An ecumenical birthday

The shortest month of the year gets an added day on this leap year – on this February 29th.  According to some customs, while it is the man’s duty to ask the woman for her hand in marriage, women could propose only on leap days.  I assume this is a special day for anyone who is celebrating their birthday today, known as “leaplings”, since, strictly speaking, their birthday doesn’t come around just every year.

One very special birthday today is of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople born on this day in 1940.

Eis polla eti despota!

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Longing and Hunger for Christ

H/T: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy. Here. Lenten greeting by Metropolitan Ephrem. Translated from the Arabic.

The Fast is for Purifying the Heart

Beloved, at the beginning of the fast we are placed before this struggle that comes to us anew. We receive it with gladness, joy, and enthusiasm of heart. We have been preparing for it for over a month. We must be prepared for struggle throughout our life. The fast, in itself, does not mean anything unless it is a channel that delivers us to attachment to Christ. If you do not eat, your health weakens and you die. And so, when you approach this fast, you approach the fact that you will die. However, you will die for Christ’s sake and at that moment you will realize that Christ is the source of life, not the food, possessions, and pleasures that are in this world.

This is why the Church comes today to teach us what the Lord said: When you fast, wash your face and anoint your head. Do not grimace and show people that you are fasting, as though you will get people to think well of you. This is because your worship should be in the heart. Worship of the heart does not negate external worship. There are those who say, “do not fast, rather let your tongue fast,” but these are meaningless expressions. When you fast, your entire being fasts, not just your tongue and not just your stomach. Your entire being distances itself from sin.

So let us strive to purify our hearts, so that the Lord will make us worthy of His kingdom after this life that we lead here in struggle and enthusiasm– out of love, and not out of revulsion, fatigue, or weariness. We approach the fast and the struggle with joy and enthusiasm. The first thing that we must undertake or achieve in order to purify our hearts is for us to forgive people, to pardon them for having behaved in a sinful manner with us. And in return, we ask them to forgive us so that we will be freed from the claims that we hold against each other. However, we will not fully enjoy God’s forgiveness if our hearts are not pure like His heart and forgiving like His forgiveness. He no longer recalls the evil deeds we did against Him, the lack of honor that we gave Him when we offended Him with our sins.

And so the purpose is not to eat fasting foods, in as much as through our enduring these foods and the like, we express our longing and our hunger for Christ. Instead, we sit at our table, we take out the Bible and we read it carefully, eagerly, and with longing, so that we can eat and be sated from it. In consequence, when we have discovered all the richness, abundance, and great love that Christ offers us, we are no longer able to hold on to bitterness, hatred, or hardness in our heart toward others. And so we forgive and we cry out to Him, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us. So let us repair this interior relationship between us and Christ.

May the Holy Lord make us worthy to receive forgiveness for our sins and purification of our hearts from every bitterness, hatred, and harmful desire, so that we can desire Him and keep Him in our hearts as an everlasting treasure.  Amen

A new book noted

Lent isn’t only a time we try to find something nourishing to eat so that we might feed our bodies but we also look to feed our souls with something good to read. Luckily for us a new book has just come out which promises to do just that.

The book is “Challenges of Orthodox Thought and Life: Reflections on Christian Foundations and Living Traditions” by Hieromonk Calinic (Berger). The book is, in fact, a collection of essays which were, as is noted in the preface, “originally published in Solia-The Herald, the diocesan periodical of the Romanian Episcopate of America, where they appeared in the column Orthodox Thought and Life. Here they have been arranged by topic, edited and in some cases, slightly expanded.”

And just who is Fr. Calinic? Well, I know him because he’s my neighbor, parish priest of the local Romanian Orthodox Church here in Hermitage. What I didn’t know however, was that many others – if they don’t know him personally, have at least heard of him. And so I’ve noticed his articles re-printed in a number of our Serbian parish bulletins. What’s more, they have been translated into Serbian and appeared in church periodicals in Serbia as well.  Why? I think for the simple reason that his articles are so rich in theology yet, at the same time, written in a simple, straightforward prose, “not in persuasive words of human wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:1). Which is to say this book is filled with essays written for all of our faithful parishioners, all of whom are hungry and thirsty for the Word of God.

Come to think of it Fr. Calinic is no stranger to this blog. Last summer I posted an article of his entitled, “God’s Human Face” (here). Coincidentally, it is just one of the many articles which appear in this new book Challenges of Orthodox Thought and Life. The book has six chapters and they are:

1. The Jesus of History, Who is the Christ of Faith
2. Ever-Virgin, Mother of God
3. Angels, Saints and Strugglers
4. Characteristics of Orthodoxy
5. Following Christ in Today’s World
6. Reflections for the Nativity of Christ

As you can see in the photo above, I have my copy. Get yours here today!

Great Lent is “nice”

It seems as though, over the years, more and more Protestant churches are acknowledging the benefits of Lent. Granted, I doubt any of them are actually fasting. Whatever the case, they still see it as something which “seems fitting” that during these 40-some days before the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection we should “renounce sin and reaffirm commitment to God”.

H/T: Salt Lake Tribune (here)

Hodges: Lent may not be necessary, but it’s nice

BY: Corey J Hodges

This week began the season of Lent. The 40 days leading up to Easter (excluding Sundays) are intended to be a time of prayer and penance demonstrated by some form of self-denial. In many countries, the day before Lent is celebrated with overindulgence in anticipation of the solemn season. Ash Wednesday then officially begins Lent.

Lent dates back to the church fathers. In its earliest form, it is believed that Christians fasted only for the few days before Easter. By the end of the fourth century, the period of preparation had been extended to 40 days.

A 40-day observance was likely selected because of its spiritual significance in connection with preparation. The Scriptures tell us Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai, without eating or drinking, as he prepared to receive the Ten Commandments. Before beginning his public ministry, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.

While strict fasting rules have been eliminated in Western Christianity, Lent continues to be observed in Roman Catholic churches and some mainline Protestant denominations, including Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican. Ash Wednesday and much of the Lenten season go largely unnoticed in many Christian churches.

Some evangelicals object to Lent because it is not found in the New Testament. This argument is baseless. Christmas and Easter are not celebrated in the Bible either, yet they are widely accepted as sacred Christian holidays.

Perhaps a more valid objection is to the ritualistic practices that characterize Lent, such as the rubbing of a cross with ashes on the foreheads of worshippers on Ash Wednesday. In the Hebrew Bible, humility and deep remorse for one’s sin were displayed by wearing sackcloth and ashes, accompanied by a period of fasting. After Christ’s resurrection, many such rites were abandoned and the apostles encouraged prayer as the means of repentance. Further, Jesus cautioned his followers against advertising a fast: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.” The warning here is against wrong motivation.

The Lenten fast is not a biblical mandate; nevertheless, all Christians can benefit from observing the season. Prayer and fasting affirm Christians’ devotion to and dependence on God. The act of self-denial is intended to allow individuals to focus more on spiritual things — not always an easy task in hurried and harried lives. This need not happen during Lent, but in the days leading up to Easter, when we celebrate the sacrifice Jesus made to atone for sin, it seems fitting to renounce sin and reaffirm commitment to God.

Catching zzz’s

H/T: Orthodoxy and Recovery (here)

Sleep Disruption

There is a common problem with recovering addicts: sleep disruption.  Many alcoholics endure countless hours of insomnia in early recovery, and panic over their inability to either fall asleep or stay that way.

Many monasteries operate on a two resting period schedule: sleep after Compline (from somewhere around midnight and ending very early in the morning), then a second period of rest during the day.  For some monks, it isn’t enough: I’ve visited monasteries where some monks doze off during services, and I recall several Orthros services punctuated by a snoring monk in the litia.  I certainly would have a difficult time with the schedule most of them keep.

Due to the adjustment of biochemistry that goes on when addicts abandon their chemicals, insomnia and other problems naturally occur.  It should be no surprise.  In dealing with the newly sober, it is important to prepare them for this phenomenon and to let them know that it will eventually settle down.  However, we should also prepare some of them for having to deal with an ongoing ‘irregular sleep pattern.’

This article was posted yesterday on the BBC, which gives insight into pre-modern sleep patterns:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783

Rather than a long, 8-hour sleep, earlier European peoples usually slept in several segments.  This is still done in the Mediterranean.

Many addicts get anxious about waking at night, and the article discusses the problem when this anxiety kicks in and the fear of not getting enough sleep ends up keeping us awake.  We ought to embrace this waking period.  Certainly, we should not get upset about it.

One of the problems with our society nowadays is that it is overly structured: humans are forced more and more into absolute rhythms that deviance from has immediate repercussions.  If you are late to work or school, there are consequences.  Certainly, this is understandable.

But, it is also the cause of a great deal of anxiety, and it is this anxiety that very often causes people to turn to chemicals for help in ‘regulating’ their bodies (we’ve all heard the motto: ‘Living Better Through Chemistry’) when the body refuses to fit into the social structures of work, family, and school.  Many addicts begin their journey trying to shut off their heads with a bottle of whiskey or a few pills so they can catch those ever-necessary ‘forty winks.’

So, part of the problem is cultural: our high-stress lives coupled with unhealthy living habits (too many relationships and communications means, like cell phones, chat, and email) leads to excess anxiety, which again impinges on our sleep.  In addition to accepting the fact that sometimes our bodies don’t want to fit into the schedules our minds have decided upon, we should also realize that a high-emotional-activity lifestyle will also effect sleep.  This is what is happening with teens who can’t stay off their cell phones and computers, then don’t get to sleep  until after midnight.

We do need to slow down and stop living in unhealthy lifestyles, and this includes chemical dependency.  We would do well to better understand our bodies rather than constantly trying to ‘treat’ them so that they will fit into patterns that perhaps they are not suited for.  Sleep patterns should be included.