Hell Without Ascription

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I started reading Doctorow’s “The March” earlier this week.  In it the author follows Sherman’s epic march with 60,000 Union troops through Georgia and S and N Carolina.  The events are told through the eyes of Sherman, as well as a former slave girl as well as a doctor, just to name a few; in other words, through the eyes of men and women, blacks and whites, Union solidiers and Rebs, all of whom the reader cares for. At one place he describes the apocalyptic events, the burning and looting in South Carolina:

“There were figures on the roofs beating at the flames with blankets. He saw them silhouetted against the red sky. What hell was this? Surely not the composed Hell of the priests and nuns. Their Hell was comforting. It meant there was a Heaven. This hell, my hell, is without ascription. It is life when it can no longer tolerate itself.”

I am building a temple!

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H/T: Архиерей, Archbishop Ignaty’s blog

Three builders were carrying the same exact work.

-What do you do? -each of them was asked.

-I carry stones, said the first one.

-I’m earning a living, responded the second one.

But the third one replied: “I am building a temple”.

A Careful Attitude to Traditions

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Though I’d like to get back to my translation of Bp. Mitrophan’s talk on the Holy Scripture in the writings of St. Sava, there is not much time for that now. Instead, I am posting some thoughts of the newly elected Patriarch of Russia on church reforms given about a month ago, taken from Orthodixie and, originally, from Interfax. It seems the Russians, unlike us Serbs, have no desire to change how things are done in the church.

There will be no reforms in the Russian Orthodox Church when a new Patriarch takes office, Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Kirill told the media in Moscow on Monday.

I strongly oppose any church reforms. Besides, I do not think that any of the 145 archbishops that may be nominated for Patriarch have reform aspirations,” he said.

Russia has twice learned “the necessity of careful attitude to traditions, especially church traditions,” the Metropolitan said.

“The first lesson we learned was the church split by Old Believers. Our second lesson was the notorious innovations of the 1920s. Both processes caused agitation and divided people but neither of them reached the goals set by the reformers,” he told.

Church reforms cannot attain their goals unless these goals are rooted in people’s life,” Metropolitan Kirill remarked.

“Our Church is strong with its ability to preserve the belief and the flawless moral paradigm and to pass them over from one generation to another,” the Metropolitan said.

“The Church is conservative by nature, as it maintains the apostolic belief,” he added.

“If we want to pass the belief from one generation to another for centuries, the belief must be intact. Any reform damaging the belief, traditions and values is called heresy,” he said.

Meanwhile, secular reforms that undermine traditions of “theological and moral values” are dangerous for the country, Metropolitan Kirill said.

“Life has shown that Russia accepts ideas that do not break its backbone. People rejected everything suggested in the 1990s as kind of an intellectual project,” he said.

Days of Saint Sava: On the Day of Saint Sava

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Churches throughout Serbia and the world are celebrating St. Sava today. Many have already had their St. Sava programs either last weekend or last night, while some churches will be holding their’s this coming weekend. Pictured above is the beginning of the celebration in our parish, with the cutting of the Slava Kolach.

On this day I offer a translation from a lecture given by Bishop Mitrophan (Kodic) of Eastern America, delivered some years ago. I am hoping to be able to finish the translation in the days to come.

Holy Scripture in the Writings of Saint Sava

If we wish to talk about this theme it is necessary, first of all, to focus our attention on the life of St. Sava, as it was seen by his contemporary Hilandar monks Domentijan and Teodosije.

Both of them stress the fact that we cannot seperate the works of Saint Sava from his life. But what is life other than man’s greatest work or his personal book which he can bestow to God. Each saint, including St. Sava, has, first of all, fufilled with themselves the words of the Holy Apostle Paul: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). When one offers their body to the service of God, they have certainly also offered their souls, that is, themselves wholly. For we are to love the Lord “with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). This means that every Saint has fulfilled the commandment of the “everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6) which is the word of the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14; 21:6).

Having fulfilled Christ’s Gospel, Saint Sava could truly say together with the Holy Apostle: “it is no longer I who live, buth Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). For, according to the words of one of our great theologians “saints are living and walking Gospels”. The gospels could be seen in both their works and words, that is, in their entire lives. For my life is made up of my words. We can add that the Saints are God’s living walking Holy Scripture.

The holy Saints of God were not taught only by one New Testament or Old Testament book, but all of them. For, the one who didn’t consider himself worthy to be called an Apostle (1 Cor. 15:9, says: “All Scripture is given by inspiritation of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thorougly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Or, let us remember the words of St. John Chrysostom who says that it would better that the sun cease to exist than the Psalms of David to disappear.

We find a similar thought in the writings of St. Sava, in his Instructions to the One who Wishes to Keep the Psalter. Namely, St. Sava rewrote the Psalter: “…in thanks for the vigilant and longsuffering life of the holy fathers, and drowning my weakness and poor laziness and heaviness in sleep.” And he advises the monk: “…if you succeed in reciting the entire Psalter before the coming of light, or before the end of the day, then go again from the beginning and begin and finish it. For the Psalter is never completed…and in your assiduity remember also me the sinful monk Sava, that in your perfection my deficiency might be fulfilled” (The Collected Writings of Saint Sava, Belgrade 1986; pg. 142; 2 Cor. 8:14).

The spiritual and intellectual upbringing of Nemanja’s youngest son Rastko began at the royal castle of his mother and father who, according to their biographers, were most God fearing. As the child became stronger “the parents gave him to learn from the holy books”. The parents, therefore, planted the seeds of the gospel in the soul of their son Rastko, which will later grow into a large tree on which the birds of the air can nest in (Matt. 13:31,32).

When he arrived on the Holy Mountain, the young Rastko had already been brought up on the works of early Christianity, Byzantine and Old Slavonic literature. From his literature, as it can be recognized in the works which he left behind, we find first all the Gospels, Epistles, the Psalter and other Old Testament books. But included is spiritual reading in his selection, the Lives of the Saints and the Petericon. We should not forget the Ladder of St. John Climacus as well as the holy fathers of the golden age of “Christian literature”, especially the homilies of St. John Chrysostom (Dr. D. Bogdanovic, History of Serbian Literature, Belgrade, 1980, p. 146).

But young Rastko, though he had everything in abundance, left the home of his parents for the sake of our Lord’s command: “He who loves mother or father more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26). For, in reading the holy books he knew of the saying of the wise Solomon: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2), or rather, the Lord’s words: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul. Or what will a man given in exchange for his soul” (Mark 8:36,37). With this thought he left for the Holy Mountain and it didn’t leave him until his last breath.

In the hymn to St. Sava we sing to the first Archbishop that he “built churches, monasteries, schools and taught people to pray to God.” And each evening and morning, that is, at the church services of the Serbian Orthodox Church, we say in the dismissal: “the holy Serbian enlighteners and teachers: Saint Sava…”etc. Who can be a greater teacher than a holy man? No one. That thought remained with Sava’s successors as well as during the entire duration of the golden period of Serbian history until the “enlightening” centuries when medieval literature began to be forgotten, or rather it was diminished and disliked as something fictitious. Some valued more the fables of Aesop than the lives of the Saints.

Unfortunately, with some of our [literary] critics of more recent times, Skerlic for instance, our old hagiographies and biographies don’t even find a place in their criticism. Among them are included the writings of St. Sava. Regarding this literature of ours, he writes: “All of that literature of the liturgical Book of Needs, the Typicon, canons, chroniclers, hagiographical writings, “praiseful lives” of the Christ loving and honorable rulers, in the best case, apocryphic works, are a result of unhealthy medival church romanticism, all of this was not literature in the true sense of the word and if it is counted today as literature it is in the absence of something else and because it has been accepted as such up until now” (J. Skerlic, Serbian literature in the 18th century, Belgrade, 1923, p. 5). Hence his rationalistic and West-European “enlightening” position towards the works of our spiritual culture is crowned with the words: “Our culture and our literature begins from the 18th century.” For that is the century of “leaving Byzantinism and approaching the West…”. The conclusion follows: Dositej Obradovic is greater than our medieval Saints and, therefore, even St. Sava.

Unfortunately we can constitute that there were writers of different faiths who knew how to respect St. Sava and our literature more than Serbian critics and writers, as is the case with Andrije Zmajevic.

And even when these medieval works were included in Serbian critical works, the many Scriptural quotes found in the writings were considered as an imperfection. As if the Holy Scripture is a product of some unknown and aged writer, and not the work of all works and book of all books. On the contrary, Holy Scripture is spilled throughout their works like the stars in the heavens and precious pearls on the beautiful fabric. The quotes from Holy Scripture are like the beautiful flowers on the elegant rug. And it is these very flowers which give value to the rug. Dr. Dimitrije Bogdanovic, who certainly knows this literature the best, says with truthfulness: “Finally we have begun to reveal the poetry of Serbian medieval literature, material that has for a long time been outside of any scientific investigation”. Here we should mention other wise Serbian writers and critics who have not been drawn by the the Euro-Skrelic enlightment, such as: Vasko Popa, Miodrag Pavlovic, Milan Kasanin and others, not to mention Bishop Nikolai, Fr. Justin Popovic and others.

We musn’t forget that the value of our medieval sources was felt by our brothers by faith, the Russians, in the 19th and 20th centuries among which Dimitri Sergejevich Lihacev is most known.

To be continued

Thirty-second Sunday after Pentecost (or, the Sunday after Theophany)

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The gospel reading this morning (Matt. 4:12-17) is in connection with last Monday’s feast of Theophany, a feast we are still celebrating today. After our Lord’s baptism the evangelist tells us that Jesus goes to the desert where He is tempted by Satan. Upon returning the gospel says that He left Nazareth and came to dwell in Capernaum and this is the reading that we hear this morning.

Since our children have prepared their annual St. Sava program today it is fitting that we say a few about this great Serbian saint. To talk about St. Sava can be both an easy task and a very difficult one at the same time. If we grew up in the Serbian Orthodox Church it means we grew up with the story of St. Sava and his story has become our story. The same St. Sava of whom we read in the stories who taught the Serbian people to pray and have faith in God is the same one who, we believe, leads us and our church to this day.  Each generation of Serbs has had a close bond with the figure of Saint Sava.

He is, by far, the greatest figure from our Serbian history. He didn’t bring Orthodoxy to the Serbs, nor did he introduce them to Christianity. There were Orthodox churches, an Orthodox presence, in the Serbian lands during St. Sava’s time. In fact, his biographers write that he was brought up in a very God fearing family, even though they were royalty. Though he had a bright future as ruler of Serbia, this never seem that attractive to  this young boy named Rastko. And so, the story goes, when monks from the Holy Mountain came to visit his father at the castle, seeking donations for the monastery, young Rastko had already made up his mind. He had such a burning desire to be closer to God and dedicate his life to Him that he hid with the monks and fled the royal castle to go to the holy monastery.

I don’t know what fascinates us more: his running away from home to be a monk in the far away Holy Mountain or his return and work in establishing the independent Serbian Orthodox Church, starting dioceses, new parishes, teaching priests and monks and the people and caring for the young church. I suppose the greatness of St. Sava lies in the fact that he not only established the independent Serbian Orthodox Church but in the fact that he never had an ambition to do so.

The first archbishop of the Serbian Church, this famed and well known Serbian figure St. Sava was not a nationalist, he was a monk. Nor was he  a politician, but a servant of God and His people. What is it that draws us to him? What is that makes him so great? If we know his life story can we list the things that he did and conclude that it is for such and such a reason he was so important?

I think it has something to do with the fact that St. Sava – and for that matter all the Saints – never set out for greatness. There is no spirit of ambition with them. We hear so many stories of great men and women from history, whether it be American or Seriban or whatever. We hear accounts of how they worked hard and were ambitious and accomplished many things. When we read the lives of the Saints we find somethign altogether different. We read of people running away to be further and further away from the commotion of everyday life so that they can dedicate all their thoughts, their entire lives, to God. And it is through such people God establishes His Holy Church. It is this, I think, which draws us to Saint Sava and to all the Saints.

St. Sava, then, according to this logic, was not a great man, he was instead a servant. And it is in our celebration of this humble servant of God Sava and, for that matter, St. George and St. Petka and all the saints we celebrate -something that might baffle the heterodox who might think that ignore God by honoring the memory of Saints – but as we  celebrate all of these Saints in our church, we celebrate not the greatness of these men and women but the greatness of God revealed through the humility of His servants. It is here we see the Apostle’s words: “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27).

With the children’s program we will celebrate today the memory of St. Sava, an anual celebration which always brings us joy, where we recall the events from his life, the things he did as a young man, as a monk, as an archbishop. But above all we call to mind his love and dedication to God and what a great love for God he had. It is this love that we pray be instilled in us, that we never lose our faith nor veer from that path of St. Sava, a path marked with evangelical guideposts, one which carefully guides us to that kingdom of love and goodness and peace and everlasting joy; that kingdom where there is only One who is great and our greatness is nothing but the reflection of our love and dedication to Him: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Through the prayers of St. Sava, the first archbishop of Serbia who still watches and prays for his people, may God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Days of Saint Sava: Since When Has St. Sava Been Celebrated?

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Schools in Serbia have their own Slava celebration just as families do. They celebrate St. Sava as their patron Saint, a Slava that did not always exist.

In the book “Schools in Serbia” by M. Dj. Milicevic, the story is told how it was Prince Milos who in the first days of 1827  decreed that, in the future, St. Sava be celebrated as the greatest of God’s righteous; that stores be closed and no one does any work but that all people go to church. Greeks in Belgrade, since St. Sava was not considered a major saint in their calendars, opened their stores as they would on a regular working day. Milos found out about this and called a few of the more prominent ones to him in Pozarevac and began to reprove them:

“You Greeks make even your laity into Saints and we celebrate their memory, but you will not even celebrate one Saint Sava of Serbia! What faith are you?”

The Greeks began to defend themselves saying that they didn’t know about him. Then the prince answered, And why do you not know that one saint, St. Sava when we know so many of your saints, even some St. Cyriacus and Julitta…” and he commanded that in the future they do well to remember when the feast of St. Sava falls.

From then on even the Belgrade Greeks began celebrating St. Sava and it was recorded how the following year they made sure to ask around Christmas time, “When is your Saint Sava so that we might go to church so that we don’t have to hear from Prince Milos again?”

And so St. Sava began to be celebrated with more strictness but it was not until a law passed in 1841 that the feast of St. Sava was officially declared to be the School Slava.

– Taken from “Sv Sava” by Stanojlo Dimitrijevic