Life Has Real Meaning

800px-sunflowersThe below article is taken from DOXA, a quarterly bulletin published by the Monastery of the Holy Archangel Micheal (here)

Is Life the Result of some Prehistoric Accident? Or Does God Really Exist?

All human beings need a sense that life has real meaning. Many people today believe that one’s personal concept of the meaning of life need to be nothing more than his or her subjective fantasy. But does that belief actually work? We think not.

The universal human desire that life has some sort of real and objective meaning is not merely a religious question. The human belief that life has meaning underlies every type of human endeavor, great and small. One has seen person after person become swallowed up by depression when he or she comes to believe that the hope for meaning is hopelessly meaningless.

Humans conceive of objective and ultimate meaning in many ways. But whatever that concept might be, it serves as one’s concept of God. The Christian conception of God is grounded in the conviction that The Ultimate Meaning of the universe has infinite characteristics which we identify as “personal” (for God is the One Who is, “I am”). But the Christian Faith does not result from our projection of human characteristics on God. It is the other way around. We view ourselves as finite reflections of The Infinite and Ultimate Person. We do not create God in our own image; we believe God has created us in His Image. That is the Christian explanation for the fact that human beings of every race, religion, tribe and nation, experience the desire to worship a Divine Being, and to seek a genuine relationship with that Divine Being.

Today there is widespread denial that an Ultimate Divine Person actually exists – at best it is an unreal fantasy. It is therefore no surprise that millions of human beings depend on alcohol and other drugs (and drug-like addictions such as power, hatred, sex, and cruelty) to alleviate their fear that nothing and no one has any real and ultimate meaning or worth. We are already seeing the tragic results of this paradoxically-religious “unfaith” in American society. The simple reason AA, NA, and the other 12-step groups have so much success is that their members share the belief that there actually exists One Who loves, guides, and forgives, and Who gives each person in the program the deep conviction that life is not merely an accidental “one-damn-thing-after-another” existence. Rather, in seeking healing in our lives, we come to believe that we have a profound and ultimate purpose.

“The Cross that leads us to Golgotha…”

Krstovdan

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His Grace Bishop PHOTIOS of Dalmatia
Homily on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross

May today’s Feast be joyous and this day be blessed of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which is called among the people Holy Cross Day. We have gathered today in our holy monastery at the Divine Liturgy, to pray to God and that through Holy Communion we demonstrate that we are the Body of Christ, that we do not belong only on earth. We have shown today that we are a part of the mystical Body of Christ precisely through Holy Communion, but also through our entire podvig, our prayer and efforts. The crown of our life is today’s approaching the Holy Chalice.

With Communion we show that we cannot live alone or only for ourselves, but we live with Christ, for Christ and in Christ. All of that is confirmed at the Divine Liturgy when the priest says: “With the fear of God, in faith and love, draw near!”, we humbly approach to commune of the Life-giving Rib of Christ. That’s why, brothers and sisters, we come together in Church for the great Feasts, for every Liturgy is the Resurrection; at every Liturgy we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ as the central Feast of the Church.

We celebrate today the Elevation of the Holy Cross – a beautiful event, which took place in the 4th century in Jerusalem during the time off the honorable Emperors Constantine and Helen. At that time the Honorable Empress Helen visited the Holy Land and came to the city of Jerusalem to the place of Golgotha. According to Tradition this was the place where the Lord was crucified with two thieves. She wanted to seek out the Cross on which Christ was crucified. However, up until that time ruling Jerusalem were Roman emperors who were pagan and god-hating and so right on Golgotha they built their pagan temple to the Roman god Venus. According to oral tradition, people from Jerusalem knew that the Holy Cross of the Lord was located underneath that temple. However, they didn’t know which of them was the Holy Cross of Christ. By God’s Providence, a funeral procession was passing by. The people thought of placing the cross on the dead, to see if anything would happen. When they placed the third cross, the man rose from the dead. He was brought back to life. After that they placed the Cross on a sick woman and she was healed. And so all of them together verified which of them was the Life-giving Cross of the Lord. Afterward that Cross was placed and exalted on Golgotha.

However, great sufferings have always occurred in Jerusalem and the Holy Land in general, for all religions and powers of this and the other world clash. And so in the 6th century Jerusalem was captured by the Persians. Their king Khosrau destroyed the entire city and took the Holy Cross to Persia, where it was kept for a little over thirty years.

Later the Greek king Heraclius conquered Persia and returned the Holy Cross to Golgotha. Out of respect the king carried the Lord’s Cross by himself, but at one moment, upon entering Jerusalem, he stopped and couldn’t continue. The Patriarch of Jerusalem of that time saw an angel standing and not allowing him to enter the city of Jerusalem. The Angel wouldn’t him to carry the Cross in his royal attire, but the king had to change into something more humble and to enter the city barefoot carrying the Holy Cross to Golgotha. In commemoration of this event this great Feast of the lifting or elevation of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem was initiated and it is celebrated to this day in Christ’s Church.

You heard that the gospel read at today’s Liturgy is the one read on Good Friday. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the Lord’s suffering and crucifixion, by which we as the Church of Christ are saved. It isn’t easy to reach the Heavenly Kingdom nor salvation. With His suffering our Lord showed us that narrow, Cross-bearing way which goes to Golgotha.

Each of us bears that cross; each nation bears that cross. It is crucial that we be together with Christ, that that personal or national cross, we bear with Christ on Golgotha. Then our suffering will also be salvific.

Besides the Lord on Golgotha two other thieves suffered. However, only one was saved – the one who recognized Christ at the last minute that Christ suffered innocently. We are thieves and must suffer, he thought. However, in this thief faith in Christ appeared for he recognized that the Lord suffers innocently. For this reason does the repentant thief with faith address the Lord: “Remember me, O Lord, in Your Kingdom!” Because of his faith, the repentant thief was the first to inherit the Heavenly Kingdom.

God grant that we also look to this thief on the right side. Certainly we have many reasons to be seen as thieves. We have done who knows how many lawless things, we have sinned before God and our neighbors. Recently we translated a book from a Athonite Elder Paisios, who wrote a spiritual testament at the end of his life in which says: “I committed every sin! It doesn’t matter whether I committed it in a greater or lesser measure or in thought. Before God it is the same.” Therefore, if the greatest fathers and Saints of the Church say about themselves that they are great sinners, what can we say about ourselves?

But, we mustn’t be without hope, but that we look to the thief on the right hand side, the repentant thief, that we recognize that the suffering of Christ, the suffering for our salvation. Then our life cross that we bear, our passions and troubles, which we have as people and a nation, be the cross that leads us to Golgotha.  That we not only suffer because of our sins, only because of our earthly interests and who knows whatever other mutual dissensions, and that brother argues with brother, neighbor with neighbor, kum with kum, all of it out of selfish, earthly interests and something narrow, human and limited.

That’s why we need repentance and to constantly look to the thief on the right hand side, or better yet, that we look to the Most Holy Theotokos and St. John the Theologian, who stood beneath the Lord’s Cross, but they suffered with Him, with this all-suffering love, sacrifice and prayer. We need all of that for the Lord to receive us into His Heavenly Kingdom.

We fast on the Feast of the Holy Cross, which is also a sacrifice and podvig, for we remember today the crucifixion and suffering of our Lord. And for this reason we should have repentant thoughts. We should always examine our lives, are we living a God pleasing life or not and is our conscience reprimanding us in anything. Can we correct our lives, can be put aside some evil and filthy habits, can be defeat the old man of sin inside of us, in which our worldly habits are rooted and anything else which separates us from God? That is, brothers and sisters, our podvig. That should always be on our mind and that we correct ourselves that we might salvifically bear our life cross to Christ’s Golgotha, where the crucified but resurrected Lord awaits us – the Defeater of death.

God grant that it be like that and that we reach the Heavenly Kingdom!

Ziveli and God bless you!

Monastery Krka
September 27, 2009

Here we go again….

PatrijarhsrpskiAnother year, another gay pride parade in Belgrade….

H/T: inserbia.info (here)

Pride Parade is “Ultimately bad thing” – Serbian Patriarch Irinej

BELGRADE – Serbian Patriarch Irinej said that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) is against gay pride parade, and added that the church and the state must do something in order to incentive birth, as well as spiritual and moral renewal of the Serbian people.

Referring to the LGBT population in Serbia, how report states in never sharper tone, Patriarch condemned their attempt of a gay parade in Belgrade.

Asked what would he tell to that young people from the LGBT population, who are planning to walk the streets of Belgrade, the Patriarch said:

“What the wise are ashamed of, the foolish are proud of.”

Patriarch Irinej, however, did not want to comment whether the government consulted with the Serbian Orthodox Church on the organization of the parade and if he expects unrest and violence in Belgrade, in the case the event take place.

“In our tragic time nothing is so compromised as a marriage and family. Marriage and family are systematically destroyed, especially with gay parade,” said the Patriarch.

He added that Serbian people need just that plague to disappear from the face of the earth.

“The family is the basic unit of society and the nation. A healthy family is the basis for a healthy society, healthy people, healthy education, healthy culture,” said Serbian Patriarch Irinej and concluded “that it is the final time that the Church and the state do something to incentive birth, as well as spiritual and moral renewal of the Serbian people.”

Pride Parade in Belgrade is scheduled for Saturday, September 28th.

A Cure For Depression

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H/T: The Sounding Orthodox Blog (here)

A Cure for Depression from St. Silouan the Athonite

The greatest plague of the 21st century is not AIDS, nor cancer, nor the H1N1 flu, but something that affects much more people in ways we can barely start to understand: depression. Reportedly one in ten Americans suffers from one or the other forms of this malady. The rates of anti-depressant usage in the United States are just as worrisome. A recent poll unveils that one in eight Americans is using them. Prozac, Zyprexa, Cymbalta are not strange alien names anymore, but familiar encounters in almost every American household. Even children approach the usage rates of adults. These are very high and paradoxical numbers in a country where all are free to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Even in times of crisis, Americans have a better life than most countries in the world, in all respects. Just glance over to the life of the Christians in the Middle East, and you’ll realize the blessings we enjoy every day. Most of us have a job, a house, a car or two, enough food, education, equal opportunity, religious freedom to name just a few. Practically we shouldn’t be in want for anything; yet, every tenth person is longing for something, is missing something so bad, so important, that they cannot cope with this need on their own. This explains the usage of drugs; with them, the negative aspects of life can be more easily coped with. They are a crutch that helps people move along with their lives for a short while.

But a crutch is still a crutch; it can only take one so far. The depressed man needs a different cure, one that will take care of the root of his problems, will erase his desperation and offer him a new lease on life. A cure, however, cannot come without the understanding of the underlying disease. So, this begs a question: why is America depressed? What are we still missing in the abundance that surrounds us?

A short answer is: we miss God. We may think we miss something else, we can justify our depression by creating some imaginary needs, but at the end of the day, we miss Him. He has created us for a purpose: union with Him unto eternity. Losing sight of this, we lose it all and, in our shortsightedness, we keep longing for something we don’t know we have lost. It all goes back to who we are, what are we doing here and where we are going; it is back to the basics.

In the midst of the information revolution, the world wide web and the boom of technology, man still yearns for the same fundamental things: purpose and direction. The secular society can’t give him either. The purpose is temporary, ceasing to exist when life expires, and the directions one gets are so contradictory that they end up canceling themselves. So man is confused, lost and at the brink of despair. He is thirsty, but there is no well of life, he is hungry but there is no food for his eternal soul, he is lonely and he has no man.

So what to do? In an interview I recently read (you can find it here, it is very edifying), the Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov, of blessed memory, at that time a younger monk, was asked by a visiting priest: “Fr. Sophrony, how will we be saved?” Fr. Sophrony prepared him a cup of tea, gave it to him, and told him, “Stand on the edge of the abyss of despair and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.” Obviously this was a very odd answer, and the young priest was definitely confused. So off he went to St. Silouan the Athonite, who lived not far from there, and told him everything, asking for advice. Long story short, next day, St. Silouan came to the cell of Fr. Sophrony and the two started a conversation about salvation. The beautiful fruit of their conversation was an unforgettable phrase that I would like to also offer as the answer to our conversation today about depression: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

At first glance, St. Silouan’s take on salvation is not less strange that Fr. Sophrony’s initial answer, but it actually makes great sense. In traditional Christianity, the difficulties of life, the hardships are assumed as part of our fallen existence. Our bodies and our minds suffer the torments, but this is nothing but a temporary stage. The ascetic Fathers considered them as tests on par with the athletic exercises, very useful in practicing and improving the powers of the soul like patience, kindness, hope, faith and so forth. We keep our mind in hell when we consciously assume the pain of living in a fallen world, when we learn from this passing agony to avoid the even greater torture of an eternity without Christ. But there is hope in this suffering because Christ himself has suffered them first and has opened for us a way out of despair, a way out of pain, a way out of death. Christ is the well of life, the bread of eternity, and the only Man we need.

So as Christians we keep our minds in hell and we despair not, but courageously give glory to God in all things, even in pain, hoping, always hoping, in our Savior, the only One who can take us out of the brink of despair and set us for a new life in Him. In Him we put our hope, in Him we find our purpose, and on Him we set our goal.

Through the intercessions of our Father among the Saints Silouan the Athonite, through the prayers of Fr. Sophrony of Essex, of all the ascetic Fathers and all the saints, O Lord of compassion and hope, have mercy on us and save us! 

The Christian Life as a Complex Reality

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“…contemporary Orthodox theologians have observed that according to the Orthodox experience, the Christian life is understood not merely as a moral and spiritual reality – contrary to the somatic and physiological reality – but as an all encompassing complex reality, a God-given life in all its dimensions, beginning with the animal and somatic aspect and stretching across the psychological  and spiritual planes to the cosmic dimension. Man and the entire cosmos are mutually connected in a mysterious way. In the Orthodox experience, life is understood and experienced dynamically, which is adequately expressed in the Slavic word “podvig” ….. Man, created in the image of a perfect God, is continuously striving toward his Prototype, and does not rest on the horizontal plane of nature because the “infinity” of God’s love incessantly calls out to the “infinity” of human freedom…..”

Taken from Is There a Biochemistry of Freedom, Bishop Maxim of Western America

The Presence of the Heavenly Kingdom

APTOPIX Serbia Kosovo Anniversary

Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify – the entire Gospel is contained in these words which is revealed in the mystery of Christ our God, the Crucified and Resurrected. The Crucified and Resurrected God is the beginning and the end. He is the First and Last. He is the Judge. He is the foundation of God’s Church, which is the body of Christ, in which we live and through which we are saved.

Without the Church of Christ we do not have unity with the Living Lord. All of that is given to us at the Divine Liturgy, at Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The Liturgy is served where the Church is, and the Lord, Crucified and Resurrected, is present where the Liturgy is served. The Holy Spirit is there, which enlightens us and sanctifies our lives, who sanctifies our gifts, transfigures them and transforms them into the Body and Blood of Christ. Glory to God that the Divine Liturgy is served today throughout the world. The Church participates in the entire world, the One, Holy and Apostolic Church, the Church of Christ through whom the world is saved, and all people of this world are enlightened and foretaste of the Heavenly Kingdom.  The presence of the Church of God is the presence of the Heavenly Kingdom …..

Metropolitan Amphilohije on the Feast Day of the Elevation of the Holy Cross

 

Bees and Icons

Beehive

A friend found this story somewhere online and did a quick translation of the article:

Even Honey Bees Respect the Icons

In a recent news brief, it was reported that a beekeeper, just outside of Athens, Greece, had placed an icon of the Crucifixion in a beehive.  When he returned he found that the bees had covered the area around the icon with wax comb, but left the icon face itself open.  The following year he did it again, with icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and the Saints.  The same thing happened again – the image on the icon was never covered.  Finally he placed an icon with the three crosses on Golgotha.  Later he found that the bees had left open the image of the Crucified Lord and the Good Thief, but had overlaid the Bad Thief with  a heavy carpet of wax.  God’s ways are truly mysterious!