Elder Paisios as He faced death

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H/T: Orthodox Way of Life (here)

After spending time with my Father who at 98 is coming to terms with his mortality, I began to wonder how some of our Church Fathers would provide counsel in such situations. I found this account of Elder Paisios as He faced terminal cancer.

–– Geronda, the final diagnosis has been made. Your tumor is cancerous and it’s aggressive.

–– Bring me a handkerchief so that I may dance to the song: “I bid farewell to you, O poor world!” I have never danced in my life, but now I will dance for joy as my death approaches.

–– Geronda, the doctor said that first he wants to use radiation to shrink the tumor and then do surgery.

–– I understand! First the air force will bombard the enemy, and then the attack will begin! I’ll go up then and bring you news! Some people, even the elderly, when told by the doctor, “You will die,” or “You have a fifty percent chance of surviving” get very distressed. They want to live. And then what? I wonder! Now, if someone is young, well , this is justifiable, but if someone is old and is still desperately trying to hang on, well, this I just don’t understand. Of course, it’s quite different if someone wants to undergo therapy in order to manage pain. He’s not interested in extending life; he only wants to make the pain somewhat more bearable so that he can take care of himself until he dies –– this does make sense.

–– Geronda, we are praying that God may give you an extension on your life.

–– Why? Doesn’t the Psalmist say, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten?”

–– But the Psalmist adds the following, “And if by reason of strength they be foreshore years…”

–– Yes, but he adds the following, “Yet is their strength labor and sorrow,” in which case it is better to have the peace of the other life.

–– Geronda, can someone, out of humility, feel spiritually unprepared for the other life and wish to live longer in order to get prepared?

–– This is a good thing, but how can he know that, even if he does live longer, he won’t become spiritually worse?

–– Geronda, when can we say that a person is reconciled with death?

–– When Christ lives inside him, then death is a joy. But one must not rejoice in dying just because he has become tired of this life. When you rejoice in death, in the proper sense, death goes away to find someone who’s scared! When you want to die, you don’t. Whoever lives the easy life is afraid of death because he is pleased with worldly life and doesn’t want to die. If people talk to him about death, he reacts with denial: “Get away from here!” However, whoever is suffering, whoever is in pain, sees death as a release and says, “What a pity, Charon has not yet come to take me… He must have been held up!”

Few are the people who welcome death. Most people have unfinished business and don’t want to die. But the Good God provides for each person to die when he is fully matured. In any case, a spiritual person, whether young or old, should be happy to live and be happy to die, but should never pursue death, for this is suicide.

For a person who is dead to worldly matters and has been spiritually resurrected, there is never any agony, fear or anxiety, for he awaits death with joy because he will be with Christ and delight in His presence. But he also rejoices in being alive, again because he is united with Christ even now and experiences a portion of the joy of Paradise here on earth and wonders whether there is a higher joy in Paradise than the one he feels on earth. Such people struggle with philotimo* and self-denial; and because they place death before themselves and remember it every single day, they prepare more spiritually, struggling daringly, and defeating vanity.
* A way of life expressed through acts of generosity and sacrifice without expecting anything in return.

Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Councils IV: Family Life, pp 274-276.

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Your Life is Hidden

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Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings – October 19

If the true identity of Christ our Lord, his inner Person begotten of the Father, remains a mystery concealed from the world (John 14:22), something similar is also said rightly of those who put their hope in Christ, because they too are defined by their communion with the Father in Christ. They are known by God (John 10:14; 1 Corinthians 8:3; 13:12). To be sure, the world is able to look at Christians and label them for social and demographic purposes (Acts 11:26), but it does not really know them.

“You died,” wrote Paul to the Colossians, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). These Christians, whom the world can outwardly distinguish by remarking on peculiar cultural and social patterns, carry about in their lives, amid circumstances however humble, the only force available to mankind for the redemption and transformation of its history. On this earth the treasure of God is veiled and borne about in earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). Like the clay pitchers of Gideon, the disciples of Christ convey the secret flame that must, in the end, force flight upon the Midianite.

Consequently, the coming of Christ at the end of time will reveal to the world, not only his own glory, but the glory of those who have hoped in him: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). Until that day when the inner meaning of history is manifest, it stays concealed except to the eyes of faith. “Beloved,” wrote the Apostle John, “now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (First John 3:2).

For Christians themselves, this truth implies practical applications of piety and a disciplined life. Both in John’s First Epistle and in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, the Christian hope of the final revelation of the believer leads promptly to the theme of holiness and personal purification. The Apostle John, immediately after the verse just cited, went on to say, “And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (3:3). Likewise the Apostle Paul, right after telling the Colossians that their hidden life in Christ will be revealed at his coming, exhorted those Christians to radical and strenuous moral and ascetical effort: “Therefore put to death your members that are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (3:5). While they await the final revelation of glory, Christians quietly labor in the inner pursuit of that “holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

This characteristic of “concealment” that marks the lives of Christians explains why the Church for many centuries has celebrated an annual Feast of All Saints. Quite simply there are more saints than even the Church can identify, because the inner holiness of most Christians is concealed even from the scrutiny of the Church. For example, we know that there were “many other women” (heterai pollai) who served and provided for Jesus “from their substance,” but only three of those women are named. And even of those three, we know nearly nothing (Luke 8:2-3).

Likewise, there were about one-hundred and twenty Christians waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the morning of Pentecost (Acts 1:15), but the Church herself preserved hardly more than a tithe of their names (1:13-14). Who were those unnamed believers on whom the Holy Spirit fell in the home of Cornelius (10:24,44)? And who were those widows that wept around the body of Dorcas (9:39)? The Church remembered Antipas as the first Christian martyr at Pergamos (Revelation 2:13), but who were those other early Christians at Smyrna and Philadelphia who suffered the same fate (2:10; The Martyrdom of Polycarp 19.1)?

Thus has it always been. The great majority of the saints have lived very hidden lives, their inner communion with God so quiet and concealed that only God knew it. Even those saints recognized by the Church in their own generation were often enough recognized for some trait distinct from personal holiness, such as preaching, pastoral ministry, or theological writings. Although all the saints lived in great loyalty to God, the overwhelming majority of them are beyond our ability to name. No matter. The Good Shepherd discerns who they are and calls them by name.

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From the left and the right

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October 17, 2014 · 9:47 am

Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos

Fr. Milovan Katanic:

In anticipation of tomorrow’s feast, an old post.

Originally posted on Again and Again:

For some time my brother in law had been looking for a job. He applied, had numerous interviews and, more than anything, spent much of his time waiting. These were difficult and stressful times for him and his young family: months and months of uncertainty. Despite the disappointments which each interview inevitably brought, he kept his faith. He prayed regularly and faithfully and quite fervently, convinced that his day was coming. Finally, glory be to God, it came and he was able to find a job. It was a good job, one in his own field which ended up taking him to the very center of the financial world: Wall Street. This meant that he had to move and as the move was sudden it found him a bit unprepared. In this new and bustling environment he had to quickly find a temporary place to stay before he got on…

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Protestants in Russia

H/T: Religion News Service (here)

With persecution now ended, Protestants in Russia sputter along, pastor says

Heidi Hall

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) A Russian pastor whose grandfather was killed for being a Christian toured the U.S. recently, studying church ministries and providing a rare, first-person look at Russia’s complex religious landscape after widespread persecution ended.During Victor Ignatenkov’s youth under the Soviet regime, Christians could meet only for worship.

No Sunday school.

No midweek Bible study.

And definitely no proselytizing.

Today, Ignatenkov, 59, said he’s free to lead whatever activities he wants as pastor of the Central Baptist Church in his hometown of Smolensk — a city situated between the capitals of Russia and Ukraine — and as regional bishop for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist. The union is a group of evangelical Protestant churches that began emerging in Russia about 150 years ago as an alternative to the Russian Orthodox establishment.

The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s International Peacemaker Program sponsored his U.S. journey, which included stops in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and several other states.

Ignatenkov, speaking through a translator, hedged on discussing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin helped resurrect the church, which the state once crushed. And though there is no state religion, the Orthodox Church receives preferential treatment.

“Putin can be of whatever confession he chooses,” Ignatenkov says. “What’s important to us, what we value, is that Putin as president holds a neutral stance. We do not experience governmental limitations because we are Baptist.”

Not all church leaders can say the same. The government refuses to recognize some religions, which means religious freedoms are limited. A U.S. State Department report last year slammed Russia for its treatment of minority religious groups, including Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals and Scientologists.

Members of those groups may be subject to arbitrary laws and denied access to places of worship or visas for visiting missionaries, the report said. Some face physical violence.

For denominations the government recognizes, perestroika, the political reform movement that began in the waning days of the Soviet Union, threw open doors to total religious freedom.

At first, Russians couldn’t get enough evangelical preaching, Ignatenkov said. They packed cultural centers for special services and snatched up free Bibles.

These days, Ignatenkov’s description of his countrymen sounds like the same one American evangelicals bemoan: People are indifferent.

“Probably because the quality of life is better,” Ignatenkov says. “Everything that had been forbidden was of course very interesting. It’s not forbidden, so of course it’s not interesting now.”

A Pew Research Center study of major religious groups in Russia confirms Ignatenkov’s observations on Russian interest in faith. Covering data from 1991-2008, it tracked a surge of interest in Protestant Christianity, Islam and Roman Catholicism that then leveled off. The share of Russians who attended church once a month rose from 2 percent in 1991 to 9 percent in 1998, then dropped to 7 percent a decade later.

Seventy-two percent of Russian adults identified as Orthodox Christians in 2008, the survey found, but that didn’t translate into church attendance.

At the same time, Pew figures show one-fifth of U.S. adults don’t identify with any religion. But Ignatenkov said he’s been impressed by church activities on his trip.

Ignatenkov spoke to a political science class at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., on Monday (Oct. 6) before heading back to Smolensk, with best-practices ideas to share with his church.

Trouble for Russian Christians began in 1937 under dictator Josef Stalin, Ignatenkov said. His grandfather, Pavel Gorbatenkov, reared six children in his Baptist faith, including Ignatenkov’s mother, Olga. With the pounding of soldiers’ fists on the door, they knew in an instant their happy, peaceful lives were over.

Gorbatenkov was imprisoned and denied visits with his family, who still brought food to the prison for two weeks. After that, the soldiers didn’t take the food, but they also didn’t tell the family Gorbatenkov had been shot — news that came years later.

The government began allowing limited worship in 1944.

Today, Russia’s constitution provides for religious freedom, but other laws, including one banning “extremism” and a new law on “offending the religious feelings of believers,” restrict religious freedom, particularly for members of minority religious groups.

Ignatenkov’s family history and ongoing issues with religious freedom in Russia raise the question of whether incidents reported by evangelicals in the U.S. can be called persecution.

In a recent Southern Baptist Convention blog post, an Arlington, Texas, mother wrote that her son was being persecuted after his high school teacher asked him to put away his Bible during independent reading time.

American evangelicals’ claims of persecution echo those of religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, who took cases to the Supreme Court in the 1940s to protect their religious freedom, observed James Hudnut-Beumler, professor of American religious history in Vanderbilt University’s divinity school.

But it’s a stretch to call what’s happening in America today persecution, particularly in comparison with Russia, Iraq or Syria, Hudnut-Beumler said.

“The U.S. is one of the most religion-friendly places on Earth,” he said.

After his experiences, Ignatenkov said he’d perhaps call U.S. Christians’ negative experiences “discrimination” over “persecution.”

Overall, he said, he was buoyed by America’s large, bustling churches “with rooms for everything.” He said he was most interested in examining churches’ social ministries — to homeless people, in prisons and elsewhere — and taking those lessons home.

He’d also like to duplicate cooperative efforts between governments and churches to provide faith-based services to Russians in need.

(Heidi Hall can be reached on Twitter @HeidiHallTN.)

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No Kosovo Testament Without New Testament

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This interview appeared some time back in the Serbian newspaper Politika (here) and was translated into English with the intention of appearing in the September issue of The Path of Orthodoxy but we didn’t have room for it. Luckily I have room here….

The Kosovo Testament Does Not Exist Without the New Testament

The outlook of a bishop, priest, Christian, must always be different from that of a politician, whether he be radical or liberal.
“Vidovdan is a sign, symbol, reminder and warning to all lulled into sleep by the habits of a life of comfort and irresponsible thinking,” thinks Bishop Maxim, bishop of Western America. He speaks to “Politika” of the problems of identity, relative to Kosovo, the Vidovdan ethic and the relationship between Orthodoxy and the modern world.

- In America, in the past, the Serbian community would celebrate Vidovdan in the best manner in accordance with the local means and circumstances: in the mines, cities and towns, fraternal organizations or parishes. In early times, people would bring their emblems, military hats, swords and other symbols. They would gather at the church, the hall or someone’s home and commemorate the feast there. Today Vidovdan is also celebrated formally, but with much less zeal. This, however, is a consequence of the state in Serbia, since the newer emigration has arrived with the manners and weaknesses they practiced in their old homeland. But in Serbia, I must admit, a monopolistic class has been at work during the last seventy years which self-reproduced and survived, denying our historical heritage. We see that it hasn’t improved to this day. A partocracy is on the scene with politicians who use the language of ruffians. The ruling leadership acts grotesquely, whether they welcome foreign statesman or appear as supermen at floods. Despite shining examples and feats of mostly lonely individuals, the Serbian political and cultural scene today suffers from the illness of autism. Its symptoms are: a journalistic subculture, retrograde mentality, literalism in full form, a quasi-scientific fundamentalism, an intellectual provincialism and barbarianism. That’s the impression of the spectator and that is how our neighbors, well-disposed or not, see us – says Bishop Maxim.

How did it come to this of which you speak?

This trend appeared as a result of the frustrations after the fall of the conceited greatness of Serbdom, and then, as a magnet, it attracted the primitiveness and crudeness of nationalism. This is a tendency which wishes to showcase the Serbian conceptual system as indigenous, even though it isn’t, for Serbs have been nurtured by the Iliad and the Odyssey and the classics, as well as Byzantine philosophy, the fathers of the Church. Today’s government is not aware of this and for this reason they’ve abolished not only the Ministry of Religion and Diaspora but also the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija. If we do not respect our sacrifices we ourselves will end up in oblivion and the anonymity of history.

What is the basis for the Vidovdan testament or ethic?

First all, I consider it to be based on the Christian heritage of Kosovo and Metohija. It serves as a powerful symbol, and we should consider the role of symbols since mankind still functions based on them. If the Serbian (political, church, cultural) elite has nothing better to offer the contemporary challenges, it would be better they quickly leave the scene of these quickly changing and cruel times, since none of their stereotypes and conformity will support any changes.
The second feature of this testament is that it does not call upon a misanthropic or armed rebellion against anyone, but is directed towards an awakening, stimulating and resurrecting among the people the true spirituality that originally adorned the Kosovo testament. As someone aptly said once: the Kosovo testament is the New Testament expressed in a Serbian style and through a Serbian experience. At the same time, it continues to be Christ’s New Testament and not anything else. The Kosovo testament does not exist outside the New Testament. Therefore, it is the embodiment of the New Testament in the life and ethos of our people, its history, being, and earthly destiny. And if the essence of Kosovo is not in the New Testament, than it is false and as such we don’t need it.

I firmly believe that the Vidovdan heritage bares something very powerful, like atomic particles: it can become an explosive in a silence that can scatter every lie, falsification, plagiarism, illusion, not destroying anyone; without collateral damage. At the same time, this flash can give truth to life as a blessing of freedom and unity to everyone on planet earth, and even Kosovo which is the Serbian terra sacra.

How much of a modification has this heritage underwent in its encounter with modern lifestyle, interests, and multiethnic modern identity?

Since life is unpredictable, and man’s identity multifold, and again with one common principle, it is inevitable that man adapts in an effort to preserve his core. This adaptation is not bad in and of itself, for a tradition that does not adapt become a decadence. Introversion destroys creativity. We know well that Serbs are also a mixture, and America is particularly a special conglomerate of people on the new continent.

On the other hand, Western civilization is approaching its end and the big question is: to whom or to what does a Europe serve today. The decadence of civilization is at work, but the problem is that there is no one to inherit this civilization. And while in Russia we have the oligarchs, the rest of us live in a post-democratic society at a time when there are serious threats to human beings and health, when technology threatens the freedom of personality, when the consumer voracity threatens the sustainability of our civilization, and even the planet. American society, on the other hand, shows the required flexibility for diversity. Even though it doesn’t openly deprive you of the features of identity, it still seeks a sacrificing of the crucial principles in a cruel, neo-darwanistic battle of social capitalism.

Is there an authentic answer to this of which you speak, do we have an answer?

Serbian ecclesiastic culture – from the Middle Ages – is a structured conciliarity that nurtures freedom. But freedom is not chaos, it isn’t entropy and anarchy, but discipline and responsibility; more precisely, it is the freedom of policies that see their meaning in a harmony with truth.

The entire challenge is that Christianity, as a faith of the highest standards of civilization in urban population, survive in the new century. Christianity cannot be preserved and advance by glorifying primitiveness. He who stands with stability in his faith has free hands and can offer them to others. Orthodoxy in America must be the carrier of the integral Tradition, and not particularism. I would also say this: just as Serbia lacks a prophetic confrontation with the disoriented government (which now is unreasonably tough and later unjustly capitulates), so too is a lacking confrontation felt in America of a pervasive discourse of secular idealogies.

The nationalistic segment of Vidovdan has for centuries swayed between defeat and victory, what is the Christian answer to this problem?

Inasmuch as we identify Vidovdan with Paul’s “strength in weakness”, then it is possible to live our personal Vidovdan in a way that offers hope. Nicholas Cabasilas, the saint of Thessaloniki (also an excellent diplomat of his time), said that “we win when others win”, which is an expression of a new manner of existence, a self-emptying approach of being that sees its identity in others – so that it rejoices in the victories of others. Christ has taught us with His life, particularly with His Suffering and Resurrection, a kenotic way of existing. He showed us that we exist not to rule over other; or: we can only become rulers only when we serve others, if we live and feed ourselves by not consuming (killing) others. We do not want to win by making the other perservere, but we want to live with the joy that lifts everyone from hopelessness: “When I am weak, then am I strong. And when I am failing, then I can firmly stand on my feet.”

Since you have an inside familiarity with the problem of Kosovo and Metohija, who can help the people remaining there?

The Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija are the greatest sacrifice today of the wrong and heartless politics of their country and political elite. Thus, the outlook of a bishop, priest, Christian, must always be different from that of a politician, whether he be radical or liberal. Therein is the great task of the church laborers in Kosovo and Metohija and Serbia. Unless the spiritual vision does not go beyond the phenomenological, then it is no different from the publicist, we do not bring hope to the future, we do not invoke the eschatological freedom that translates to the other side.
Serbia’s Problem – A problem of criteria and quality

The cultural heritage is just about the most important issue in Kosovo and Metohija, what can be done, protected?

This leads me to the following impression: there is in the Vidovdan Ethic something that goes beyond the narrow opinion, views, aspirations … Andre Malraux said something like this: culture can never be the past if it is kept as something most precious. The same can be said of the spiritual, cultural and material treasures of Orthodoxy in Kosovo, because they go beyond national and political divisions and agendas. Lifestyle that emanates from the Vidovdan ethic calls on all of us – whether we are in the diaspora or in the homeland – that we place all of our differences beneath the light of the New Testament ethos.

This ethic is a paradox: an unforgettable memory, a new creation at rest, a joyful sorrow, moving while standing still, a humble elation … Not complete answers, but perspectives. In other words, Vidovdan offers us the spiritual, cultural and ecclesial conditions for exiting the crisis, because the problem is the Serbia of today – the problem of criteria and quality.

Zivojin Rakocevic
 

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The Truth

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Is the truth a good thing or a bad thing?

I’m trying to get back to blogging. What I’m really trying to get back to is writing; plain and simple. Not sure if I can do it, but this morning I’m gonna try and hopefully I can keep at it.

The truth. In yesterday’s gospel the Canaanite woman, a pagan woman, went after the truth. Jesus wasn’t too nice to her at first. Neither were His disciples. But she kept at it and she got what she wanted – her daughter was healed. Christ said some nasty things to this Canaanite woman before healing her daughter. In response? The woman swallowed her pride and kept praying. She was after the truth and knew what she wanted.

Knowing the truth can be an ugly thing. The gospel of the Canaanite woman is proof of that. So the question remains: Do we really want to know the truth about some people? There’s nothing nice about it. “You can’t handle the truth,” Jack Nicholson warned us and I think he was right.

Christ is the truth. Western theology has trained us to think that we are the ones who “accept” Jesus as our Savior. In reality, He is the truth. Period. The truth about everything. The truth about ourselves is not something we reveal to God and then decide whether we’re going to accept Him as our Savior or not. He is salvation whether we accept Him or not.  As far as the truth about how we lead our lives, He knows that, too. Subsequently, He is the one who reveals it to us – which we’ve been hiding or justifying from ourselves. Once we accept that, like the woman of Canaan accepted that she is a “dog”, we’ll be okay.

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