In memoriam….

parastos_sundayI had every intention of posting much, much more during Lent. I’m always reading something but it’s during the Fast that I make every effort on catching up on my spiritual reading, all those books that, somehow or other, I don’t get around to reading during the year.  I was hoping to fill these pixely pages with a whole bunch of excerpts from the interesting things I’d read.  (Show you how smart I am.)

Granted, things were going good at first. Then, early on, I was asked by a priest to do a 200+ page translation of a book about Metropolitan Iriney of blessed repose (Mitropolit Iriney – Rade Neimar Slobodnog Srpstva). Thus, all my free time is spent translating.

But one thing which occurs each year during Lent is the anniversary of my father’s passing. This past Sunday marked eleven years since that date. He passed away on a Sunday. Then – like now – it was the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt. It’s funny how things happen. Who is St. Mary and why is there a connection between her – and I’ll go as far as to say, her life and her repentance –  and me? If she was a great sinner I’ll admit I’m surely no Saint. Each and every liturgy I live the words of the Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn: “No one who is bound with the desires and pleasures of the flesh is worthy to approach or to draw nigh or to serve thee…”.

Later, as we ate our lunch we watched the flame from the cemetery candle flicker and burn in the middle of the table. It was more than symbolic; it was animated. Alive. Moving. Another year, another anniversary, marked by prayer, a common meal, family that knew him and the little ones that only know his name. For them there is the candle. They’re too little to know what it symbolizes so they watch it move and burn.  Little do they know that it’ll burn forever for it symbolizes Him who is forever. May we all abide in Him  for ever and ever and unto the ages of ages. For this we pray and to this we say: Amen.

Вечнаја памјат! Memory eternal!

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Children and Fasting

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How Should Children Fast?

Bishop Atanasije (Rakita)

Some say that children do not need to fast Wednesdays and Fridays and during the four fasting periods until they turn 3 or 7. Others say that children can be allowed to eat dairy. What is correct here and do children need to fast like adult Christians?

The answer to this question (or questions) cannot be based on the holy canons, for there is not one canon that explicitly regulates how children are to fast.

Children do not fast and have no need for fasting as adults. For they do not have sins yet, passions or habits which can be calmed through fasting, for which very reason fasting was commanded by God and was established and prescribed by the Church.

This does not mean children are completely freed from fasting and that they do not need to fast at all.

How children will fast depends on the piety and faith of their parents. And much wisdom and consideration is needed here that we not sin against the spiritual or bodily needs of our children.

It is appropriate to also pose the question: Until when is a “child” a child? We all know that childhood has many phases. The first is infancy. Then comes early childhood (2 to 3 years old), and then preschool age, then elementary school, and so on until boyhood and puberty.

For some parents their child is  a “child” until they serve the army and later. Evidently, the same principle of fasting cannot apply to each of these phases of “childhood”.

In solving this issue there exist two extremes which parents are often prone to, at least Serbian parents. Either they will impose upon the child from early childhood a strict fast (as the keep themselves), or they will “spare” them of fasting until they reach adulthood or even further. Both the one and the other are harmful for their spiritual life.

At any case, when an excessive fast is imposed upon a child, it might cause a hostility to fasting

On the other hand, those who do not learn when they are little to fast and do not differentiate between the days, such will have difficulty to later adapt to fasting and will have to force themselves to abstinence, which is also very fatal. Avoiding these two extremes is truly the real art.

Many mothers bring their two month old babies to communion, and throughout childhood. The child that morning, naturally, was breastfed but that is no obstacle for the child and its union with the Lord in the Holy Mystery of Communion. And so the child grows up in the Church of God, being fed bodily at his mother’s breast and spiritually at the Holy Chalice. The child grows accustomed to the church ambiance during its early years, the light of the candles, the smell of the incense, the priest’s vestments (and beard), and growing older, they have a pleasant feeling in the church as they would in their own home.

Parents who worry about the spiritual life of their children will not wait for the child to reach adulthood and then begin to accustom them to fasting. They begin this gradually, from the time they are 3 or 4. Not because the child at that time needs to fast, in the same way that adults need it, but to become accustomed to it – to begin to differentiate from a young age that not all days are the same food-wise, which will remain a priceless treasure for them during their entire lives. What applies to fasting, also applies to the Holy Mystery of Penance, confession.

According to the teaching of the Church, children do not have sin until their 7th year (that is, their sins are not counted). Among our Greek and Russian brothers, parents take their 4 or 5 year old to “confession”, again not because of their sins, but that from a young age they grow accustomed to the one, holy and necessary Christian duty, without which, when they grow older, there is no progress in their spiritual lives. At the same time, to establish trust and freedom in their communications with the priest – their spiritual father.

Parents who truly make an effort to live according to the commandments of God, who make an effort for their personal salvation, led by an experienced spiritual father, will know to find the right expression and that golden middle (between extremes) for their children, their fasting, communing and the Holy mysteries of Penance and Confession.

Bishop Atanasije of Hvosno
Sveotsavke Zvonce [from the Serbian here ]

“Christians without love make God sick!”

H/T: The Liturgy Archive here

St. John the Theologian,
Fr. John Mack, Ss. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church, Topeka
I John 4:12-18

The other day I heard a story of three people who were together. One of these three was a member of the Roman Catholic Church, another was a member of a Protestant Church, and the third was a member of the Orthodox Church. As they were talking they gradually began to talk about faith and religion. They were discussing the various differences between them. Finally one said, “If we really want to understand each other, why don’t we each answer this question: What is the chief virtue, the highest virtue, the most important virtue, that we can have in order to attain salvation and enter into heaven?”

They all agreed that that was a good question to ask, and they thought for a minute, and then each one came up with their answer. They began with the Roman Catholic, who said, “According to our church the chief virtue is obedience; you must be obedient.” They all thought and they agreed that obedience was important. They turned to the Protestant and said, “What is the chief virtue?” The Protestant said, “That’s easy for us; the chief virtue is faith. We must believe.” They all said, “Yes, that too is a virtue.” Then they turned to the Orthodox Christian and they said to him, “What is the chief virtue?” He said, “Well for us it is easy, because there is no higher virtue than love.”

Faith is important, but James tells us that even the demons believe, and they tremble. Obedience is important. But there is nothing, beloved, which is more important than love. This is the highest virtue. It is very interesting to me that in St. John of the Ladder’s thirty steps, as we progress on the spiritual journey, the highest rung is love: love for God, and love for each other.

This morning we are celebrating the feast of St. John the Apostle. It is said that when he was very old-he died at the age of 95-he was very feeble and could not speak very much. They would go to get him before liturgy and they would bring him on a stretcher to liturgy. They would seat him on the episcopal chair behind the altar, and he would sit there as the priest celebrated the holy liturgy. Even though he was feeble, he would always insist on preaching the homily. At the very end of his life, when he could say no more than a few words, it is said that he would preach the same homily week in and week out: “My little children, love one another.”

In our epistle reading this morning, St. John says that if we love one another, God’s love abides in us and His love is made perfect in us. We know that the goal of salvation is communion with God. In our tradition we speak of theosis, deification. The goal of Christ’s incarnation, the goal of the sacraments, the goal of our prayers, our vigils and our fasting and everything that we do is to become so united to God that He lives in us, and we are completely given over to Him. John here says, “If we love one another, we experience theosis. If we love one another, God abides in us.”

Now it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the very same church to whom John would speak the simple words, week in and week out, “Love one another,” is the very same church to whom Our Lord speaks in His letters [in the Book of Revelation] to the angels of the church in Ephesus: “I have one thing against you, that you have left your first love.” He says, “Yes, I know that you are doing everything right. I know and I’ve heard that you cannot stand the deeds of the Nicolaitans. I know that you are rigidly correct in the living out of your orthodoxy, but one thing is missing, and without this one thing everything else is meaningless. You have left your first love. Because you have left your first love, then I will spew you out of my mouth.”

Christians without love make God sick! Love one another, for if you love one another, God abides in you. You say to me, and I say to you, “How is it that we can love one another?” For if we try to love each other we so often find that we are unable to love each other. We find that we fail, that there is so much anger and bitterness in our hearts that the anger sometimes overwhelms us and we reject others and we cannot love. St. John, a few verses later, says, “We love because He first loved us.”

We cannot generate in our hearts true love. All we can do, beloved, is keep away from our hearts all those things that are opposite to love: that’s our job. Our job is to fight against those thoughts that come. It’s a continual fight, and we know it-the fight against those negative thoughts, to not allow into our minds even one judgmental thought of another, because when we entertain a judgmental thought then love leaves. What we must do is make our hearts ready for the love of God. We must not allow our mouths to speak any negative words, because when we speak negative words then love departs. We must not allow our hands, or any part of our body, to do anything that comes from anger or from rage or from jealousy, because when we do love leaves our hearts.

This is what God has called us to do: to clean our hearts of all the anger and the bitterness that is there. Of course we know that that is not done overnight, if you struggle as I do. That is a continuous battle, and Satin is very good-he’s the expert at reminding us of why we ought to be angry at other people. He’s very good at pointing out to us all of the negative things about other people and getting us so focused on their negatives that we are filled with anger and there is no room for love.

He does this all the time and we are not even aware of it. How many of you have been driving your cars and seen someone walking along the side of the road? Perhaps they’re not dressed appropriately, perhaps they look at little bit off. How many of you have allowed in your mind a thought that is negative about that person-you know, the thought, “Why don’t those people take baths? Why don’t they dress a different way? Why don’t they get a job?” How many of you have allowed yourselves to say that to the person in the car with you? It can be very simple; it can even be the color of our next door neighbor’s house. If we can allow ourselves to entertain negative thoughts, to speak negative words, if we judge, then there is no room for love. We must reject those thoughts. We must not allow ourselves to entertain those negative thoughts about our children, those negative thoughts about our spouses, those negative thoughts about our bosses, those negative thoughts about our fellow employees.

Beloved, we have been called to love. And if we want God to dwell in our hearts, then there is no room for division, there is no room for judgment, there is no room for bitterness and anger. When God comes into your heart, the entire world comes with Him, because God’s love has encircled and taken into Himself the entire world. You cannot say, “God, come into my heart, but don’t bring that person with you” because when God comes, everyone comes with Him. To the extent that we reject even one person, to that extent we have asked God to leave. John puts it very straightforwardly in his epistle, as we heard last night. If we say that we love God, and yet hate our brethren, we are liars, and the love of God is not in us.

I was talking to someone the other day and sharing that amazing quote of St. Macarios the Great. You know, we have a tendency to think that holy people sit and judge the world, so there were some monks who wanted to get St. Macarios the Great to think that they were really good monks. They ran to him with stories of other monks who were doing these bad things, thinking that somehow having mutual enemies would make them better friends. They went to St. Macarios and told him about these monks who were living scandalously. He looked at them and said, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

They looked at him and said, “Father, we just told you. Surely you must understand.” He said, “No, I really don’t know what you’re talking about. My children, you have to understand, I’ve never seen a sinful man.” Think about it. How does a holy man, a man who is so pure that God dwells within him and he within God, honestly say, “I’ve never seen a sinful man”? There’s that one line in the epistles: “Love covers a multitude of sin.” Love makes excuses, love covers over and pretends not to see the offense of the other. Love forgives.

There’s another story of Elder Paisios, who died in 1994, one of the holiest men of the 20th century. He was living on Mt. Athos, and people would bring him stories of what was happening in the world. One of the stereotypical exchanges that goes on between a visitor and an Athonite monk is that the monk will ask, “How goes it in the world?” So Elder Paisios would ask his visitors, “How goes it in the world?” because with no radio, no television, no newspapers, he doesn’t know. People would come and say, “It’s horrific, Father. Men and women are divorcing each other left and right, there’s anger, there’s hatred. It’s awful, Father.”

Elder Paisios would begin to weep and he would begin to say, “It’s my fault! It’s my fault!” Of course, these people from the world did not know what to do with this elder, this holy man weeping puddles at his feet and saying, it’s my fault. They would ask, “Father, what do you mean it’s your fault? You’re here on Athos? How can it be your fault what’s happening in the world?” He would excuse their sin by saying, “If I was a better intercessor, if I prayed more purely, if I could pray with more strength, then none of this would be happening. It’s all my fault! Those poor people who are left as sheep without a shepherd, those poor people who are left without someone to intercede for them. It’s my fault, it’s my sin. God have mercy on them, and charge their sin to my account.”

Do you see love? You should, because that is the voice of love. Our Lord Jesus, as He looks down from the cross on those who had hammered the nails into His hand and into His feet, as He saw all of those who had brought false accusations against Him, saw the Romans with whips who had mocked Him and spit upon Him and placed the crown of thorns on His head, as He was in agony, struggling to breathe and the reality of His own death crashing upon Him, said, “Father, forgive them all, for they know not what they have done.”

Our Lord on the cross made excuses for those who had crucified Him. How can we not make excuses for our children, for our spouses, for our friends? How dare we condemn them? How can we not love those for whom Christ died and gave His life?

At the midmost point

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We sang at the stikhera at Presanctified Wednesday morning, “The Fast that brings us blessings has now reached its midmost point; /it has helped us to receive God’s grace in the days that are past, /and will bring us further benefit in the days still to come. /For by continuing in what is right we attain yet greater gifts…..”  As we approach the fourth Sunday of the Fast, dedicated to St. John of the Ladder, (whose actual feast day is today), we ponder on the words of our Lord who encourages us with the admonition that with God all things are possible (Matt. 19:26).  Just as the third Sunday of Lent placed before us the Cross the fourth Sunday gives us a ladder.

There are two ways to go on a ladder: up or down. If we wish to go down that ladder than no effort needs to be taken on our part. But to ascend, constant efforts are needed. Change is required. We’re not always comfortable with change. Thus, our church and religious life becomes some sort of a “tradition” (“that’s the way we’ve always done things,” is something I hear a lot of). It is during the days of Lent that these words of Christ, this promise that “all things are possible with God”, come to life.

We are called to push ourselves, to go the extra mile, not only to get on the ladder, but climb it.

All the way to the top!