Monthly Archives: July 2014

Preparing for the Transfiguration of Christ

On the mountain wast Thou transfigured, O Christ God, and Thy disciples beheld Thy glory as far as they could see it; so that when they would behold Thee crucified, they would understand that Thy suffering was voluntary, and would proclaim to the world that Thou art truly the Radiance of the Father (Kontakion).

We are approaching the celebration of one of the 12 major feasts of the church year: the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. We are already familiar with the story found in the scriptures (in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36). We would do well to prepare our hearts and the hearts of our children for the feast by revisiting these scripture passages and also by studying the significance of the event.

Here are portions of two homilies on the Transfiguration. These homilies were given by two of the church fathers: St. Ephrem the Syrian, and St. John Chrysostom. Perhaps the insights of these saints can begin to help us to understand the underlying reasons for the Transfiguration of Christ, if we take a moment to ponder their words:

“And after six days he took Simon Peter and James and John his brother to a very high mountain and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white like light’.[2] Men whom he said would not taste death until they saw the image of his coming, are those whom he took and led up the mountain and showed them how he was going to come on the last day in the glory of his divinity and in the body of his humanity…

“…He led them up the mountain to show them the glory of the godhead and to make known to them that he is the redeemer of Israel, as he had shown through the Prophets, and they should not be scandalised in him when they saw his voluntary sufferings, which as man he was about to suffer for us. For they knew him as a man, but did not know that he was God…

“And so on the mountain he showed his Apostles the glory of his divinity, concealed and hidden by his humanity. For they saw his face bright as lightning and his garments white as light. They saw two suns; one in the sky, as usual, and one unusually; one visible in the firmament and lighting the world, and one, his face, visible to them alone. His garments white as light showed that the glory of his divinity flooded from his whole body, and his light shone from all his members. For his flesh did not shine with splendour from without, like Moses, but the glory of his divinity flooded from him… And he did not display the whole depth of his glory, but only as much as the limits of their eyes could encompass…

“And while the Disciples were marvelling, out of the cloud a voice was heard from the Father, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.’ At the voice of the Father, Moses returned to his place and Elias returned to his country, and the Apostles fell on their faces to the ground, and Jesus stood alone, because the voice was fulfilled in him alone.” ~ St. Ephrem the Syrian

“Nothing then is more blessed than the apostles, and especially the three, who even in the cloud were counted worthy to be under the same roof with the Lord. But if we will, we also shall behold Christ, not as they then on the mount, but in far greater brightness. For not thus shall He come hereafter. For whereas then, to spare His disciples, He discovered so much only of His brightness as they were able to bear; hereafter He shall come in the very glory of the Father, not with Moses and Elias only, but with the infinite host of the angels, with the archangels, with the cherubim, with those infinite tribes, not having a cloud over His head, but even heaven itself being folded up.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

Let us ponder these insights, take them to heart, and teach our children about them “inasmuch as they can bear it.” Let us plan together as a family to attend services offered in celebration of this feast, and brainstorm ideas to extend the celebrating beyond church attendance to our home, as well.

Thou wast transfigured on the mount. O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light shine upon us sinners. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to Thee (Troparion).

The rest of these sermons on the Transfiguration can be found here: St. Ephrem the Syrian’s at http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/08/st-ephraim-syrian-on-transfiguration-of.html  and St. John Chrystostom’s at http://thedivinelamp.stblogs.com/2010/02/27/st-john-chrysostom-on-the-transfiguration-feb-28-second-sunday-of-lent/.

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An Orthodox Christian Perspective on the Movie “God’s Not Dead”

“The most committed atheists were once Christians.”

Whether or not this statement by Professor Radisson in the movie “God’s Not Dead” is true is uncertain. But the storyline of this 2014 movie directed by Harold Cronk would certainly lead the watcher to believe that it could be true. In the movie, the professor himself sets out to “unconvert” the Christian students that come into his philosophy class: employing logic, sarcasm, put-downs, and even threats to that end.

The movie follows student Josh Wheaton through his initial months in college, beginning with the first day of his philosophy class, where all students in Professor Radisson’s class were required to write down on a piece of paper, “God is dead;” and hand that paper in to the professor, or face difficult consequences. Undeterred, Josh chooses to not write the statement, and is thereby challenged by the professor to logically prove to him and the entire class that God does, in fact exist, and that He’s alive. Throughout the movie, the viewer also meets the professor’s girlfriend and part of her family, a few fellow students in the class, other students at the college, a cynical reporter, and a pastor and his missionary guest; all facing challenges of their own. As in real life, all of these people’s stories are going on simultaneously, and the viewer wonders until the end why they are all included in the movie.

There are parts of the movie that seem a bit forced. Some would say that, to a degree, the movie is somewhat of an advertisement for the Christian singing group “The Newsboys” and the show “Duck Dynasty.” Culturally-sensitive types may dislike the portrayals of the vengeful Muslim father or the seemingly-uncaring Chinese father as they interact with their children who are exploring Christianity. As a whole, Orthodox Christians will notice that parts are overtly Protestant/Evangelical in their approach to God, faith, and conversion. Remembering that the movie was filmed with an American Protestant Christian audience in mind may be the best way to approach the film, see past the weaknesses, and focus on its strength.

This movie’s best strength is the underlying message that the Faith is worth standing up for in the face of difficulty. The message is crystal clear, and the viewer finds themselves rooting for Josh every time it is his turn at the philosophy class podium. Numerous characters in the movie face the opportunity to stand up for what they believe in, and the viewer is able to observe whether or not they do, as well as the results of their choices. The movie makes the viewer think about standing up for his/her own faith in the face of adversity.

Because it is an opportunity to think about defending one’s faith, “God’s Not Dead” is a good movie for young Orthodox Christians preparing to enter high school or college to watch and then discuss with their parents or youth leaders.

Discussions questions could include:

  1. What is the main message of this movie? What do you think about it?
  2. Have you ever faced a situation such as Josh’s? What did you (or would you) do?
  3. Do you remember Reverend Dave‘s answer to Josh’s dilemma, at the beginning of the movie? How does Matthew 10: 32-33 apply to your life?
  4. Discuss the following quotes (or others) from the movie:
  • “How did I not see this in you?” ~ Kara “Because you saw what you wanted.” ~ Mark
  • “Some of the most important work God wants us to do seems meaningless.” ~ Rev. Jude
  • “The most committed atheists were once Christians.” ~ Prof. Radisson
  • “Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble, ‘cause he doesn’t want them turning to God.” ~ Mina’s mother

Youth leaders/parents may also want to point out the differences in theology between Orthodox Christian teachings and those expressed in the movie (for example, salvation as a continuing process aided by the Eucharist and the other sacraments/teachings of The Church vs. use of the “sinner’s prayer” as the chief means of salvation).

The premise of this movie is nothing new: people have been trying since the days of the first martyr, Stephen, to dissuade others from their faith in God (and His Son). This movie provides the viewer with the opportunity to think once again about his/her own faith and encourages the viewer to stand for Truth despite the opinions of all those around them. The movie has the potential to embolden the watcher to stand firm as Josh did before the “Professor Radissons” in his/her life. And then, maybe it can one day be said of those professor-types that

“The most committed Christians were once atheists…”

According to http://godsnotdeadthemovie.com/, this movie will be available on dvd/blue ray on August 5, 2014. Information about the movie itself can be found at:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2528814/?ref_=ttqt_qt_tt.

On God’s Provision

How easy it has become, in this day and age, for us to assume that we can provide for ourselves. We are taught to grow up, get an education, and get a job to provide for our needs. We do so, and are able to purchase what we need (as well as much of what we want) for our family. We sit in our homes full of beautiful things, thinking of what more we would like to have, both for ourselves and for our children, and contemplating how to work to acquire those things. Often, as we do so, we forget from whence all of it comes: from God Himself.

It is imperative that we act responsibly, that we work hard at the tasks and jobs given to us, and that we purchase what our family needs with some of the money that we receive as pay for our labor. It is even more important, however, that we remember (and remember to thank) God, who is the One actually providing everything for us. After all, the muscles and brains that we have to actually physically do the work; the food which fuels our bodies for the work; the means by which our bodies gain the energy they need from that food; even the very air that we need to acquire the oxygen that our bodies use to process the fuel so that we can do the work: all of this comes from God. Let us not forget that in order to even be able to “do” our own work, we need God.

The saints and many other holy people who have gone on before us have successfully remembered the Source of having their needs met. These people set an example to all of us who come after them of working hard, trusting God for His provision, noticing when He provided for them, and thanking Him for whatever He provided along the way. They may not have always had everything they wanted; indeed, many times, they did not even always have what we would consider to be a “need,” but they trusted – and thanked – God, anyway!

Here is one example of a holy man who had great need but trusted God completely to meet his needs, as well as his response to how God met his need:

“But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  This commandment of the Lord, which conveys a complete and total trust in Divine Providence, is the ascetic’s slogan and living practice.
Elder Cherubim from St. Basil (on Mt. Athos) was a carefree ascetic, filled with faith and hope.  He was also a little hard of hearing, and one time he was isolated by snow in his impoverished hermitage for over a week without food.  One day a stranger with a loaded mule knocked at his door.  It was almost night.  He asked whether he had time to reach St. Peter’s Cave before dark and then to return to St. Paul’s Monastery.
Ascetic Cherubim said to him, “My brother, there is so much snow that you won’t be able to get to St. Peter’s Hermitage even if you had ahead of you a whole day.  Stay here tonight and you can go early tomorrow morning.”
The stranger replied, “Geronda, I have brought some food supplies which I would like to sell and then return to my work tonight.  If you like, keep them, and give me a little money.”
“Since you are in a hurry, leave them here in this corner and I will give you the money which was given to me by a pilgrim.”  He went to his room while the stranger was unloading the goods, but when he returned he was not there.  He had disappeared.  Father Cherubim looked outside and called, but there were neither footprints nor animal tracks in the snow.  Then he realized that it had all been the visible energies of the invisible Divine Providence, which looks after everything.  He entered his little chapel and thanked the Lord.  With gratitude he place food supplies in his small storage space.  They lasted him the whole winter. – from An Athonite Gerontikon

Every day, at every moment, we, too, are given the opportunity to trust that God will meet our needs as well. May we not miss the chance to trust Him! Even more importantly, let us notice His vast provisions for our lives, as He provides them, and give thanks to Him for all that He provides. Let us also remember to teach our children to trust, to notice, and to thank Him for everything which He has entrusted to our care.

“But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  ~ Matthew 6:33

Note: this week’s Facebook posts to this page will be related to God’s provision. Do you have a story to share about how He has provided for you? Or perhaps a saint’s (or someone else’s) story along these lines? Share it below, and let us encourage each other with God’s faithful provision!

Someone to Look Up to: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

“Because in the old times we had men of great stature; our present age is lacking in examples-and I am speaking generally about the Church and Monasticism.  Today, there are more words and books and fewer living examples.  We admire the holy Athletes of our Church, but without understanding how much they struggled, because we have not struggled ourselves.  Had we done so, we would appreciate their pain, we would love them even more and strive with philotimo to imitate them.” ~ Elder Paisios, from his book With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man

Perhaps we are lacking in examples, in modern times. It is true that we who live in these modern days do not understand how much the saints (“the Athletes of our Church”) have struggled. We certainly do not struggle as they did! However, God has provided wonderful modern examples for us to emulate to the best of our ability, whose stories we must share with our children, the future generation of the Church. It seems that Elder Paisios himself is one of those examples. He lived on this earth as recently as 1994; so many of us shared the planet with him for at least a while; and we can learn much from studying his life.

Elder Paisios was born in Cappadocia, Turkey, in July of 1924. He was baptized with the name Arsenios, by St. Arsenios himself. When Arsenios was only two months old, the Christians of Cappadocia were deported to Greece. So it was that young Arsenios grew up in Greece.

Young Arsenios loved God very much and did all that he could to live a holy life, even when he was a child. He fasted, prayed, and loved to read books about the lives of the saints. Once, when Arsenios was 15 and suffering some doubts about the deity of Christ (yet determinedly praying on, anyway), Christ Himself appeared to Arsenios and spoke to him. This event chased away the doubts in Arsenios’ mind and made him more determined than ever to be the best Christian that he could possibly be.

To further imitate Christ, Arsenios became an apprentice in a woodworking shop. He learned to make everything from window frames to iconostases. He made coffins for the departed, but would not accept any payment for them; he considered the coffin his donation to the family of the departed. When he wasn’t working in the woodshop, Arsenios would teach other children about Christ and the Church.

World War 2 began, and when Arsenios was 21, he was taken into the army. Many times he would help other soldiers at great risk to himself, but God protected him. He served his country for five years, when he was dismissed from the army. At that time, Arsenios went home to help his mother with his family, since his father passed away while Arsenios was in the army.

A few years later, Arsenios was finally able to go to Mt. Athos, where he had always wanted to live. Arsenios was tonsured as the monk Paisios at age 32. As a monk, he did many things: he made bread, he helped at the guest house, and he prayed for most of each night.

Several years after that, the Theotokos revealed that Paisios should re-open a monastery near his home village of Konitsa. He helped to rebuild the church, even carrying heavy marble slabs up to the church from the village on his back, when the villagers wouldn’t share their donkeys. (But when they saw Father Paisios carrying them himself, they changed their minds and used their donkeys to help him!) Once the monastery was rebuilt, Father Paisios lived there and worked, befriending everyone from children to bears and other animals whom he met along the way.

In 1962, the Theotokos led Father Paisios to Mt. Sinai, where he lived in a little cell and sold carved wooden objects. He used the money that he got for the carvings to provide food and clothes to the Bedouins that lived in tents nearby. He was especially loved by the Bedouin children, who called him “Abuna Paizi.” Often, he gave them sandals to help their cracked feet, as well as hats or whatever else they needed that he happened to have on hand. Father Paisios was only at Mt. Sinai for two years when he got sick and needed to go back to Greece to recover.

Once he was well again, Father Paisios went back to Mt. Athos. This time, he had a simple cell surrounded by many plants and trees, with an outside sitting space for visitors. Father Paisios welcomed and cared for visitors in the day, whether human or animal, and prayed and carved wooden items at night. On one day, Father Paisios had visitors, and a snake came toward them all. Father Paisios stopped the others from harming the snake. He gave the snake water to drink and told it to leave, since he had other company now. The snake drank the water and left, just as Father Paisios had requested.

At one point in these years on Mt. Athos, Father Paisios had a lot of headaches, and one of his eyes hurt a lot. He was granted the opportunity to see his guardian angel, who smiled at him, and touched his eyes, then disappeared. Father Paisios’ pain was immediately gone! God had done a miracle for him!

As Father Paisios got older, he moved to another part of Mt. Athos. Many people would come here to see him. He would serve them Turkish Delight and water, and speak with them. He continued to do all that he could to help others; either giving them things they needed, or giving them advice, or praying for them that God would meet their needs.

He continued to meet with and help people, even when he was very sick and soon ready to pass away. A few days before his repose, Father Paisios was still welcoming people to speak with them, even though he was now so ill that he had to stay in bed all of the time. As he had done for all his life, he showed people God’s love and that he cared for them, right up until he departed this life on July 12, 1994.

Elder Paisios continues to help others, even though he is no longer living on earth. He helps by praying for people and working miracles. His writings are full of wisdom, and many people who read them are encouraged to become more like God, as well.

Elder Paisios in his great humility would not want us to see him as a “man of great stature:” rather, he would point us to Christ and tell us that he, himself, had only just begun the journey of becoming like Christ. Let us honor the elder’s ascetic labors by, ourselves, doing what we can to pray more, fast better, and be kinder to everyone (human or animal) that we meet. And let us teach our children to do likewise. Holy Elder Paisios, pray unto God for us!

A wonderful children’s picture book about the life of Elder Paisios can be found here:http://www.stnectariospress.com/elder-paisios-the-hagiorite-the-friend-of-children/

Read more about the life of Elder Paisios here: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Paisios_(Eznepidis) or  here: http://gabrielsmessage.wordpress.com/saints-and-elders/elder-paisios/

Watch/listen to stories of his life and miracles here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4un8kDLECY&list=PLdWXl9r5ROuXUigTBDBE5rl87Im7ATj5p

On Anger

“What we gain by fasting is not so great as the damage done by anger; nor is the profit from reading as great as the harm done when we scorn or grieve a brother.”  ~  St. John Cassian

It is so easy to become angry. Our spouse, one of our children, the person who steps ahead of us at the grocery store or the one who pulls in front of us on the highway: any of these people can quickly become a recipient of our wrath. We may be having a day that is calm and peaceful when suddenly one (it may even be small) thing “flips the switch” and, almost without pause, we are angry.

St. Paul addressed anger: “In your anger, do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26) He goes on to add, “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” So, the Holy Scriptures themselves challenge us to not only maintain our purity even when we are angry; but also we must get over whatever has made us angry quickly; before the sun even goes down. Unfortunately, this is not easy to do.

Worse, the ease in becoming angry is quickly learned by our children, and thereby “passed on” for them to continue. Things which to us may seem like “small” things, can become “the switches” that turn our children to anger. Often our children’s anger is displayed in a more emphasized way (physical aggression, shouting, etc.) than ours may be, but both we and they are often guilty of sinning while angry.

Because of this temptation to sin while angry, it is important that we pay attention to what causes our anger so that we are readily aware when those causes come our way. That awareness can help us to be prepared, so that we may be better able to choose not to give in to anger when the opportunity arises. It is imperative that we help our children to learn to look for what causes them to become angry, as well, and give them tools to use when they’re on the verge of anger, too.

Here is a story, by an unknown author, that can help us begin this discussion about anger and its consequences, together as a family:

There once was a boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.  The first day the boy drove 37 nails into the fence.

Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.

The days passed and the boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.  The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, it leaves a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.   It won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry,’ the wound is still there.  A verbal wound is every bit as bad as a physical one.”

In a peaceful family moment, let us share this story with our children, and together discuss anger and its effects on others. Let us also talk about St. Paul’s words about not sinning while we’re angry; and not letting the sun go down on our wrath. To continue the discussion, let us encourage each other to think of what seems to trigger our anger. Then, let us pray together, asking God to help us to recognize our triggers, and learn to withstand the temptation to sin in anger. Every moment, we have the opportunity to choose how we accept the events around us. Will we react in anger, or in peace?

Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy holy will…” ~ from the prayer of the Optina Elders