Category Archives: Church Fathers

On Pursuing Virtue: Chastity

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

The third virtue listed in “The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians” is chastity. Chastity is the virtue which we must pursue in contrast to the sin of lust, which is the impure and unworthy desire for something evil. But how exactly do we define chastity? So often we think of chastity only in terms of sexual purity. That is an important part of it, but chastity is much more than that! Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “the quality or state of being chaste” (with sub-definitions which include abstention from sexual intercourse, purity in conduct, and even simplicity in design) as well as “personal integrity.”

St. Cyprian offered an even simpler definition: “For what is chastity but a virtuous mind added to watchfulness over the body?” In other words, to live a chaste lifestyle, we must have pure thoughts and carefully watch over what our body does. He understood that it is a constant process, offering the solution of how we can manage to live in that constant state of mindful purity: “chastity is ever to be cultivated by men and women; it is to be kept with all watchfulness within its bounds. The bodily nature is quickly endangered in the body, when the flesh, which is always falling, carries it away with itself… But in the midst of these things, nay, before these things, in opposition to disturbances and all vices, help must be sought for from the divine camp; for God alone, who has condescended to make men, is powerful also to afford sufficient help to men.” So we need to ask for help, and only God is able to help us to live in chastity!

St. John the Ascetic suggested that chastity, or purity of heart, should be the underlying goal for everything we do. “Everything we do, our every objective, must be undertaken for the sake of purity of heart…” He also offered practical advice for how we can go about living in that way: “…we must practice the reading of the Scripture, together with all the other virtuous activities… to hold our hearts free of the harm of every dangerous passion and in order to rise step by step to the high point of love.” Some of those practices are easier than others to carry out! But God will help us to do so, if we ask Him for help.

Fr. Justin Popovich suggested the following ways to measure whether or not we are attaining purity: “The sign of purity is: to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep; to be in pain with the sick and in anguish with the sinners; to rejoice with the repentant and to participate in the agony of those who suffer; to criticize no man and, in the purity of one’s own mind, to see all men as good and holy.” That’s a tall order, and helps to explain our earlier statement that God alone can help us live a chaste life. But it will be worth it: the person who lives a chaste life will be blessed. How blessed, you may ask? Well, St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote, “Every man who loves purity and chastity becomes the temple of God.” There is no greater blessing than to have God Himself dwelling within you!

So, dear brothers and sisters, let us pursue chastity with all of our hearts! It will not be an easy task. But with God’s help, we can grow in purity and slowly become a temple where He will dwell!

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)

Here are additional quotes and resources that can help us as we pursue chastity:

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“Chastity is the dignity of the body, the ornament of morality, the sacredness of the sexes, the bond of modesty, the source of purity, the peacefulness of home, the crown of concord. Chastity is not careful whom it pleases but itself. Chastity is always modest, being the mother of innocency; chastity is ever adorned with modesty alone, then rightly conscious of its own beauty if it is displeasing to the wicked. Chastity seeks nothing in the way of adornments: it is its own glory. It is this which commends us to the Lord, unites us with Christ; it is this which drives out from our members all the illicit conflicts of desire, instills peace into our bodies: blessed itself, and making those blessed, whoever they are, in whom it condescends to dwell.” ~ St. Cyprian, “Of the Discipline and Advantage of Chastity” This epistle by St. Cyprian on chastity is a challenging but necessary read: http://orthodoxchurchfathers.com/fathers/anf05/anf05129.htm#P9762_3046993


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“Let us begin with an explanation of the word chastity. In Russian, the word is ‘tselomudrie,’ which means literally, “integrity of thought,” and consists not only in physical preservation (one can remain a virgin in body, but commit terrible acts of depravity in the mind; and to the contrary—one can live in a pious marriage and preserve his or her soul from sin), but also in a proper, wholesome, undisturbed view of the opposite sex, with purity of soul.” Read more about the role of chastity in relationships between men and women in this article by Priest Pavel (Gumerov): http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/46284.htm

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“Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature, which means that a mortal and corruptible body is rivaling the celestial spirits in a truly marvellous way.” ~ St. John Climacus

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“Indeed, who was ever able to grasp Christ or His Spirit perfectly without first purifying himself? Chastity is the exercise which from childhood prepares the soul for glory by making it attractive and lovable, and with ease brings this adornment for her to the next world untried. It holds up great expectations as the reward for small toil and renders our bodies immortal. It is only fitting then that all should gladly praise and esteem chastity above all other things; some, because by practicing virginity they have been espoused to the Word: others, because by chastity they have been emancipated from that condemnation, `Earth thou art, and unto earth thou shalt return.’” ~St. Methodius, “The Symposium: A treatise on Chastity”

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“Offer to the Lord the weakness of your nature, fully acknowledging your own powerlessness, and imperceptibly you will receive the gift of chastity.” ~ St. John Climacus

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A person can be raised up above the earth by two wings, one is simplicity and the other is purity of heart. You must be simple in your actions and pure in your thoughts and feelings. With a pure heart you’ll seek God and with simplicity you’ll find Him and be glad. A pure heart passes through Heaven’s gate with ease. Elder Amphilochios Makris – http://agrino.org/cyberdesert/makris.htm

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“In an age where sexual expression is seen as one’s right, and where the view that one can not be fulfilled if they are not sexually active, keeping oneself chaste can be a daunting task, indeed.” Read Abbot Tryphon’s blog post on the need to submit to a spiritual father when pursuing chastity, here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2016/12/lust-6/

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“Chastity means being faithful to God first, in both soul and body.” Read this statement about chastity and purity from this SOYO document on Purity, Virginity, and Chastity: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2011_pvc_packet.pdf

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Chastity is the virtue we struggle towards as we combat lusts of all sorts. We can learn so much from the lives of saints who have successfully fought against lust. Here are four whose success in this area we can emulate: http://www.ocf.net/four-saints-who-struggled-with-lust/

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Confession is an excellent beginning in our struggle toward chastity. Prayer is the reinforcement that we need to uphold that confession. Here are a collection of prayers that will help us: http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayers-for-purity.html

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Learning About the Saints: The Three Holy Hierarchs (Jan. 30/Feb. 12)

In the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs with a special feast every year. Who exactly are the Three Holy Hierarchs? They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. All three were very well educated, all three were great leaders of the Church in the fourth or fifth centuries, and all three have left behind a legacy of love for Christ/service to others that continues to challenge every generation of Christians.

Hundreds of years after these hierarchs departed this life, the 11th century Christians began to disagree as to which of these three men was the greatest. This disagreement led to division. Some Christians began calling themselves Basilians; others, Gregorians; and still others, Johannites. The Three Hierarchs did not like to see their fellow Christians divided in this way, so by the grace of God, they appeared together to Bishop John Mauropos, a monk serving in Euchaita (in Asia Minor). They told him that none of them was greater before God than the other. They also asked that they all be celebrated together on the same day, as a reminder of this. Bishop John, following the saints’ instructions, wrote a service to commemorate the Three Holy Hierarchs, and he selected January 30 (Feb. 12) as the day to celebrate all three of them.

Read more about the Three Holy Hierarchs, and find a personal challenge for each of us from their lives, in this blog post about them: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/learning-about-the-saints-the-three-holy-hierarchs-january-30/

The three most great luminaries of the Three-Sun Divinity have illumined all of the world with the rays of doctrines divine and true; they are the sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom, who with godly knowledge have watered all creation in clear and mighty streams: The great and sacred Basil, and the Theologian, wise Gregory, together with the renowned John, the famed Chrysostom of golden speech. Let us all who love their divinely-wise words come together, honoring them with hymns; for ceaselessly they offer entreaty for us to the Trinity.

Here are some links that you may find helpful as your family learns about the Three Holy Hierarchs together:
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Read more about the three holy heirarchs here: http://www.wenorthodox.com/three-hierarchs/ or here http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/01/feast-of-three-hierarchs-sts-basil.html

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Find more information about the feast of the Three Holy Hierarchs here: http://www.goarch.org/special/threehierarchs/index_html

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Share this book about the Three Holy Hierarchs with younger children: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-11-20/20-Paterikon-for-Kids-The-Three-Hierarchs/flypage-ask.tpl.html

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Print this icon for your children to color, or for use in another feast-related craft project: http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Three-Holy-Hierarchs-line-border.gif

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Be encouraged by these words from Metropolitan Tikhon, in his Jan. 30, 2105 homily on the Three Holy Hierarchs: “…the gentle, warm, and clear holiness and perfection of the Three Hierarchs [teaches] us, not oppressively but with peacefulness:

Not to give in to despair when we uncover the passions within our own hearts, but to slowly weed them out one by one; Not to be discouraged because we don’t seem to have control over our children and their behavior, but rather continually strive to love them and pray for them and not judge ourselves to be failures; Not to be overwhelmed when we find it difficult to live in a community, whether it is our family, our seminary or our parish, but to find hope in the examples of the great saints who give expression to true community.”

Read the entire homily here: http://www.svots.edu/metropolitan-tikhons-homily-feast-three-holy-hierarchs

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If you have a counted-cross-stitch fan in your family, you may want to know that this pattern to stitch the icon of the Three Holy Hierarchs is available: http://www.easterngiftshop.com/Item/IcCS3Hier

Gleanings from a Book: “Orthodox Christian Parenting Cultivating God’s Creation” By Marie Eliades

We recently discovered the book Orthodox Christian Parenting – Cultivating God’s Creation by Marie L. Eliades, published by Zoe Press in 2012. This book is a compilation of quotes and writings about raising and educating Orthodox Christian children. The text is gathered both from Church fathers and contemporary Orthodox Christians, and is presented by theme. (An important note: the introduction to the book tells more about the project and encourages readers to discuss what they read with their spiritual father to see what is best for their own family.)

Themes include:

“The Bigger Picture” (addresses why the book’s content is important)

“Marriage and New Beginnings” (sets the foundation for a new Orthodox family, and offers Orthodox perspectives on infertility/pregnancy/childbirth/adoption/loss of a child)

“Raising our Children” (speaks to childrearing from early childhood through youth)

“In the House of the Lord” (offers the basics of Orthodox family life at Church and at home)

“Adolescence and Growing Up” (talks about the issues and challenges that older children and their related adults face)

“So, They’re Leaving Home” (suggestions for launching a young adult)

We found many encouraging and challenging quotes throughout the book, and will share a few of them with you. This book will be of great benefit to any Orthodox Christians who marry, raise children, and/or teach children about the Faith. We recommend that people in those categories consider reading the book because of its insights into what the Church has taught about raising and teaching children of all ages.

Find the book here: http://www.shop.zoepress.us/Orthodox-Christian-Parenting-Cultivating-Gods-Creation-978-0-9851915-0-4.htm

Here are a few quotes from the book:

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“Marriage… is a journey through sorrows and joys. When the sorrows seem overwhelming, then you should remember that God is with you. He will take up your cross. It was He who placed the crown of marriage on your head. But when we ask God about something, He doesn’t always supply the solution right away. He leads us forward very slowly. Sometimes He takes years. We have to experience pain; otherwise life would have no meaning. But be of good cheer, for Christ is suffering with you, and the Holy Spirit through your groanings, is pleading on your behalf. (cf. Romans 8:26)” (p. 58)

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“When a woman is pregnant she must be calm, read the Gospel, pray, say the Jesus Prayer. Thus the child is also sanctified. The child’s upbringing begins in the womb. One should be very careful not to upset a pregnant woman for any reason. When my wife was expecting a child the Elder [St. Paisios] told me: ‘Be careful not to upset her now in any way! Be very carefull!! Tell her to say the Jesus Prayer and to chant. That will help the child a lot! She should do this later on as well.’” (p. 70)

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“I once understood Orthodoxy as a beautiful expression of faith on Sundays and holidays, but I have learned that we must bring every moment of our days and every inch of our homes into the Church. I learned first how to surrender myself to Him, and now I am learning how to surrender my children and everything else as well. The only path to healing is to offer up our entire world to Christ. We must lift up these broken pieces of our fallen world and have faith that He will restore them. He will.” (p. 83)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:

“The sanctity of the parents is the best way of bringing up children in the Lord. When the parents are saintly and transmit this to the child and give the child an upbringing ‘in the Lord,’ then the child, whatever the bad influences around it, will not be affected because by the door of its heart will be Wisdom—Christ Himself.” (p. 86)

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From a section from St. Tikhon of Zadonsk:

“A gardener binds a newly planted sapling to a stake driven and fixed into the ground lest it be uprooted by winds and storms; later, he prunes unneeded branches from the tree lest they harm the tree and dry it up. You should act likewise with your small and young children. Bind their hearts to the feet of God lest they be shaken by the machinations of Satan and depart from piety. Prune away the passions that grow in them lest they mature and overpower them and so put the new, inward man that was born in holy Baptism to death. For we see that as children grow up, sinful passions also appear and grow with them as unneeded branches of a tree.” (p. 112)

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From St. John Chrysostom:
“If artists who make statues and paint portraits of kings are held in high esteem, will not God bless ten thousand times more those who reveal and beautify His royal image? For man is in the image of God. When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, and to be forgiving—all attributes of God; to be generous, to love their neighbor, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” (p. 137)

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“Tired of laundry? Parenting and homemaking are indeed a holy calling. Daily chores are a blessing to us and to our family. Even laundry is blessed—no children, no laundry. What would our life be like without them? So as we wash, fold or iron each item we can say, ‘Lord have mercy on (name of clothing wearer).’ This works for your husband’s clothing, your children’s and your own clothing. ‘Lord have mercy on me.’ This sanctifies our time and work. It also helps us acquire peace and unceasing prayer.” (p. 171)

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“Pray, pray, pray for your children and trust our most holy Lady with their guidance. Please do not think that just because you attend church with your children, receive Communion regularly, or because they belong to a youth group that this is some sort of fail-proof guarantee. No, that is not enough You mothers and fathers must pray as much as you can for your dearest possession, the children God has entrusted to you.” (p. 269)

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“When I first read a quote by Elder Porphyrios that parents should talk to their children less and pray more I did not understand it since my children were young and at home and they needed me to speak to them to teach them. But since they have all grown and left home I understand. This may be difficult for some parents to understand yet we all should know that even as our children are a gift from God, they are a temporary gift. From birth until they leave home they are our gift and it is our job to love and teach them; but once they leave we are to release them on their path with their Guardian Angel and God’s Grace. Then our job is to pray for them, not to control them…” (p. 275)

The Church Fathers on Prayer

We recently looked together at the Lord’s Prayer. That is such an important prayer, one of many prayers that we Orthodox Christians should pray regularly, or “without ceasing,” according to St. Paul in 1 Thess. 5:17. We all know that we should pray, and that we should do so continually. But in this busy era, how can we actually do that? What is the best way for us to pray? What should we pray for when we pray? Why is prayer so important? This week we will glimpse at the answer to those questions by studying the words of the Church Fathers. Although they were alive on earth in different time periods, all of them successfully lived Christian lives in a world that flew in the face of their faith. We can benefit from their wisdom, if we take a moment to ponder their words. May these words encourage us each to examine our own prayers. Better yet, may we apply them, begin to actually pray more, and lead our children to do so, as well!

How can we pray without ceasing?

“The other day one of our skete schema-monks came to see me. ‘I’ve fallen into despondency, Abba, since I don’t see in myself- in one who bears the exalted angelic habit- a change for the better. The Lord calls one strictly to account if he’s a monk or schema-monk only according to his clothing. But how can I change? How can I die to sin? I sense my total feebleness.’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘we’re absolutely bankrupt, and if the Lord judges according to works, He will find nothing good in us.’

‘But is there hope for salvation then?’

‘Of course there is. Always say the Jesus Prayer, and leave everything to the will of God.’

‘But what kind of benefit can there be from this prayer if neither the mind nor the heart participates in it?’

‘Enormous benefit. Of course, this prayer has many subdivisions, from simple utterance to creative prayer. But for us, even if we were to be on the bottom step, it would be salvific. The powers of the enemy run from one who utters this prayer, and sooner or later he’ll be saved all the same.’

‘I’ve been resurrected!’ the schema-monk exclaimed. ‘I won’t be despondent anymore.’

And so I repeat: say the prayer, even if only with your lips, and the Lord will never abandon you.” Elder Barsanuphius of Optina

Peaceful, night-time prayer is of great assistance with its calmness and is also more efficacious for our spiritual development, just as the silent, night-time rain is of great benefit to growing plants.”  Saint (Elder) Paisios of the Holy Mountain Athos

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What is the best way for us to pray?

“Prayer consisting of words alone does not help if the heart does not participate in prayer. God hears only a fervent prayer. Abba Zoilus of Thebaid was once returning from Mt. Sinai and met a monk who complained to him, that they are suffering much from drought in the monastery. Zoilus said to him: ‘Why don’t you pray and implore God?’ The monk replied: ‘We have prayed and have implored, but there is no rain.’ To this, Zoilus replied: ‘It is evident that you are not praying fervently. Do you want to be convinced that it is so?’ Having said this, the elder raised his hands to heaven and prayed. Abundant rain fell to the earth. Seeing this, the astonished monk fell to the ground and bowed before the elder, but the elder, fearing the glory of men, quickly fled. The Lord Himself said: ‘Ask and it will be given you’ (St. Luke 11:9). In vain are mouths full of prayer if the heart is empty. God does not stand and listen to the mouth but to the heart. Let the heart be filled with prayer even though the mouth might be silent. God will hear and will receive the prayer. For God only listens to a fervent prayer.” – Saint Nikolai Velimirovich

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“Prayer should not depend upon our mood or good will.  If we are in a bad state, it’s because we are filled with sin.  Thus, we need to repent.  Every day, examine your conscience and repent.  Force yourself to pray regularly every day.  If you don’t want to do that, then you need to repent of that.  You must understand how necessary this is.   Know that the devil lurks and waits to destroy your soul, and that you are always in danger.  Prayer alone will give your soul the strength to resist.  In order to acquire spiritual muscles, you have to go to the spiritual gym.”  – Elder Sergei of Vanves

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“If we want to ask a favor of any person of power, we presume not to approach but with humility and respect.  How much more ought we to address ourselves to the Lord and God of all things with a humble and entire devotion?  We are not to imagine that our prayers shall be heard because we use many words, but because the heart is pure and the spirit penitent.” – St. Benedict of Nursia

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“If you wish to learn how to pray, keep your gaze fixed on the end of …prayer.  The end is adoration, contrition of the heart, love of neighbor.  It is self-evident that lustful thoughts, whisperings of slander, hatred of one’s neighbor, and similar things are opposed to it.  All this is incompatible with the work of prayer.” – The Blessed Callistus, Patriarch

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“Purity of prayer is silence from the converse of bodily thoughts, and the uninterrupted movement of the things which give delight to the soul.” – Saint Isaac of Nineveh

What should we pray for when we pray?

“Do not pray for the fulfillment of your wishes, for they may not accord with the will of God.  But pray as you have been taught, saying: ‘Thy will be done in me’ (cf. Lk 22: 42).  Always entreat Him in this way  –  that His will be done.  For He desires what is good and profitable for you, whereas you do not always ask for this.” – Evagrios the Solitary (Ponticus)

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“Let us be mutually mindful of one another, of one heart and one mind.  Let us ever pray for one another, and by mutual love lighten our burdens and difficulties.  And if one of us should, by the swiftness of divine action, depart from here first, let our love continue in the presence of the Lord.  Let not prayer for our brothers and sisters cease in the presence of the mercy of the Father.”  – St. Cyprian of Carthage

Why is prayer so important?

The first condition for the attainment of true prayer is a fervent desire to be saved and be pleasing to God, a readiness to sacrifice all for the sake of God and the salvation of one’s soul. As Bishop Theophan the Recluse states: Consider prayer to be the first and foremost duty in your life and as such keep it in your heart. Go about your prayers as to the fulfillment of your primary duty, and not as to something to be done between tasks.” http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/OrthodoxPrayer.aspx

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“Amidst the racket and ridicule of people my prayer rises toward You, O my King and my Kingdom.  
Prayer is incense that ceaselessly censes my soul and raises it toward You, and draws You toward her.  Stoop down, my King, so that I may whisper to You my most precious secret, my most secret prayer, my most prayerful desire.  You are the object of all my prayers, all my searching, I seek nothing except You, truly only You.” – Saint Nikolai (Velimirovich)

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“Oh, what great happiness and bliss, what exaltation it is to address oneself to the Eternal Father. Always, without fail, value this joy which has been accorded to you by God’s infinite grace and do not forget it during your prayers; God, the angels and God’s holy men listen to you.”  – St. John of Kronstadt

Lenten Learning: St. John Climacus

The fourth Sunday of Great Lent is called “The Sunday of St. John Climacus.” Together as a family, let us study the life of St. John and find out why we commemorate him on this day. There are many ways in which we can learn about him Here are two of them: Watch a 2-minute video about St. John of the Ladder, which introduces him and his book as well as the icon which we will venerate; and ends with a challenge to young people to keep climbing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VTtpllgQTk. We can also read about his life and see pictures of the cave where St John Climacus lived, here: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/the-cave-of-saint-john-of-the-ladder/ or here: http://myocn.net/blessings-desert-st-john-ladder-climacus/ Would you believe that we do not actually even know St. John Climacus’ family name?!? Climacus is a Greek word that means “of the Ladder.” He is so named because of the book that he wrote primarily for ascetics. The book is also both challenging and helpful to lay people, and it is called The Ladder of Divine Ascent. St. John Climacus is known for what he lived, taught, and passed on; not for where (or who) he came from. We do know that St. John was a monk who chose to live his life to the fullest for Christ, beginning at an early age. He was only 16 years old when he went to live at St. Catherine’s Monastery. When he was 20, he was tonsured a monk. One source mentioned that his elder waited those four years to tonsure him in order to test his humility. He lived as a monk for more than 70 years, many of those years in solitude, in a “cave” which was actually a small shelter formed by boulders: a truly humble dwelling. He lived a life of humility. We also know that St. John’s pursuit of holiness has influenced the lives of Orthodox Christians for every century since he walked on earth. His words in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (which he wrote because the abbot of another monastery asked him to do so) encourage all of us to continue our journey towards the Kingdom of God. His entreaty that we “let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath” has challenged Orthodox Christians to live their lives in hesychasm, or the quietness that leads a person to God through constant prayer. (This constant prayer has come to be known as the “Jesus Prayer.”) He humbly led his monks and all Orthodox Christians since then, passing down tools that we can use to grow deeper in our faith. So, what can we learn from what we know about St. John Climacus? How can we apply that learning in our family life? 1. Perhaps we can begin by emphasizing to our children how important it is for Orthodox Christians to live in a way that leads others towards God. Our family name is important to us, but how much more important is the name “Christian?” Let us evaluate how well our family is living up to that name, consider how our life is impacting those around us and those who will follow after us, and take steps to “kick it up a notch.” 2. Another thing we can do after studying the life of St. John Climacus is encourage our children to live godly lives wherever they are! We need to support them in their pursuit of the Faith, doing all that we can to incorporate them into the life of the Church, to be involved with the Sunday Church School and JOY/SOYO, etc. We should help our children attend Orthodox Christian summer camp so that they can meet other Orthodox kids and be strengthened in their faith. We must invest in icons, books, music, etc. that will help to point our children towards the Faith. We also need to encourage our children to offer themselves to God for His service, whether that happens now (serving in the altar, choir, etc.) or later in life (as short- or long-term missionaries, as monastics, or as clergy). Regardless of their age, when our children take steps like this, whether they are small or large steps, let us support them and humbly let them go. 3. We can pursue holiness together as a family by using the tools that St. John Climacus left for us. We can continue to pray constantly, pursuing hesychasm with more fervor. We can read The Ladder of Divine Ascent and study the steps with our children. (Download the book here: http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf. Listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko’s podcast about it here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/4th_sunday_of_lent_st_john_of_the_ladder. Or read this new book that takes a look at each of the steps of St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent: http://store.ancientfaith.com/thirty-steps-to-heaven. Print a copy of the basic steps of the ladder to hang in your home as a reminder: http://saintannas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/30-Steps-of-Ladder.pdf. Read about the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent here: http://saintannas.org/sunday-of-the-ladder-of-divine-ascent/.) As we practice constant prayer and daily continue our ascent of the ladder, we will become more like Christ.

“Ascend, brothers, ascend eagerly, and be resolved in your hearts to ascend and hear Him who says: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of our God, who makes our feet like hind’s feet, and sets us on high places, that we may be victorious with His song. Run, I beseech you, with him who said: Let us hasten until we attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, who, when He was baptized in the thirtieth year of His visible age, attained the thirtieth step in the spiritual ladder; since God is indeed love, to whom be praise, dominion, power, in whom is and was and will be the cause of all goodness throughout infinite ages. Amen.” St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 129

Following are quotes from St. John Climacus: *** “The memory of insults is the residue of anger. It keeps sins alive, hates justice, ruins virtue, poisons the heart, rots the mind, defeats concentration, paralyzes prayer, puts love at a distance, and is a nail driven into the soul. If anyone has appeased his anger, he has already suppressed the memory of insults, while as long as the mother is alive the son persists. In order to appease the anger, love is necessary.” *** “Let your prayer be completely simple. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.” *** “It is impossible, someone says, impossible to spend the present day devoutly unless we regard it as the last of our whole life. And it is truly astonishing how even the pagans have said something of the sort, since they define philosophy as meditation on death. This is the sixth step. He who has mounted it will never sin again. Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin [Ecclesiasticus/Wisdom of Sirach 7:36].” *** “If you want to overcome the spirit of slander, blame not the person who falls, but the demon that prompted them to sin.” *** “Do not say, after spending a long time in prayer, that nothing has been gained; for you have already gained something. And what higher good is there than to cling to the Lord and persevere in unceasing union with Him?” *** “The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when the heart is excited. The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited. The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.” *** “Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honour your patience.” *** “When our praisers, or rather our seducers, begin to praise us, let us briefly call to mind the multitude of our sins, and we shall find ourselves unworthy of what is said or done in our honor.”  

Lenten Learning: St. Gregory of Palamas

The second Sunday of Great Lent is known in the Orthodox Christian Church as the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas. There is much to learn from the life of St. Gregory! The way that he lived his life on earth teaches us and our children how to live a truly Christian life.

St. Gregory was born to a wealthy family, but loved God and the Church so much even from childhood that he joined the monastic ranks at a young age. He also convinced many of his family members to do the same! He is known for his life of prayer and his theological wisdom, which came about as a result of that life of prayer. Let us learn more about St. Gregory so that we are better able to teach our children about his life, and then let us work together to apply our learnings and become more Christlike, as he was.

Here are a few resources that can help us to learn about St. Gregory of Palamas’ life:

Here are a few resources that can help us apply what we are learning about St. Gregory’s life:

Learning about the life of St. Gregory of Palamas can greatly strengthen our theological understanding. Teaching our children about his life will aid our appreciation for the way that he lived his earthly life as we see his deep love for God and how that translated into his daily life. Finding ways for our family to emulate his life will help us to work toward godliness, as well. Let us approach this week of Great Lent, seeking to live our lives in godliness, as did St. Gregory of Palamas.

 

Troparion (Tone 8)

O light of Orthodoxy, teacher of the Church, its confirmation,

O ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians,

O wonder working Gregory, glory of Thessalonica and preacher of grace,

always intercede before the Lord that our souls may be saved.

 

Following are quotes from St. Gregory of Palamas:

“Let not one think, my fellow Christian, that only priests and monks need to pray without ceasing and not laymen No, no; every Christian without exception ought to dwell always in prayer.”

“For our love for God is demonstrated above all by the way we endure trials and temptations.”

“When we strive with diligent sobriety to keep watch over our rational faculties, to control and correct them, how else can we succeed in this task except by collecting our mind, which is dispersed abroad through the senses, and bringing it back into the world within, into the heart itself, which is the storehouse of all our thoughts?”

“It is pointless for someone to say that he has faith in God if he does not have the works which go with faith. What benefit were their lamps to the foolish virgins who had no oil (Mt. 25:1-13), namely, deeds of love and compassion?”

“If from one burning lamp someone lights another, then another from that one, and so on in succession, he has light continuously. In the same way, through the Apostles ordaining their successors, and these successors ordaining others, and so on, the grace of the Holy Spirit is handed down through all generations and enlightens all who obey their shepherds and teachers.”

“… Adam chose the treason of the serpent, the originator of evil, in preference to God’s commandment and counsel, and broke the decreed fast. Instead of eternal life he received death and instead of the place of unsullied joy he received this sinful place full of passions and misfortunes, or rather, he was sentenced to Hades and nether darkness. Our nature would have stayed in the infernal regions below the lurking places of the serpent who initially beguiled it, had not Christ come. He started off by fasting (cf. Mk. 1:13) and in the end abolished the serpent’s tyranny, set us free and brought us back to life.”

“Prayer changes from entreaty to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope.”

The Real To-Do List

Parents are never without a to-do list. There is always something to make, to fix, to do; or some where to go, to visit, or to deliver something or someone. In the midst of this everyday busyness, it is easy to neglect the important things: the spiritual things that really ought to be at the top of each of our to-do lists. The lazy neglect of these truly important things is harmful to our souls and the souls of our family members. Let us be diligent and press on towards the goal of our spiritual “to-do” list, as well!

“What is beautiful and well-made belongs to the world and cannot comfort those who want to live a spiritual life.  There is no wall that will not eventually be torn down.  One soul is worth more than the entire world.  What must we do for the soul?  We must begin spiritual work.  We must have only the right kind of concern.  Christ will ask us what spiritual work we have accomplished, how we helped the world in spiritual matters.  He will not ask what buildings we made.  He will not even mention them.  We will be held accountable for our spiritual progress.  I want you to grasp what I am trying to say.  I am not saying that one must not construct buildings, and not construct them well, but one must take care of the spiritual life first and then mind the rest, and do all that with spiritual discernment.” –  Saint (Elder) Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Athos

This week’s daily Facebook posts will consist of quotes from the Spiritual Fathers on our good and divine work. This work includes prayer, study, worship, trust in God, humility, and much more. May these quotes encourage us to keep our priorities right; to work to acquire the Kingdom of Heaven first and foremost; and to allow God to work in and through our lives. Work done at the true top of our “To-Do List” will trickle down through the rest of the list, sanctifying and blessing all of our work; as well as all those around us.“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov (Readhttp://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/09/17/what-st-seraphim-meant/ for practical suggestions of how to do so.)

“The one thing I need now, more than meeting my deadlines, more than getting more organized, more than more money, more than losing ten pounds, more than vindication, more than being right or known, becomes mercifully clear: Christ Jesus.” ~ fromhttp://blogs.ancientfaith.com/closetohome/2014/09/24/one-firm-unquestionable-thing/, by Molly Sabourin