The Path of the Cross

Krstovdan“We are not created to suffer, but since we accepted temptation and divided ourselves from God, from there on we are to pass through the path of suffering and the cross…We are invited to accept our cross, to identify our own cross – our suffering – with Christ’s cross and suffering. And this is very difficult, but this is the only way to be His disciples and followers.”

Serbian Orthodox Bishop Maxim of Western America

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What Are We Busy About?

Everybody seems to be busy doing something or other. I wonder sometimes, just how busy are we?  At times I imagine being busy, or claiming to be, can have its advantages. The Roman Catholic saint, St. Francis de Sales, wrote at one place, While I am busy with little things, I am not required to do greater things.  On that note, it’s quite easy to tell the person who calls us for a favor that we’re too busy at the moment.  Sorry. As Thoreau said, It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?

Five TalentsIn the gospel story of the talents (Matt: 25:14-30) we are told of three servants to whom the king upon his departure for a distant country, gives talents. To one he gives five, to the other two and to the last one he gives only one. When, at the end of the story, the king returns he discovers that the first two servants have been quite busy as they have taken their talents and doubled them so that the one who had five now has ten and the one who had two now has four. The third servant, however, who only had one talent wasn’t as efficient as his companions and he, with a great deal of honesty, presents the king with the very same talent he was given – nothing more and nothing less. Despite the fact the king refers to this servant as both wicked and lazy I wonder if this servant was really that lazy.

St. Gregory the Great in his homily on this gospel reading points out that the five talents symbolize the five bodily senses. “There are some who,” St. Gregory says, “even without knowing how to probe into inward and mystical matters, use the natural gifts they received to teach correctly those they can reach to strive for their heavenly home.”

The two talents received by the second servant symbolize theory and practice. “They understand the fine points of interior matters and accomplish astonishing things outwardly.” While the one talent received by the last of the servants symbolizes only theory. What he lacks,in other words, is putting it into practice.  But the person with the one talent doesn’t necessarily have to be lazy so to speak.  St. Gregory points out that hiding the talent in the ground means “employing one’s abilities in earthly affairs, failing to seek spiritual profit, never raising one’s heart from earthly thoughts. There are some who have received the gift of understanding but have a taste only for things that pertain to the body. The prophet says of them: They are wise in doing evil, but they do not know how to do good.”

For this reason I make the argument that this last servant wasn’t that lazy at all. On the contrary, I imagine him to be quite the busybody. In fact, I know of quite a few people that could easily be compared to him. They are the ones who have no time for their families, the one that can’t spare a Sunday for church or a few minutes for prayer. They are ultimately the ones who are too busy to help the friend in need or even spend a few minutes to comfort them in their troubles. No, I’m afraid they are far from being lazy people for their daily schedules are demanding and the deadlines they rush to meet are incessant.  What’s more, they are hardly the ones we would identify as having the least number of talents. Instead, they have acquired many things and live a life of plenty.Indeed, they are like the man described in another parable given by our Lord whose ground yielded plentifully and was running out of room to store all his goods.

Yet,  both men and all those who follow them and their habits, while being viewed from  a worldly perspective as successful, will be called fools and wicked and, yes, lazy by God. For in the end, it is, I think, a very good question that Thoreau gives us, one that we should ask ourselves from time to time: What are we so busy about?

What Constitutes Gossip?

H/T: Orthodox England

In a Q & A forum offered on the Orthodox England website someone posed the question: What constitutes gossip?

Gossip_RedStrangely enough, the word ‘gossip’ originally meant ‘godparent’ and  it is connected with the word ‘sibling’. It is useful to recall, because it means that gossip comes about when people are too familiar, too close to each other. I think that in the hothouse of certain tiny convert groups, where relations are too close for  comfort, this can be a problem. I have not particularly come across the problem of gossip in more ‘normal’, larger parishes.

The essence of gossip is pride, the wish to feel superior to others, it is smugness, pretentiousness, self-importance. Gossip always condemns others. Here we must distinguish between ‘judging’ and ‘condemning’. We constantly have to judge – judges have to do it,  parents have to do it, priests have to do it. The words ‘Judge not  that ye be not judged’ refer to condemnatory, censorious, prideful  judgement. When we hear harsh words about others, we should register them not in the front of our minds, but in the back of our minds.  The facts in question may be true, they may not be true. They await  confirmation. If people have done wrong, we should defend them, make  excuses for them (but we never do this for ourselves – self- condemnation is the first baby’s step in spiritual life , the beginning of humility.

In any case, even if the gossip is true, people have done wrong, they do not need condemnation from us, they have already condemned themselves, they have punished themselves and will suffer because  they have already renounced the protection of God’s grace in their  acts and lack of repentance (if there has been no repentance). They  do not therefore need condemnation, but compassion.

This last point about repentance is also often forgotten by  gossipers. Their gossip is unChristian because they forget about the  possibility of change, forgiveness and repentance. Thus, in their rancor, they dig up things done years before, long ago regretted and  repented for. The evil of gossip comes from the possibility that the gossiper is saying things, only in order to make his own heart swell  up with pride and feelings of superiority and arrogance. When we hear gossip (as is inevitable), we should always check the feelings in our hearts. What are we feeling? Superiority and the pharisaic, ‘Thank  God I am not like other men?’. Or compassion and the feeling, ‘Ah so and so has fallen, look how weak our human nature is, I will be the next?’. If gossip puffs us up, we should walk away, because we are  losing our salvation through it.

True, we do need to know things about Church life and individuals. This is not gossip, it is factual. Our attitude to this knowledge  must be dispassionate, objective, humble, compassionate. These are the litmus test questions. What is happening in our hearts, what is  the effect of ‘talk’ there? If the effect is spiritually negative and  we are losing grace, then this is ‘gossip’. This is the meaning of  that very important saying in the Gospels: ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves’. (Matt. 10,16). That sums up the Orthodox (=Christian) attitude to gossip.

Always look for motivations, the why and the how are generally much more important than the what.

I am pleased to know that you not part of any Internet forums and lists. In general they are perfidious, perhaps not by intention, but by consequence. I hope that these very brief thoughts are of some  help to you.

O Venerable Cross, help me unto the ages!

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Today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a little Good Friday, for the gospel read in church this morning is the same one we hear during Holy Week.

Of course, today’s feast commemorates an entirely different event, one which took place much later when Empress Helen, the mother of  Emperor Constantine, found the true Cross of Christ. However, we also note that it was exactly forty days ago today that our church celebrated the Transfiguration of our Lord. Our Lord transfigured before His holy disciples in order to reveal His divinity but also that with that revelation He might strengthened His disciples that they might bear to for His coming persecution and crucifixion. The crucifixion occurred 40 days later. Therefore, today’s feast is truly a little Good Friday. Subsequently, we observe this day with the same strict fast in recalling what our Lord endured for our salvation and observing that fast which our forefathers did not,  as we sing at Vespers:

“O most venerable Cross…by thine elevation today thou didst raise, by a divine sign, those who have been cast away by the deceit of  food and carried headlong to death…”

And we pray:

Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, and let them that hate Him flee from before His face. As smoke vanisheth, so let them vanish; as wax melteth before the fire, so let the demons perish from the presence of them that love God and who sign themselves with the sign of the Cross and say in gladness: Rejoice, most venerable and life-giving Cross of the Lord, for Thou drivest away the demons by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ Who was crucified on thee, Who went down to hades and trampled on the power of the devil, and gave us thee, His venerable Cross, for the driving away of every adversary. O most venerable and life-giving Cross of the Lord, help me together with the holy Lady Virgin Theotokos, and with all the saints, unto the ages. Amen. [Prayer to the Venerable Cross; Jordanville Prayer Book.]