […]

Through the Intercessions of Elder Ephraim of Arizona — lessons from a monastery
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Through the Cross of Christ

Eph 2:14-22

God created the universe, whole and complete.  Everything was linked in a perfect interdependence and harmony.  There were no conflicts, no divisions, no barriers – all was a perfect whole, a perfect unity.  But all this came to an end when our first parents rebelled and sinned against God.  Rather than work within the harmony that God had created, they sought to go their own way and in so doing, introduced the element of chaos, of conflict, and of strife.  Their sin brought about a rift, a separation, between God and man – a wound that resulted in hostility between God and man.  Let us understand that this hostility was one sided, for God continued to love man, but men began to set themselves apart from God, unwilling to submit themselves to Him, but in pride, fighting against Him.  This is one of the foreseeable effects of sin – it creates a separation, a barrier.  Initially it creates a barrier between God and man, but as sin develops, it also creates barriers between men, us.  The sin of our first parents not only divided us from God, but now also divides us from each other.  Mankind, who was, in his creation, united and whole, is now fractured and divided, such that everyone is alone and separated from his fellow man.  We are not only hostile towards God, but we are hostile towards one another, and so the wound continues to grow and fester.  Therefore, God, out of His great and boundless love for mankind, began to work to heal the wound of separation, and to do away with the wall of hostility that had been erected by men. 

Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that we heard today, proclaims that this has been accomplished.  The division that man had caused by his sin, God healed by His incarnation.  To begin with, He heals the rift between Himself and mankind by taking on our nature, uniting His divine nature with our human nature, and by taking on our flesh, thereby redeeming our bodies as well.

Not only does He heal the separation, but he also destroys the hostility that it caused, by His Cross.  Through the Cross, sin was defeated and mankind was freed from its power which had held us in bondage. 

By ascending to the Cross in His own Body, the God/man, our Lord Jesus Christ, put to death the hostility that existed between man and God. That old fallen human nature, the “old man” as the Apostle calls it, died on the Cross, and hostility that existed between the “old man” and God is done away with – it dies as well.  God has reached down, bridged the gap between Himself and us, created by our sin, and has united us to Himself. 

This is not all, for just as we have divided ourselves from God with a wall of sin, so also we have divided ourselves from one another by this same wall of sin.  We have become hostile towards one another, no longer living in unity, but pushing others away, building barriers to protect the self from others who we perceive as threatening to our pride and self-reliance.  This is not the way that we were created to live.  We were created to live in unity with one another, to live in harmony, just as the persons of the Holy Trinity share a single essence, united by perfect love for one another. We were created in the image of God, and by our own sin we have marred that image – we have separated ourselves from one another, trying to live independently, without love. 

By His mercy and compassion, God has also reopened the means by which we can restore the unity of His image that we bear.  The Apostle says that he has made “of twain, one new man” that is, that out of two or more, He has made them one new man.  He has taken us who are divided and reunited the many into one.  This He has accomplished by the Cross as well.  He has slain the “old man” who was isolated by sin, and raised us with Him as “new men” who are united by one Spirit. 

We were strangers to one another, but now in Christ, we have become fellow-citizens and members of the household of God, a family. 

Whereas before we were separated by our sin, now we have been reunited and joined together by the love of God.  This unity is apparent to all of us within the Orthodox Church.  We see our brothers and sisters, and although they were once strangers to us, now we recognize that we are united in Christ, His body, His family.  We begin to feel a small, however, a growing connection to each other, as the love of God begins to work in us. 

For us, however, the important task is much closer at hand.  The Apostle tells us, that we are being built together into a habitation of God through the Holy Spirit.  This little parish community, our family – that is you and I – is being framed together into a temple of God.  Each one of us has a place into which God has fitted us.  We are being joined together so that we might grow together and become a single body, that body being the habitation of God.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are each being fashioned so that we might fit perfectly into the place prepared for us.  Once we have been set in place, we are cemented to one another by the Chrism and Grace of God’s love. 

What does that mean for us then?  First we must recognize that God has a place for us – a place that He has chosen.  Second, He is shaping us so that we might fit in where He needs us and wants us to be.  Remember that God has a place for you and He is working to fit you into that place, but He also respects you and will not force you. 

 Knowing this, it is then our task to work with God, conforming ourselves to His will, following His instructions, doing not what we want, but following the path that He sets before us, one step at a time.  This is how we conform ourselves to God. 

Now look to your neighbor, here next to you, because God is doing the same thing to him and her – shaping them and preparing them for their place in this wonderful temple, our Church, and that place is right next to you.  Reach out then and embrace your neighbor.  There may be some rough edges still, because God is still working on both of you, but as you reach out, the love of God will flow between you and them, and it will join you to one another.  Together, we are the temple of God.  Let us therefore work to love one another, to work together as God provides the opportunities, and to do all things together for the glory of God, as family. 

We were separated from God and from one another, by our sins, but God, in His great mercy and compassion has overcome our separation.  He has reached down to embrace us, and has destroyed the wall of sin and hostility which isolated us from Him and from one another.  He has brought us together to be a “habitation” for Himself through the Holy Spirit.

Each one of us, with our unique strengths and weaknesses — with our personalities, with our different perspectives, are placed by God in just the right place that He might use us, and has then joined us together with His love.  Let us therefore rejoice that He has restored His image in us, as we are healed by Him and have been reunited with Him and with one another.  Let us now work with Him, not alone, but with our neighbor, our family, and grow into the holy temple of the Lord.

So as St Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter 4 verse 3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Amen!!

Thank you Fr David

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Veterans Day 2022

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O Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ, and the Life creating Holy Spirit, in every age You call certain people to defend our families from oppression, tyranny, and evil. Since our founding as a nation “conceived in liberty,” countless men and women have stepped forward to defend our Families, our communities and our country, from aggressors; to liberate those held captive, and to promote freedom and justice.

Today we honor our veterans and first responders: those who rest in esteemed glory, those who still suffer from the wounds of war, those who enjoy the blessing of living in the land of the free, as well as our military and first responders who are presently serving and facing danger, in harm’s way this very day.

O Lord, thank You for the selfless sacrifice of these veterans, first responders, and of their families. Help us to remember them, to pray for them, and to care for them. May the souls of our departed veterans find eternal peace in Your Kingdom, and may we comfort their families with Your unfailing love.

 Please heal these wounded veterans and first responders, through the grace of Your Holy Spirit, and grant your “peace that passes all understanding” to comfort those who continue to experience emotional, physical and psychological trauma. We pray and ask Thee, to heal these heroes, who feel they have nowhere to turn. We also pray for healing and peace to all the people who live in the regions in which our veterans have fought.

 We ask for an end to wars and crime, and the dawn of a new era of peace. Give us the creative vision to see a world which, grown weary with fighting and evil, moves to affirm the life of every human being and thus moves beyond war and chaos. Help us not to exclude other nations and peoples of the world, but to include them in a loving and harmonious Christian family. Turn the hearts and minds of our leaders and those of our enemies to the work of justice and peace, of love and harmony for all people.

Lord, we respect them, we thank them, we honor them, we are proud of them, and we pray that you will watch over these exceptional men and women, our Veterans and first responders, and bless them with peace and happiness.

Hear our prayer, O Prince of Peace and may the peace you left us, the peace you gave us, be the peace that sustains us and the peace that saves us. For to You, belong all glory, honor and worship, to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

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Diversity

“Kazan” Icon of the Mother of God

Luke 16:19-31

When we look around any group of people, we see a great diversity.  There is a diversity in appearance, a diversity of skills, a diversity of personalities, a diversity of situation – everywhere we see diversity.  This diversity is a gift given to us by God to teach us that we need each other, as we are family – we depend on one another in order to have all the resources that we need to live.  We all need food – but not everybody can produce food.  We need shelter – but not everybody can build.  We need clothing – but not everyone can weave or sew.  Everyone has a part of what we all need, and so we need to trade with one another to get what is necessary.  In order to facilitate this trade, the concept of money was devised.  Whether or not money is good or bad is irrelevant here – money exists as a means by which we can all “trade” our skills and resources with one another and so obtain that which we all need in order to live. 

While money is a means by which our diversity is brought together into a harmonious community, money also emphasizes the differences between us.  When we begin to compare the value of our various contributions, we will soon notice that some people seem to have a greater share of natural resources. The parable that we heard today about the rich man and Lazarus is an example of this disparity.  On one hand, there was the rich man who seemed to have an abundance of wealth – plenty of good food and drink, a fine dwelling, beautiful and soft clothing, an abundance of family and friends; everything that money could buy in abundance.  On the other hand, there was the pauper Lazarus who had nothing – no food, no clothing, for only the sores covered his body, and for friends he only had the dogs who came and licked the sores.  Certainly here we have a picture of two great extremes. IF all that we have comes from God, then why did God not give everyone the same – why does this inequity exist, why are there such extremes as the rich man and Lazarus?

This parable doesn’t stop with simply painting the picture of the contrast between the rich man and Lazarus, but moves beyond the still life of the two men and introduces another element – that of the death of the two men, something some fear.  After their death, we find that the situation of the two is reversed.  Lazarus rests in the comfort and delight of paradise, while the rich man was found to be in torment. 

Does this mean that worldly wealth results in eternal torment while worldly poverty results in eternal comfort and joy?  Certainly not, for it was not the mere fact of worldly wealth and poverty that determined the place of the two men; rather, it was what each did with what he had in the world, what God gave him.  We are introduced to the fact that there are more necessities to life than that which we see and touch and acquire in this world.  There are indeed physical riches, but there are also spiritual riches and in the life beyond the grave, it is the spiritual wealth which is paramount. 

Let us pause for a moment to look at the how these different types of riches compare.  All that is of value in this world is comprised, in the end, of the same thing.  It is nothing but dust.  What are gems, but dust; what are silver and gold but dust; buildings, whether of stone or wood or anything else eventually deteriorate and become dust.  Clothing eventually wears and fades and becomes dust. Even the food that we eat, whether it is left out or consumed becomes nothing but dust.  Everything in the world, no matter how precious or valuable on the surface is composed of nothing but dust and in the end that is its final value – worthless dust.  Spiritual wealth, however, is composed of those elements which are eternal, and which do not rust or deteriorate or rot away.  This wealth is comprised of those things that we call “virtues” and “spiritual fruits” – things such as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, and so on.  They are all rooted in one single element that is free of all corruption and that is the grace of God.  He pours out His grace, which is the true and enduring wealth, on us.  The greatest and most valuable use of worldly wealth is when it is used to acquire spiritual wealth.

Therefore, just as we need to trade with one another to assemble the necessities of physical life, so also it is necessary to “trade”, to assemble the necessities of spiritual life.  We need to take the worthless dust of what we have in this world and use it in order to acquire the grace of God.  Unlike physical wealth, spiritual wealth cannot be transferred from one person to another.  We cannot acquire the “excess” grace of the saints (it is actually not possible for anyone to acquire “sufficient” grace let alone to have a store of “excess” grace).  The parable itself teaches us this, when the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus that he might dip his finger in the water to give the rich man a drop of water, to provide some relief and Abraham tells him that this is not possible.

How then is it possible to “trade” to acquire these spiritual riches?  While one person may not directly “transfer” grace to another, he can open the door to facilitate that movement.  This is what we do when we pray for one another, or when we ask the saints to pray for us.  By their prayers, the avenues by which we can acquire the grace of God for ourselves are made clear and our access to that grace is eased.  Archbishop Andrei of Novo Diveevo (Archbishop Andrei was the spiritual child of the Elder St Nektary of Optina, who after being widowed was elevated to the episcopacy) relates an account of the repentance of a wealthy young man which demonstrates this principle.

There lived a wealthy family – a grandmother and her grandson who was an officer in the Imperial Guards.  This grandson, Vladimir, being quite wealthy, lived a life of gaiety and carousing.  He had a good heart and so had many friends.  When any of them would ask something from him, he would give it to them without a second thought – the word “no” did not exist for him.  His grandmother arranged a marriage for him with a princess of an impoverished family.  The young man met her two or three times at parties, danced with her and proposed to her.  The wedding was put off until after the Christmas season and Vladimir did not change his life at all but went about in a fog of merry-making and carousing.  He didn’t quite forget his fiancée, but he didn’t remember her either – if he had met her on the street, he probably wouldn’t have recognized her.

As the wedding day approached Vladimir began to see the seriousness of life a little more clearly and began to prepare for this change of life.  Just before the wedding day, he went to St Petersburg to receive his pay (this was a time when this pay was given in cash) and to arrange for leave for his wedding.  Having received these things from the regimental office, he went out to walk in the city by day (something he rarely did as he was usually either still inebriated from the night before or else sleeping off the after effects).  He passed the cathedral of the Kazan Mother of God and was drawn in by a vague need to pray.  Standing there in the cathedral his soul was touched by the presence of the miraculous Kazan icon and he began to pray.  But he could not find the words; he had not prayed in so long that he didn’t know how to even begin.  Finally the words stumbled out “O Mother of God! I am coming to a turning point in my life. If it has to be so, help me. But if all this is not necessary, stop it.” And there he stopped, unable to say anything else. 

As he was struggling in his soul, he felt a touch on his sleeve, and there was a poor woman with her child in arms asking for help.  Not knowing what else to do, he took the purse filled with his pay and handed it to her.  When she protested, he insisted and gratefully she asked “but how can I repay your kindness”.  Not knowing what else to say, out of his inner turmoil and confusion, Vladimir replied, “You can help me. I don’t know how to pray; but I am in need of prayer, right now, for my soul. Otherwise I will perish.”  She disappeared into the crowd and he caught sight of her again as she approached the miraculous icon and bowing down began to fervently pray with prostrations.  Vladimir knew that this prayer was for him.

When he left the Church, suddenly he felt a great pain and he lost consciousness.  He awoke, lying on a table in his full uniform.  He had fallen into a coma and appeared dead although he was just beginning to awaken.  He could see and hear those around him, but could not move or speak.  He heard his fiancée’s voice saying, “Papa you know how I hated and despised him. Only your debts made me agree to this marriage. I cannot pretend to mourn.”  And then he heard his friends approach saying to one another, “How fortunate that Vladimir died, now I don’t have to pay him back.”  All this and more revealed to him the hypocrisy of his life and he was brought to repentance.  When they lifted his body to go to the grave, he gasped and began to move.  Out of fear the mourners and those nearby ran from the room leaving him alone.  At this moment he was changed – he divided all his wealth, he first provided for his fiancée and gave the rest to the poor.  He forgave all debts.  Soon afterward he entered monastic life and finished his life as an Archimandrite of the Kostroma Monastery. 

This is the example of how the prayers of one person can bring grace to another and how we can exchange our worldly wealth for spiritual wealth.  When Vladimir gave his purse to the beggar and asked her to pray for him – she had nothing to give in return and so she approached the Treasury of all good gifts and Giver of Life, our one Lord and God, beseeching Him through His mother, on behalf of this tormented and confused soldier.  Our Lord, seeing the desire to repent in the depths of Vladimir’s heart, showed him the path of repentance through his illness and presumed death. 

Upon recovering Vladimir took advantage of that door that had been opened by his charity, and by the prayers of the beggar woman, and in exchange for his worldly wealth, he received spiritual wealth.

There is great wealth in the world, but it is of two kinds.  There is the wealth of corruption which is composed of worthless dust – but this wealth can be used to purchase the divine and everlasting spiritual wealth of the grace of God.  Take all that God has given you in the world – the worldly wealth of dust and corruption – and exchange it for the spiritual wealth which will bring you into the Kingdom of God.  Remember, St Paul tells us in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (Chapter 9 verse 7)

Thank you Father David

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The Spiritual World

19th Sunday after Pentecost

2 Cor 11:31-12:9

The Holy Apostle Paul spoke of “a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”  While the Apostle did not say who this man was, it is apparent that he was speaking of himself, but in such a way that he could set aside any worldly praise and esteem that might arise from such an experience, for he also said, “of myself I will not glory, except in mine infirmities.”  Such an experience is certainly remarkable for it shows a man who is changed, who is no longer tied to this world, but who, having directly experienced the Kingdom of God is now focused solely on that place.  He is no longer a man of this world, but he is a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

For the Apostle, the spiritual world was real, it was not something of ideas or theory, but something he had experienced directly.  Recently, we celebrated the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God.  This feast is based on the experience of St Andrew the fool for Christ as he was praying in a church in Constantinople.  He looked up during the Vigil service and saw the Virgin Mary appearing in glory, as she spread out her robe over the whole church, indeed the whole city. 

This action demonstrated her role as the protectress of the Church.  She prays for us all constantly before the throne of God as though she were our own mother, we are her own children (and indeed this is true inasmuch as we are united to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ).  In order that we might know that this was not just a product of the saint’s imagination or a hallucination, we are told that he turned to his companion, Epiphanus, and asked if he could see it as well (and indeed he could).  

Here again we see a person for whom the spiritual world is not simply something imagined or theorized, but something of which he had direct experience, something which he could not only see himself, but could show to others. 

There are several other examples like this throughout the Lives of the Saints.

Here though, we have two great examples of the reality of the spiritual world.  How is it that such things seem so far from us, so outside our own experience? How is it that we do not experience the spiritual world in such a real manner?  What are we lacking?  “

27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.”  Philippians 1:27-28

In our western world and lives, we have grown accustomed to giving the first place to science – we believe what we can see and touch and perceive by our own senses.  In the last century and even before, science was dominant as the tool of discovering and understanding the universe.  Everything was subject to the scientific method.  If something could not be demonstrated, proven and explained by scientific means, then either we had not yet discovered the proper method to do so, or it just wasn’t real.  As a result of this scientific movement, the spiritual world, and consequently our religious faith, came increasingly to be regarded as unreal, for, if it could not be demonstrated, proven or reproduced by accepted scientific means, is wasn’t real.  The physical world was disconnected from the spiritual world.  The spiritual world was considered not “real”, but at best, only an idea, used to explain that which we had not yet conquered, and at worst, simply a tool for a quack to practice his deception.  This attitude led to the rise of scientific atheism and the militant atheism, of the last couple of centuries. 

The sociopolitical atheism of western universities and academia, as well as the militant atheism of (Marxist/Leninist/Mao) Communism, are the best observed results of this movement.  However, the effect of this worldliness permeated all levels of society both in the west and in the east. 

Even religious belief attempted to justify itself in the realm of science, trying to “prove” by scientific means such things as the existence of God and the truth of the Scripture.  But these efforts only gave credibility to the scientific tyranny.

Towards the close of the 20th century, spiritualism made a comeback.  It became obvious that there were unexplained marvels that science could not grasp.  This inspired a renewed interest in “spirituality” and religion.  Seeking some means by which these “spiritual” wonders could be harnessed and understood, society began to look towards religion.  While this might appear to be a good thing at first glance, unfortunately there was a deep flaw in the process. 

In discrediting “spirituality” in the first place, we lost any connection with a firm and reliable understanding of the spiritual world.  Now by blindly pursuing anything that seemed “spiritual”, the stage was set for overwhelming delusion.  Remember that the greatest weapon of the satan and his demons, is deception, the devil is a liar and the father of lies.  This mass rush to embrace the “spiritual world” was nothing less than an opportunity for mass deception.  Having lost the genuine experience of the spiritual world, there was no longer any way to discern what was genuine and what was deception. In fact the very idea of spiritual deception was lost.  It was lost, except for one place and that place was the Orthodox Church.  Within the Church, there were those who continued to pursue the spiritual life, who did not lose the ability to discern truth from error.  

Here in the Orthodox Church, if we will submit to her guidance, the true reality of the spiritual life, the living encounter with God, continues to be available.  But we must conform our lives to the life of the Church and not to the world.  One cannot remain the person he was in the world and be transformed by the Holy Spirit.  Even in the ancient times this was true. 

In the Old and New Testaments, we can see that when a person was touched by the Holy Spirit, he was a changed man, and that change was noticeable to those around him.  When the Holy Apostles were indwelt by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, there was such a noticeable effect that people thought they were drunk, it was the only way they could explain that these people were “different” from themselves.  In the Orthodox Church, when we really encounter Christ we are born again, and when we are filled with Holy Spirit, we are changed. 

But too often we look at the world around us and becoming embarrassed, we try to hide that change, we cover it up and try to appear as though nothing had happened.  We try to remain “like the world” on the outside and confine the new life in Christ, to the inside. 

As long as we do this, the real experience of the spiritual world will be out of our reach for we have not yet embraced it completely.  If we wish to share the reality of the spiritual life with the Apostle Paul and the other Apostles, and with the Saints such as John and Andrew, then we must give ourselves completely to Christ, being willing to be “different” in the eyes of the world, each and every day.  We need to commit wholly to the life in Christ and not hide the effect of the Holy Spirit on our lives.  You cannot be the “same person” that you were in the world, if you wish to follow Christ.  Our Lord said that we must take up our Cross when we follow Him; St Paul speaks again and again about the fact that we are “crucified with Christ”; even in baptism we are buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and rise with Him.  The sacrifice of our old life is necessary in order to fully experience the new life in Christ – the “real” life of the spiritual world

The saints experience the spiritual life as an ingrained reality.  For them, there is no separation between their life in the world, and their life in Christ.  There is no hiding, no cover-up, no compromise. Here we are family, we are the Body of Christ, we must give our lives, our wills, totally give ourselves to Him, who created us, and not just fake it!

If we would fully experience this life in Christ for ourselves, then we must leave behind our worldly life and become the new creatures that He wishes to make us – new creatures that no longer bear the image and imprint of the world, but who bear His image and likeness. 

Then for us the spiritual world will become the “real world” and we will be only pilgrims and wanderers in this world, not belonging here, but only “passing through”, as we seek out our true place in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Lord have mercy on us and guide us as we change to become yours!

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thank you Fr David

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