Monday, November 20, 2017

Modern frustrations

Why do so many people think everything is on the wrong track? It has nothing to do with the economy or the government. The problem today is that society as a whole has moved away from a spiritual grounding. Now everyone expects happiness and well being to come from material benefits. Also strangers are no longer God's children but soulless individuals, objects, and many are seen as a threat to our material way of life. To think that a government leader can make us feel better is misguided thinking. Politics has become too important! Let's focus on the message of Christ and our individual spiritual growth. This must be our aim, to become united with Him.

Our problem has nothing to do with our physical or material well being. Our problem is a sickness of the soul. Our soul is clouded and distorted by our earthly passions and desires. The soul longs for its reunion with God, its natural state. The healing of this spiritual illness is what will lead us to peace and joy no matter what difficulties we face. This healing has nothing to do with governmental action. It requires sincere prayer and worship with a spirit of humility with continual repentance.

What we seek can be found in the Church and it's sacramental life where we are nurtured by the a Holy Spirit. When we know God we see all our shortcomings and begin to recognize the yearning of our soul to be perfected to be reunited with Christ. We begin to seek repentance and to eagerly come to worship and receive Christ Himself through our regular participation in Holy a Communion. We learn how to pray seeking the gift of His Grace instead of earthly benefits. This is what we call the Orthodox way of life.

If you seek true happiness, joy and peace, practice the Orthodox way of life.

Ten points for an Orthodox way of Life

Friday, November 17, 2017

Prayer Is About Silence

When we begin to pray we experience prayer as a struggle. Because of our love and intense desire to be in communion with God we cry out to Him. This is a cry that comes from the depth of our heart. But when we find that our cry is not being heard what do we do?

Elder Aimilianos says the following:
It has to be transformed, reversed—into silence within an atmosphere of silence. God is the God of those who live in tranquility and silence.
This may seem contradictory. First we cry our from our depths with intense desire but then we change our direction to silence. But this is not a contradiction. It is a transformation. We must transform from trying to speak, to intent listening. This requires silence. It’s a sequence of successive steps.

The Elder says,
Everybody’s got to stop, including you, if you want to hear the other person. And if they are talking, the first thing you’ll say is “Shh!” and then you’ll speak, to make yourself heard. It’s this experience and this reality that we’ll go through when our soul has recourse to God, too.
What he is talking about is a progression in our prayer. We are making a monvement toward God. This happens in silence.

He says,
When prayer is about to leave from inside us, to become, truly, a movement towards God, then we will see a “silence within silence”. Absolute silence, in other words.
This means we have to learn to learn how to pray in silence while surrounded with noise. It helps to find a quiet place to pray as Jesus instructed His followers. He used to go away from the crowd to pray where it was quiet. This why it is best to pray at night or early in the morning when your surrounding are quieter.

If we are following our breath while saying the Jesus prayer there is a cycle of crying out and silence. When we breath we inhale and then exhale. There is a midway point where we make a transition, an interval between these two movements. It is in the interval that we can find silence and listen for God.

Elder Aimilianos says,
I have to learn to keep this interval, this tuning, this setting of the ear, and then I’ll see that this is a fundamental thing in prayer, not the sound of my own voice... I have to learn to be silent, I have to learn to wait, to await the voice of God.
Resource: The Authentic Seal, pp 205-206
More on Prayer

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Needed: A Renewed Approach for Orthodox Sunday School

I am greatly saddened at the lack of understanding of our Orthodox faith by many of our members. We are not teaching the faith to our children and they are becoming lukewarm Christians from observing their parents and then become Nones, not attached to a church, when they go off to college. Change is needed - Change in the curriculum and in our teaching methods. I don’t exclude myself from this criticism.

In our secular schools teachers have learned how to deal with the short attention spans of our youth. They know the class has to be entertaining and interactive and the parents involved. They have been learning to use new technologies to assist them. In our Orthodox Sunday Schools we need to learn from them and adopt their methods.

First, we must learn to integrate video interactive smart boards and smart phone/tablets into our lessons. We can now link our efforts with smart phones all kids have now days for further interaction in the classroom (some schools
have tablets like iPads as a part of classroom equipment). But more is needed. In addition to engaging our children in the classroom we need to engage them in learning throughout the week along with their parents. Today we have the tools to do this with texting, email, Twitter, instagram, Facebook, YouTube and others. Our Archdiocese has developed many short and entertaining videos in series like Be the Bee that should be integrated into or lesson plans as well as those created by teachers and students. A teacher who cares will learn to not just engage our kids in the short time on Sunday but also during the week as well. Interaction between classmates and parents can nowadays occur anytime, not just in the classroom. There are platforms that allow for sharing of all forms of media and all types of interaction. Videos can be shared to be viewed before coming to class and class time can then be used for more interactive activities like skits, role playing, making videos and so forth. 

In addition we need to rethink our curriculum. There are three stages that need to be taught: 1. The Orthodox way of life; 2. the history of the Church and how the truth of the work of the Apostles has been preserved; and finally, how our Orthodox faith differs from what other Christian Churches teach. The Orthodox way of life, which includes participation in the Sacraments, daily prayer, fasting, reading Scripture and lives of the saints, and being aware of the liturgical cycle and seasons, can be taught in the lower grades along with the motivation of the Lords Prayer and the Creed. In the intermediary grades a comprehensive study of the history of the Church beginning with the life of Christ, the book of Acts and then the early Christian life, the Councils, the Byzantine Church up to our present day Church. In the 11&12th grade the focus can be on a deeper discussion of our faith and how it differs from other Western Churches. (There is an excellent book by Fr Andrew Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, that can be used to help build specific lessons) in this way our children will have the “tools” of a sound practice of the Orthodox Way of life, an assurance of the continuity of Truth received from Christ and His Apostles by understanding Christian history, and knowledge to effectively interact with those of other Christian Churches knowing how to counteract their misguided teaching after they graduate from High School and leave the shelter of home. Of course all this needs to be done using the teaching methods stated in the beginning and keeping the parents involved.

We cannot sit by and blame the inattentiveness of the students or lack of involvement by the parents. We need to recognize the forces of Protestantism, atheism, and relativism found in our modern world and proactively take counter measures. Salvation is at stake in our efforts. The aim of theosis must be made clear and the power of the Church, the Body of Christ, understood so our youth can surrender their self-centeredness to His teachings and fully utilize the means He has made available to us in the teachings of the Church through the Orthodox way of life.

Ten Points for Orthodox Way of life
Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Does Prayer Begin?

Once we realize how great is the gap between our earthly being and the transcendent and all powerful God, we begin to appreciate how little we know about God. We come to terms with the limitations of our intellect and our rational powers.

Edlder Aimilians says,
We don't know God. We live in total ignorance, in what is essentially total oblivion. I neither remember God nor know Him. This is why I cry all the time, so that He can feel sorry for me and can answer me. And when God answers I can strike up a conversation. That is how prayer starts!

The beginning of prayer is a movement from the deepest part of our being. It's a humble cry for help. In the beginning prayer can be expressed in many ways. It can begin with the words we express with our mouths, reading the prayers of the psalms or the Church. This can be an outward verbal expression or one that is said silently from inside ourselves. What is important is that the prayer is sincere, based on our faith and coming from our inner depth. The key is for us to pray with this depth so that we eventually become aware that it is the spirit within us that speaks.

Elder Aimilianos says,
What matters is that there should issue forth a cry from the depths, which is like a powerful bomb, like an earthquake, should shake the heavens and make God answer, in the end, and say to us: Are you shouting to me? Why?
The beginning of prayer involves this intense longing to communicate with God. It is an urgent cry and a persistent one. Always based on a humble view of our reality in relationship with Him. It makes no difference how we try to express this, whether standing, sitting, or lying prostrate on our belly. It must be a cry that God cannot ignore.

The Elder says,
We should learn to seek Him. Because if God were to surrender to us immediately, before we did any of these things... we'd cast Him off as easily as we'd won Him, because we would not know His true value... God wants us to sense Him first from the depths of our beings which we raise up to Him.
The first thing is to experience prayer as a struggle. The second is a cry from the depths.

Reference:  The Authenic Seal by Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 203-205.

Monday, September 4, 2017

What is Prayer?

We all assume we know what prayer is, but do we really know? How do we feel in prayer? What does it mean to live prayer?

Elder Aimilianos says prayer is the vehicle of the soul. "It is the atmosphere the soul lives in." He compares it to our breathing, that it is the breath of the soul.
It is only when the Spirit prays within us that our prayer is able to ascend to heaven. Prayer is in the Spirit and the Spirit comprehends Spirit and is united with that, not with flesh.
We should ask ourselves if we are still holding on to a child's way of prayer. Prayer is much more than asking for something good in this life for others or ourselves. The Elder says "that prayer is a journey towards God." For an Orthodox Christian, prayer must become a way of life, a key part of their journey to knowing and being united with God.

The Elder reminds us of the incredible task we are engaged it when we pray. We are so different than God. He is in heaven but we live in a physical world here on earth. His essence is beyond what we can comprehend. The Elder says "God is light and we are darkness," emphasizing the difference. Because of the large difference we should expect to experience a struggle with prayer. In relation to God the soul is very small and is also clouded with all our earthly desires and passions. God is so great and perfect that our attempt at prayer only makes us aware of our smallness and weakness. The closer we come to God the more we realize our condition.

This means that prayer is naturally a struggle. The Elder says, 
It follows that we experience prayer initially - when we start to pray - as a wrestling-match, as a struggle... not in the sense that it is difficult to pray,  that I have to struggle to gather my thoughts or overcome my sleepiness, ... this is ascetic struggle... [but] the struggle we have with God. 
This means the feeling we can have is a feeling of this great gap, so large it appears to be an insurmountable obstacle. We are reminded  of the transcendence of God. Bridging this great difference between us is the nature of the struggle we should feel in prayer.

The Elder makes an important point, 
When I do not have this sense of this struggle with God... I have not even begun to pray.

Reference: The Authentic Seal, by Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 199-201.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Prayer is Connected to Liturgical Life

Often we think of prayer as an independent action, saying a few words addressing God. But true prayer is much more and dependent on our participation in the liturgical life of the church.

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra says
Prayer is linked with our worship, and especially with Holy Communion. If there is no worship and no Holy Communion, it is not possible for there to be prayer.
Why is this so? When I pray I pray to somebody. This somebody must exist. I have to know to whom I am praying. It is through Holy Communion that we become familiar with His existence.

The elder says,
I have to become familiar with His presence and existence. Christ the in-dwelling, Who is everywhere present, becomes present for me in my life through my participation in Holy Communion.
What happens in the sacrament of Holy Communion? When I participate I become an active member of the body of Christ. Taking Him in, allowing Him to permeate my whole being, united and in Him, I now have to participate in His properties. I am being united with His divinity.

The elder says,
Worship and Holy Communion are indissolubly united... They make God present and alive for me... He, through worship, tends toward me and I, through petition, tend towards Him.
To have a life of prayer it is essential to go to church and participate in the sacramental life of the church. Also, I must be praying to attend the Liturgy,

The elder says,
I cannot say I will go to church if I have not been praying. It is superfluous for me to go to church to attend Liturgy and useless for me to take Holy Communion if I am not continuously at prayer.
Prayer and the sacramental life depend on each other. They are interdependent.

Next we will address "what is prayer?"

From "Catechism on Prayer" in Spiritual Instruction and Discourses: The Authentic Seal by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, pp 196-198

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Problem of Criticizing the Church

“I appeal to you by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Why did the Lord say this? Do you ever hear any dissension in our community? Are their doubters about various aspects of our faith? Are their some who are disgruntled by our clergy or some other member?

Of course there are and the next question is what is the consequence of this dissension? Isn't it a distraction from what we all seek? We seek to become united with Christ yet we too often focus on our disagreements with one another. When we expend our energy in this way we are unable to do what it is needed to do to be united with Christ.

The Church is the Body of Christ and we are His Body. When our body's parts are not in harmony, we do not feel well. We are unable to function properly. The same is true with The Church, Christ. It is not able to perform what do it is supposed to very well. When we realize who we are in the Church we can have nothing but joy of love, of being one with everyone. We love each other and pray for each other, desiring that not one soul be lost, that we all together will be with Christ in Paradise when the time comes. This is the truth about the Church. Whoever becomes Baptized and Chrismated is on the path to be saved and have life eternal. For this to be realized we need to support each other in our struggles. 

Saint Porphyrios says, 
“ If we do not become one with the earthly Church here and now, we are in danger of losing the heavenly Church too.”
The saint says. 
“We should not give credence to those who make accusations against the clergy… The same is true for lay members. We are all the Church… We love the Church when we embrace with our prayers each of her members… We need to take care of ourselves as well by observing the formal aspects: to participate in the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Holy Communion.” 
This is what the Church is all about. Christ offers Himself in the sacraments and above all in Holy Communion. We should never voluntarily turn away from this gift.