I had the blessing of attending Liturgy at the Monastery of Sts. Constantine and Helen in Varna, Bulgaria, yesterday, on the thirty-sixth anniversary of the repose of Fr. Seraphim (Rose). While it is always a good thing to be at the Divine Liturgy anywhere, this day ended up having several blessings and connections with Fr. Seraphim.
The book is about the essence of marriage, and considers it from a practical, philosophical and sociological standpoint. In defining the essence of marriage, it helps the reader see how every other modern change in social mores is an attack on the sanctity of marriage, as well as who benefits from such efforts to tear it apart.
Last July I sat down with Fr. Silouan (Brown) to ask him about his upcoming mission trip to Kenya, on behalf of the charitable organization “Orthodox Africa” he founded as a way for the global Orthodox community to be able to participate in the furtherance of God’s Kingdom by providing a means for the average layman who may not be able to travel to faraway lands, to participate in global missionary work. The organization works with several mission and shelters in Kenya. In this follow-up interview, Fr. Silouan shares his thoughts and reflections on the trip, how it compared to expectations, what he learned about how to better serve the people of Africa, and about the bond of Orthodox Christians worldwide, rooted in our common faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is said that the state of monasticism in a local Church is a microcosm of the state of that entire local Church, and thus America is undoubtedly in need of strong monasteries that can provide clear, Patristic guidance. Elder Ephraim came to America in response to the pleas of the faithful to provide this guidance, but in doing so many questions have been raised concerning the nature of Orthodox monasticism and teachings. To assess his role and importance for American Orthodoxy it is helpful to investigate his life and spiritual development, which will provide insight into him whom Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos says “received fire, and ... has imparted this fire ... to the Church in America that has great need of it.”
It’s a quiet little place in Southern York County, PA of a humble population of 2,000. There’s only one traffic light in the whole town. Most of the year the strongest attraction is the Mignano Family Restaurant, with authentic Italian food made by authentic Italians. But ask anyone who has lived in Glen Rock, PA and they’ll tell you there’s only one place to be on the night of Christmas Eve into Christmas: huddled under that one traffic light in the center of the town at midnight, heralding our Lord’s salvific entrance into the world with hymns of nineteenth-century England.
On September 15, 2016, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk gifted the Pope of Rome a piece of the relics of the much beloved great wonderworker St. Seraphim of Sarov, in a shrine the shape of a Paschal egg. Unsurprisingly, this has caused consternation among the Orthodox faithful, especially of the Moscow Patriarchate. The issue is not one of begrudging any and all pleasantries towards the Catholic prelate, but is focused rather upon the importance given to and the seriousness with which Orthodox Christians relate to the holy relics of the saints.
As a wise and discerning shepherd, Patriarch-Catholicos Ilia II maintained a balance between respect for his guest and respect for his own flock and Church, and his own ordination, with all its ensuing responsibilities, stating: “True faith, humbleness and our traditions—these are the ancient treasures that we preserve and will continue to do so in future. We greet you again and confess that our unity is in the true faith. Only true faith and love will open the path towards our communion.”
St. Moses’ strict fasting and obedience and his compassion were his cross that he took up to follow Christ, “being glorified in godly works.” Even in his advanced spiritual state he remained profoundly humble, combining the righteousness of the Pharisee and the humility of the Publican. Upon his diaconal ordination the bishop said “Now Abba Moses is entirely white!” to which St. Moses replied, “Only outwardly, for God knows that I am still dark within.”
The theology of creation and salvation in Orthodox Christianity upholds the centrality and kingship of mankind while simultaneously embracing a cosmological vision that is largely absent in western Christendom. A common characteristic of all creation is corruption and death, and yet we are told that God is not the author of death, and that all of creation awaits its redemption through the revealing of the saints, when all of heaven and earth will be united to God. Within this framework, St. Maximus the Confessor is recognized as a theological and spiritual giant by the Orthodox Church. In his two troparia he is hailed as an “enlightener of the universe” and a “herald of the faith.”
I had the great pleasure of catching up with Fr. Alexis recently in Kiev where he was on pilgrimage, and especially of attending services together at the Kiev Caves Lavra. While there we also found some time to chat about his life, work, struggles, and joys as a young priest serving in a small mission parish in the American south.
"The Kingdom is taken by violence and force. That implies to me in a lot of ways that we can’t sit on the sidelines as passive observers. We have to engage. You can’t sit by and wait for somebody else to do it. That’s what Orthodox Africa is for me—I saw a gap where there was a need and I asked myself what I could do, and Orthodox Africa is what I can do, so I went out and did it. It’s an invitation to everyone out there to get off their couches, and even if they can’t personally go travel and be a missionary, here’s one way they can be involved. Everyone has to be involved in some way in the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. Produce some good fruit."
This sixth Bible Study on the book of Genesis covers the creation of Eve on the sixth day of Creation. In it we discuss several relevant topics including the status of Adam and Eve in the Church, the meaning of Eve's creation from the rib of Adam, experiences of God in Scripture, relationships between parents and children, the makeup of man, the role of desire and pleasure in the spiritual life, and much more.
This fifth Bible Study on the book of Genesis covers the creation of Adam on the sixth day of Creation. In it we discuss several topics surrounding the creation of man, including what it means to be in the image of God, what it means that God "formed" man of the dust, the integral unity of man's body and soul, man's unique position as the summit of creation, and much more.
This fourth Bible Study on the book of Genesis covers the fourth through sixth days wherein God created the heavenly luminaries, called forth aquatic and fowl life from the waters, and land animals from the ground. We discuss many interesting topics such as the spiritual symbols implanted by God in creation, the free will of man, the necessity of Church Tradition, the original state of animals, the witness of modern saints, and much more.
The Fathers tell us there are boundaries of nature. Everything in creation is not fluid, going where it wills. Everything is defined by God, in the mind of God. Everything has its logos. This is why the Fathers emphasize that kind reproduces after kind and that the boundaries of nature can’t be broken down—you can’t break down the nature of dogness and make something new—because it’s defined in the mind of God.
That Christ accomplished our salvation in His Person with the cooperation of His divine and human natures shows us that in order for us to receive that gift it must involve God and man—we have our part to play. This is, of course, the Orthodox doctrine of synergy, which leads us to the theme of thirsting. God offers us the water of eternal life—but we must thirst for it. He will never force it upon us.
God is humble so we should be humble, and you can read the Scriptures as being entirely this story—God can do anything, and without Him we can do nothing. If God can create out of nothing He is infinitely greater than us. It’s essential for us to find in every verse and in every moment of life ways to become humble. We hear these verses all the time and it’s so easy to read one verse and pass onto the next, but if we can stop and think about what it’s really saying about God and ourselves in comparison to God, it will help us to find our humility which is an essential beginning point to the spiritual life.
The whole of the Gospel can be found in the book of Genesis in a hidden form. It is important because it shows us how God intended man to be, it shows us why we’re in the condition we’re in now, and therefore it helps us to understand why we need Christ—what is it that we need to be saved from. The prophecies of Christ begin immediately after the Fall. If you study Genesis and read the Fathers’ commentaries you can basically learn the entirety of the Orthodox faith.
Because of her sincere faith in Christ and her ardent desire to repent, her sins did not weigh her down. For her, the memory of her falls was not a victory for Satan, but it took part in the ultimate victory in Christ. I encourage you to take heart from her example. Our sins may have long-term consequences but even this can be reoriented to Christ.
The Bodnarius had their five children suddenly taken from them in Norway in November and placed into three separate homes, after the daughters were overheard singing Christian songs at school. Among the reasons listed why they were supposedly unfit parents was that they are "radical Christians who were indoctrinating their children," after the daughters admitted that they were sometimes punished by their parents for misbehavior. The school principal acknowledges that no physical abuse was happening in the Bodnariu home, but simply that they were in need of “help and guidance” from BARNEVERNET to properly raise their children.
The sixth step of St. John Climacus’s The Ladder of Divine Ascent is dedicated to the spiritual discipline of the remembrance of death, which is to have in mind the hour of one’s repose and the following judgment before God, in order to deter oneself from sin. St. John tells us that the remembrance of death is the highest work for one who is spiritually minded (6:4), and that “He who has mounted [this sixth step] will never sin again” (6:24).
Although his theology was vindicated by several councils in Constantinople between 1341 and 1351, and he was canonized just nine years after his death in 1368, it remained a topic of disagreement. His theology and influence fell into nigh-obscurity from the late sixteenth century practically until the twentieth century, and today there is still disagreement within the Orthodox Church over how to understand his theology and interactions with his opponents, as well as continued debate from outside the Church.
Several times a week a group meets at a church in central Moscow to study various foreign languages, and especially English. The gatherings are all part of the St. Felix Orthodox language courses. The group, founded two years ago and directed by Alexei Makarov, seeks to provide a valuable service to all who are interested, within an Orthodox context, in a spirit of Christian charity. From its humble beginnings the group has blossomed to offer courses in three languages at various levels of competency, as well as a Patristic-based Bible study for those of a high level of English, conducted by Philip Champion.
From these fathers we learn that the content of theology, the entirety of the Christian spiritual life, is the Mystery of the Cross, which shapes the ethos of repentance—our prayerful striving to become like Christ in all things—in the Orthodox Church.
As a theologian St. Basil is distinguished as a luminous visionary of the dogma of creation. His Hexaemeron, or commentary on the six days of creation, delivered as a series of nine sermons during Lent sometime around 370 AD, has stood the test of time to become the Church’s most authoritative text on the matter.
"The table is laden. All passions, all wealth, all pleasure, all of our excuses, find their true fulfillment in the Incarnate Christ. Let us lay aside all these excuses and accept the festal invitation, for truly, the table is laden, and all are invited."
St. Jesse of Tsilkani left his homeland to evangelize the people of Georgia and gave his life in asceticism to Christ and the people of his diocese. His selfless giving is an example for us all to follow in our own situations. St. Jesse gave his life to Christ. Through his prayers and those of all the saints we too can follow Christ, even to our last breath, and say with St. Jesse and our Lord: “Lord, into Thy hands I commit my spirit!”
"I decided go to the church early and pray a Panihkida for my wife in front of St. Herman’s relics. I went back in the altar, and I don’t know if it was St. Herman talking to me or who, but somebody said to me in myself, 'I replaced the beauty of your wife with the beauty of Alaska, and I replaced that love that you and your wife had with the love of these people for you.' And then I understood."
But the uniqueness of the Orthodox Church is precisely that it alone among the Christian confessions refuses to reduce the perfection of Christ, and what it means to be perfect in Christ. The martyric spirit of the martyrs themselves and the monastics after them is not driven and sustained by a wise teacher, but rather by the God Who is Life and Who offers that Life to us through His salvific economy in His Church.
"Without the message of salvation you will not be able to rejoice in the rest of it. Christ has come into the world to save us. When we have friends that are suffering or sad or mournful, we must convey to them the joy of the Resurrection—that’s what we’re called to do. If you can’t do that, then just shut the doors. Start with the basics."
A group of pilgrims from England recently made their way to Russia to explore the spiritual treasures of Moscow, and particularly those relating to the lives of their parish patron St. Elizabeth the Grand Duchess and New Martyr, and all the New Martyrs and Confessors who suffered under the Communist Yoke in the twentieth century. They took some time out of their busy schedule to chat with us at Sretensky Monastery and offer their thoughts and reflections on their trip, as well as the history and current state of Orthodoxy in England.
St. Tikhon’s Monastery is home to a rich history and a great many “treasures” of Orthodoxy, some known, some relatively unknown, which stand as a testament to the prayers and labors of our American apostle, St. Tikhon, and his continuing heavenly protection.
"As I listened to us all singing Divine Liturgy with Vladimir Gorbik, on the feast of All Saints of Moscow, at the Podvoriye of Trinity-Sergius Lavra, surrounded by the holy fathers and the faithful, standing at the kliros before the icon of the holy Royal Passion-bearers, I remembered Maestro Gorbik’s mountain analogy from the beginning of our class. It occurred to me then that only as we reached the summit of this mountain was it revealed to be none other than Mount Tabor: 'Lord, it is good for us to be here.'”
The mission of the 40 Days for Life campaigns is to bring Christians together “with the purpose of repentance, to seek God’s favor to turn hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life, thus bringing an end to abortion,” utilizing the three-pronged peaceful “attack” of prayer and fasting, constant vigil, and community outreach.
"I think if you really care then you’ll do something, you’ll do better, you’ll do really well if you really care. Christ said Where your treasure is there your heart is. If the liturgy in your church is sung poorly, or half-heartedly, or in a slovenly or disorderly manner, then your heart’s not there. It can’t be."
The path to humility is encapsulated in the advice that St. Silouan heard from God in his heart: “Keep thy mind in Hell and despair not.” Our generation especially struggles with pride and all of its trappings, and thus we have much to learn from the life of St. Silouan.
The prophet Moses occupies a unique position in the Scriptural Tradition of prophecy, having been granted not only to see the future and call the people to a greater faith in God, but alone was given to see the awesome creation of the world—that which God alone witnessed, and God alone can reveal. Moses, alone in the Scriptural canon can be called a prophet of the past, and his experience is confirmed for us in the experience of the saints in every age of the Church. He responded to the call of God and ascended the mountain to speak with Him, experiencing divine vision in His presence, and in turn offering to us the life-giving knowledge of the creation of the world, and there arose no greater prophet in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face (Deut. 34:10).
The monastery brotherhood was joined by Georgian Metropolitan Saba and Archimandrite Ilarion from Kosovo among other special guests to honor the memory of its holy founder, Hieromonk Seraphim Rose who reposed on August 20/September 2, 1982.
"I think he was probably the closest we will ever get to seeing or knowing someone like St. John or St. John of Kronstadt who was also a whole person. I think there are just so few of us in the Church, much less outside of the Church. We’re just very broken and wounded in this culture and in this society. And so it was wonderful to see someone who was healed because he just accepted everything, believed it and did it."
She overcame nature by her unique childbearing and therefore “It was fitting that she, who preserved her virginity undamaged by childbirth, should have her body preserved from corruption in death," and thus her passing is referred to as a “deathless Dormition.” Although she was above nature, she submitted to the corruption of death as had her Son: “Imitating your Creator and Son, above nature you submit to the laws of nature. She was a little lower than the angels through mortality, but “by her proximity to the God of all … she has ascended higher than the angels and the archangels and all the hosts that are found beyond them.”
St. Seraphim was a spiritual warrior in the flesh and a victor in the spirit. Through his severe asceticism he conquered the temptations which gave him power over the world and made him worthy to lead men literally into the light of Christ.
Tsar Nicholas and his beloved family— the Tsaritsa Alexandra, the Tsarevich Alexei, and the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia—along with their faithful servants were eventually to go to their deaths in a dank basement in Ekaterinburg. In their lives they stood for family, humility, nobility, duty, the Russian people, and above all for the holy Orthodox faith. And in the end they gave their lives for their nation and for that holy Orthodox faith, prevailing as the early martyrs before the lions. Having given their lives for Christ, they now intercede for us before Christ.
While visiting Moscow during the month of June, Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg), rector of the Sts. Cyril & Athanasius Institute for Orthodox Studies in San Francisco and an Archimandrite of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, visited Sretensky Monastery for an interview with Pravoslavie.ru. This is the second part of our interview with Father Irenei, which focuses chiefly on the state of Orthodox scholarship and sanctity.
While visiting Moscow during the month of June, Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg), rector of the Sts. Cyril & Athanasius Institute for Orthodox Studies in San Francisco and an Archimandrite of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, visited Sretensky Monastery for an interview with Pravoslavie.ru. This is the first part of our interview with Father Irenei, which focuses on the nature of the human person and several of the challenges facing modern society.