Category Archives: Faith

On Pursuing Virtue: Faithfulness

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko begins his discussion on faithfulness by reminding the reader that God is absolutely faithful. This virtue is one of His main characteristics! When the virtue of faithfulness is found in people, it is there because of the Holy Spirit. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit.

People who are faithful always keep their word. They are completely loyal. They stay true to their calling. No matter what happens, they steadfastly serve in truth and love. The faithful person will follow God’s will even if others do not notice or appreciate what they are doing. God sets for us the best example of faithfulness. He always makes promises and covenants and always keeps them, even when people have not kept their end of the “bargain.”

God incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ, showed us humans how to be faithful by being perfectly faithful throughout His life on earth. He carried out his mission dutifully, and thereby accomplished all that God sent Him here to do. Our Lord taught about faithfulness in the parable of the talents. In that parable, He teaches that the truly faithful servant is the one who takes what the Lord gives and fearlessly grows it into more. That servant is the one that is commended, who has truly carried out what his Lord set forth for him to do.

The discussion on faithfulness continues by stating that to be truly spiritual is to be completely faithful in everything: not only in all of our deeds and in all of our words, but even in all of our thoughts! We need to beware of pride, covetousness, cowardice, envy, and the temptation to not humbly serve where we are, with what God has provided: all of these are enemies of faithfulness. Anytime that we think highly of ourselves, are afraid to try what God has asked us to do, wish for our neighbors’ stuff or talents, or continually seek satisfaction from the world, we grow faithLESSness in our life.

If we want to be faithful, we need to be steadfast. We must be fully committed to doing the tasks that God has set before us with whatever faith, grace, and strength He provides. Fr. Thomas says, “The only way to find joy, wisdom, and peace is to be faithful to one’s own uniqueness, knowing that each person has his own specific life and vocation from God which no one else has; his own specific mission which no one else can perform.” When we live and act in this way, we will develop faithfulness in our life, and accomplish those things which God has intended for us to accomplish with our life, for His glory!

May we all grow in the virtue of faithfulness, and thereby love God as we should!

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussions of faithfulness here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faithfulness

Here are some scriptures, quotes from saints, and quotes from Orthodox resources that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of faithfulness in our own life:
***
“Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” (Ps. 36:5 NKJV)
***
“O Lord God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O Lord? Your faithfulness also surrounds You.” (Ps. 89:* NKJV)
***
“My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, That they may dwell with me; He who walks in a perfect way, He shall serve me.” (Ps. 101:6 NKJV)
***
“Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You established the earth, and it abides.” (Ps. 119:90 NKJV)
***
“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’” (Matt. 25:21 NKJV)
***
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23 NKJV)
***
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10 NKJV)
***
“. . .If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim 2:13 NKJV)
***
“God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all —faithful and unfaithful, just and unjust, pious and impious, passionate and dispassionate, monks and laymen, wise and simple, healthy and sick, young and old —just as the effusion of light, the sight of the sun, and the changes of the seasons are for all alike; ‘for there is no respect of persons with God.’” ~ St. John Climacus
***
“Abraham and the patriarchs, while they had the desire to see the promised good things, and ceased not to seek the heavenly country are yet even now in the condition of hoping for that grace, ‘God having provided some better thing for us that they without us should not be made perfect’ (Heb. 11:40). If they, then, bear the delay who by faith only and by hope saw the good things ‘afar off’ and ’embraced them’ (Heb. 11:11), placing their certainty of the enjoyment of the things for which they hoped in the fact that they ‘judged Him faithful Who has promised’ (Heb. 11:11), what ought most of us to do, who have not, it may be, a hold upon the better hope from the character of our lives?” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa
***
“The Son is ‘Truth’ (Jn. 14:6), because truth is a single whole, while falsehood is a splintered complex. and because He is the unstained seal (cf. Jn. 6:27), the utterly faithful impress (cf. Heb. 1:3) of the Father. He is called ‘Image’ (Col. 1:15) because He is consubstantial with the Father; He stems from the Father and not the Father from Him, it being the nature of an image to copy the original and be called after it. But there is more to it than this. The ordinary image is a motionless copy of a moving being. Here we have a living image of a living being, indistinguishable from its original to a higher degree than Seth from Adam and any earthly offspring from its parent.” ~ St. Gregory Nazianzus
***
“I pray to God to give me perseverance and to deign that I be a faithful witness to Him to the end of my life for my God.” ~ St. Patrick
***
“The journey to faithfully following Christ is definitely NOT easy. And if we are not struggling, consciously wrestling daily to stay faithful, then we probably are NOT on the narrow path that leads to life.” Be encouraged in your struggle toward faithfulness by reading this encouraging homily: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/struggling-to-stay-on-the-faithful-path
***

Advertisements

On Pursuing Virtue: Kindness

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter on kindness begins with the statement that spiritual people are kind, always gentle, and never cruel in any way. But kindness is more than a fruit of the Spirit evidenced in the life of humans who are following God: God Himself is kind! And He is not just kind to the good. Luke 6:35 reminds us that He is “kind to the ungrateful and selfish.” That’s pretty much everyone, at least at some point in life!

We Christians are encouraged to accompany God in kindness. This is most important when we are helping others to see an error that we have noticed in their life. Fr. Thomas mentions that we can usually put on a kind front for those we don’t know well. But the people who we are the closest to may more easily receive an unkind response or reaction from us. These people are the ones who need our kindness the most, and he encourages us to extend kind words and actions to them, as well as our more casual acquaintances. He says that there is never an excuse to be insensitive or harsh to anyone, regardless of how close we are to them.

Fr. Thomas goes on to clarify that kindness doesn’t mean glossing over or ignoring other people’s sins. Instead, he says, it means that we forgive them. He also states that kindness will not always look like “being nice” to others and going along with them in whatever they do. Sometimes a truly kind person needs to set others straight if they are doing something that is wrong. The person’s kindness will shine through by the way they convey care to the person doing wrong, even in the midst of this correction. He says that a kind person’s correction will not have any cruelty, demeaning, ridiculing, or condemning. Instead, a truly kind person will correct another with encouragement and gentle understanding.

Kindness to all others, lived in this way, is a tall order. May God help us to grow in the virtue of kindness. When we do, we will be able to truly love all others as kindly as He does!

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussions of kindness here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/kindness

Here are some scriptures, quotes from saints, and quotes from Orthodox resources that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of kindness in our own life:

***
“For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:2 NKJV)
***
“What is desired in a man is kindness…” (Proverbs 19:22 NKJV)
***
“‘With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer… ‘For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Isaiah 54: 8, 10, NKJV)
***
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” Gal. 5: 22-23 NKJV)
***
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” (Col. 3: 12, 13 NKJV)
***
“Conquer men by your gentle kindness, and make zealous men wonder at your goodness. Put the lover of justice to shame by your compassion. With the afflicted be afflicted in mind. Love all men, but keep distant from all men.” ~ St. Isaac the Syrian
***
“Do not despise any man, however poor he may be; but behave with full respect and kindness to every well-intentioned man, especially to the poor, as to our members worthy of compassion — or, rather, to members of Christ — otherwise you will cruelly wound your soul.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
***
“Do not allow yourself for a moment to have any ill-feeling against anyone; always be kind to everyone, conquering your evil disposition by the love that endureth all things and conquereth all things.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
***
“Evil and faults are corrected by good, by love, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
***
“You cannot be too gentle, too kind…” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov
***
“A man who is wrathful with us is a sick man; we must apply a plaster to his heart – love; we must treat him kindly, speak to him gently, lovingly. And if there is not deeply-rooted malice against us within him, but only a temporary fit of anger, you will see how his heart, or his malice, will melt away through your kindness and love – how good will conquer evil. A Christian must always be kind, gracious, and wise in order to conquer evil by good.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
***
“Acts of kindness and generosity are spoilt by self-esteem, meanness and pleasure, unless these have first been destroyed by fear of God.” ~ Saint Kosmas Aitolos
***
Concerning kindness, St. Nilus of Mt. Sinai writes: “My son, always strive to be simple and kind. Do not have one thing in your heart and another thing on your tongue for this is a ruse and a lie. Be truthful and not false for falsehood is of the evil one. Do not return evil for evil but if someone does you evil, forgive him so that God may also forgive you. If you are tormented by the remembrance of evil thoughts, pray to God for that brother [the evil doer] with your entire soul and the remembrance of evil thoughts will flee from you.” It is told how a young man decided to serve a very eccentric old man so that God would forgive him of his sins. He endured twelve years in this most difficult service and presented himself to God. A great spiritual man saw the soul of the young man in Paradise as he was praying to God for the evil old man: “Lord, as You had mercy on me because of him, have mercy on him according to Your great goodness and because of me Your servant.” After forty days this eccentric old man died and, again, that spiritual man saw the soul of that old man reposing in the Kingdom of Heaven. What a most beautiful and miraculous kindness of this patient youth in truth, miraculous!
***
“Many have heard of “random acts of kindness,” but how many of us take it seriously enough to make kindness a priority in our lives?” Read this short article on how to begin immediately checking ourselves to ensure that we are living kindly: http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/18269
***
Need some ideas for working together as a family to kindly surprise others? Check out this blog from years ago: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/

On Pursuing Virtue: Hope

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter about hope begins by pairing the virtue of hope with the power of faith. He reminds his readers that Abraham “in hope believed against hope that he should be the father of many nations” (Rom 4:18). He reminds his readers that hope and faith both rest in the unseen.

Hope is knowing that good will result in our life if we are living in faith, according to Fr. Hopko. Hope can help us to be sure that even in the midst of darkness and sin, God’s light and forgiveness is with us and will do for us what we are not able to do. Hope extends to us the reassurance that we need.

Fr. Hopko speaks of the opposite of hope, as well, so that we can be on guard. Despondency and despair are the opposites of hope. He calls these “the most grievous and horrible condition that a person can be in.” These two conditions work together to create the most terrible and damaging situation for our soul. Why? Because when we have no hope, we can’t do anything else. We especially can not have faith.

Fr. Hopko continues, “If a person is faithless, he can be chastised and convinced. If a person is proud, he can be humbled; impure, he can be cleansed; weak, he can be strengthened; wicked, he can be made righteous. But if a person is despondent and despairing, the very condition of his sickness is such that his heart and soul are dead and unresponsive to the grace of God and the support of his brothers.”

But if we fall into despair, it is possible for us to repair the state of our souls with humility and patience. Fr. Hopko tells his readers that when we fall into these states, we must hold steadfastly to the life of Faith, even if we don’t “feel” it anymore. He says when we are experiencing despair, we need to continue to go through each day, living our life of Faith. Even if we are just “going through the motions” of reading scriptures, participating in liturgical worship, keeping the fasts, praying, and working, we must not stop doing these things. He reminds us of St. Benedict’s advice that those in despondency/despair continue to do what they are doing as well as they can, and as attentively as possible. He suggests that we follow St. Seraphim’s encouragement to visit with strong friends who are spiritual, full of hope, merciful, and full of joy.

Staying steadfast through the dry times until we once again experience the light of hope and comfort is what we need to do. It is not an easy way to go (Fr. Hopko reminds us, “those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:14)). St. Evagrius assures us that when one “fights and conquers against despondency and despair, this struggle is followed by a peaceful state and the soul becomes filled with ineffable joy”.

Fr. Hopko addresses those who proclaim that it is virtuous to be without hope, thinking that declaring “all is lost” pleases God as these people sorrow over their sins and the sins of the world. He says it is not virtuous to feel helpless around the wicked or to think we’re at the mercy of evil. Rather, it is a virtue to be “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer”(Rom 12.12). When we do so, we are able to really know and believe that God has the final victory in our life.

May we all grow in the virtue of hope, and thereby love God as we should!

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussions of the virtue of hope here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/hope

Here are some scriptures, quotes from saints, and quotes from Orthodox resources that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of hope in our own life:
***
“Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (Ps. 31:24 NKJV)
***
“Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, just as we hope in You.” (Ps 33:20–22, NKJV)
***
“Why are you so sad, O my soul? And why do you trouble me? Hope in God, for I will give thanks to Him. My God is the salvation of my countenance.” (Ps. 41:6, OSB)
***
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NKJV)

***
“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5, OSB)
***
“For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Romans 8:24-25, OSB)
***
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13)
***
“When we are attacked by the demon of despondency—the most grievous of all, but who more than all makes the soul experienced—let us divide our soul in two, and making one part the comforter and the other part the comforted, let us sow seeds of good hope in ourselves, singing with David the psalmist: ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I will again praise Him, my help and my God’.” ~ St. Evagrius of Pontus

***
“Blessed the one who farms fair and good thoughts each day and by hope conquers the wicked passion of despondency, by which the Lord’s ascetics are warred upon.” ~St. Ephrem of Syria
***
“Hope also requires a life corresponding to the hope.” ~St. John of Kronstadt
***
“Prayer breathes hope…” ~St. John of Kronstadt
***
“Man’s patience gives birth to hope; good hope will glorify him.” ~Abba Evagrius
***
“The soul that loves God has its rest in God and in God alone. In all the paths that men walk in in the world, they do not attain peace until they draw nigh to hope in God.” ~Isaac the Syrian
***
“If a man has no worries about himself at all for the sake of love toward God and the working of good deeds, knowing that God is taking care of him, this is a true and wise hope. But if a man takes care of his own business and turns to God in prayer only when misfortunes come upon him which are beyond his power, and then he begins to hope in God, such a hope is vain and false. A true hope seeks only the Kingdom of God… the heart can have no peace until it obtains such a hope. This hope pacifies the heart and produces joy within it.” ~St. Seraphim of Sarov
***

On Pursuing Virtue: Faith

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko writes that the virtue of faith is the foundation of all Christian virtue, and that it is at the heart of our Christian life. Without faith, he says, we can not achieve anything wise or virtuous. The virtue of faith is not limited to our faith in God, according to Fr. Hopko: when he speaks of the virtue of faith, he’s also speaking of our faith in the ability of humans to do good and speak truth; as well as our faith in the value of life!

Fr. Hopko calls faith in God “the fundamental virtue of all the saints.” He points us to Hebrews 11, where we find Abraham, the prototype of believers, whose faith we should emulate. Abraham’s faith brought him the promise from God in the first place. His continued faith that God would fulfill that promise which brought the promise to fruition. Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham’s faith was “accounted to him for righteousness.” (NKJV)

He goes on to talk about how we must have faith in God. It follows that if we believe in God, we also believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ is the center of our Christian life. It also is the foundation of the Church. Faith is how we know and do everything.

He continues with these statements about faith: “Faith, first of all, is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb 11.1)… [it] is not a blind leap in the dark, an irrational and unreasonable acceptance of the unreasonable and the absurd. Genuine faith is eminently reasonable; it is rooted and grounded in man’s reasonable nature as made in the image of God. Not to believe, according to the scriptures and the saints, is the epitome of absurdity and foolishness.”

Fr. Hopko reminds us that all humans were created to have faith in God. Not believing in Him goes against our nature, and causes evils. It’s not an intellectual mistake or confusion that causes absence of faith in God: rather, that problem comes from sin, impurity, and pride. Lack of faith in God occurs when wickedness keeps the truth from shining through, or when God’s truth is covered by a lie, or when people refuse (knowingly or not) to honor God and/or be thankful to Him.
To be truly spiritual, we need to live by faith in Christ; and, by the grace of God and with His Spirit’s help, be faithful in all things.
May we all grow in the virtue of faith, and thereby love God as we should!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of faith in its entirety here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faith1

Here are some scriptures, quotes from saints, and quotes from Orthodox resources that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of faith in our own life:
***
“Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Matt. 6:30
***
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2
***
“Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” 1 Corinth. 16:13
***
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinth. 5:7
***
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Heb. 11:1
***
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Heb. 11:6
***
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James 1:2-3
***
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” James 2:14-24
***
“We have very little faith in the Lord, very little trust. If we trusted the Lord as much as we trust a friend when we ask him to do something for us, neither we as individuals nor our whole country would suffer so much.” ~ Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica
***
“Judas the betrayer was faint hearted and unskilled in battle, and so the enemy, seeing his despair, attacked him and forced him to hang himself, but Peter, a firm rock, when he fell into great sin, like one skilled in battle did not despair nor lose heart, but shed bitter tears from a burning heart, and the enemy, seeing these tears, his eyes scorched as by fire, fled far from him, wailing in pain.

“And so brothers, St. Antioch teaches, when despair attacks us let us not yield to it, but being strengthened and protected by the light of faith, with great courage let us say to the evil spirit: ‘What are you to us, estranged from God, a fugitive from heaven and evil servant? You dare do nothing to us. Christ, the Son of God, has authority both over us and over everything. It is against Him that we have sinned, and before Him that we will be justified. And you, destroyer, leave us. Strengthened by His venerable Cross, we trample under foot your serpent’s head.’” ~ St Seraphim of Sarov

***
“When going to the Holy Mysteries, go with simplicity of heart, in full faith that you will receive the Lord within yourself, and with the proper reverence towards this. What your state of mind should be after this, leave it to the Lord Himself. Many desire ahead of time to receive this or that from Holy Communion, and then, not seeing what they wanted, they are troubled, and even their faith in the power of the Mystery is shaken. The fault lies not with the Mystery, but with superficial assumptions. Do not promise yourself anything. Leave everything to the Lord, asking a single mercy from Him — to strengthen you in every kind of good so that you will be acceptable to Him. The fruit of Communion most often has a taste of sweet peace in the heart; sometimes it brings enlightenment to thought and inspiration to one’s devotion to the Lord; sometimes almost nothing is apparent, but afterward in one’s affairs there is a noted a great strength and steadfastness in the diligence one has promised.” ~ St. Theophan the Recluse
***
“True, one may know man’s final goal: communion with God. And one may describe the path to it: faith, and walking in the commandments, with the aid of divine grace. One need only say in addition: here is the path-start walking!” ~ St. Theophan the Recluse
***
“How will it be with us in the future life, when everything that has gratified us in this world: riches, honors, food and drink, dress, beautifully furnished dwellings, and all attractive objects—how will it be, I say, when all these things leave us—when they will all seem to us a dream, and when works of faith and virtue, of abstinence, purity, meekness, humility, mercy, patience, obedience, and others will be required of us?” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
***
“Excessive care about worldly matters is characteristic of an unbelieving and faint hearted person, and woe to us, if, in taking care of ourselves, we do not use as our foundation our faith in God, who cares for us! If we do not attribute visible blessings to Him, which we use in this life, then how can we expect those blessings from Him which are promised in the future? We will not be of such little faith. By the words of our Savior, it is better first to seek the Kingdom of God, for the rest shall be added unto us (see Mt. 6:33).” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov
***
“A mole burrowing in the earth is blind and cannot see the stars; and he who does not trust God in temporal things will not trust Him in eternal things.” – St. Mark the Ascetic
***
“In the man who only theorizes about faith, there is a great deal of room for the demon. But in the man who gives himself to sincere prayer and fasting, there is only the narrowest space for the demon, and he must flee from such a man.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovic
***
“To have faith in Christ means more than simply despising the delights of this life. It means we should bear all our daily trials that may bring us sorrow, distress, or unhappiness, and bear them patiently for as long as God wishes and until He comes to visit us. For it is said, ‘I waited on the Lord and He came to me.’” ~St. Symeon the New Theologian

 

 

On Pursuing Virtue: Gratitude

Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!
We will begin this conversation where we often end other ones: with gratitude. We teach our children to say “thank you,” but gratitude is much more than remembering to say these words after receiving a gift or eating a meal! True gratitude is a lifestyle. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality, says, “The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God.”
St. Nikolai Velimirovich agrees, and elaborates in his Prologue from Ochrid: “For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.” This type of mindset – really remembering that everything, EVERYTHING, is God’s and we are simply His guests, staying in His home and borrowing His linens – completely changes our possessive assumptions and multiplies our gratitude.
Fr. Hopko continues his discussion on gratitude by pointing out that from the time of the Old Testament, thanksgiving has been central to life for the people of God. In the Old Testament times, sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered in the temple, and the Psalms sang thanks to God. This attitude continued in the New Testament times! The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so from that time to this day, our worship centers around being grateful: we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord!
Fr. Hopko points out that the Scriptures and the lives of the saints are full of thanksgiving to God, not just for the “good” things, but for everything! The saints have shown their complete trust in God’s provision and care. They have modeled gratitude for us in their deeds and words. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that even things that may look bad to us can be used to bring spiritual growth and salvation by God’s grace! (And he did not just say this. He lived it. He was in the process of being exiled in old age when he died, and yet his last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”)
Fr. Hopko states that the opposite of gratitude is bitterness and complaining. If we are proud and covetous, we will complain about our life. Complaining shows that we are lacking a humble trust in God, and thereby we do not thank Him for everything! When we trust Him absolutely, we will be at peace.
Fr. Hopko closes his chapter on gratitude with this statement: “A person is grateful to the extent that he trusts in the Lord and has love for God and man.”

Read more of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s wise words about the virtues, as written in his book, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues
Here are some scriptures and quotes from saints about gratitude, as well as a few related links that can encourage us as we become more grateful:
***
Scriptures related to gratitude that can be helpful to meditate upon or memorize:
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1.16).
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His Holy Name.
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever! (Pss 30.4, 95.2, 92.1, 107.1).
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving . . . always and for ­everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5.4, 20).
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5.16–18).
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice! Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.4–7).
***
“Thank God every day with your whole heart for having given to your life according to His image and likeness – an intelligently free and immortal life…Thank Him also for again daily bestowing life upon you, who have fallen an innumerable multitude of times, by your own free will, through sins, from life unto death, and that He does so as soon as you only say from your whole heart: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee!’” (Luke 15:18). – St. John of Kronstadt
***
“Grumbling is caused by misery and it can be put aside by doxology (giving praise). Grumbling begets grumbling and doxology begets doxology. when someone doesn’t grumble over a problem troubling him, but rather praises God, then the devil gets frustrated and goes off to someone else who grumbles, in order to cause everything to go even worse for him. You see, the more one grumbles, the more one falls into ruin.” ~ St. Paisios the Athonite
***
“Let us give thanks to God continually. For, it is outrageous that when we enjoy His benefaction to us in deed every single day, we do not acknowledge the favor with so much as a word; and this, when the acknowledgment confers great benefit on us. He does not need anything of ours, but we stand in need of all things from Him.
In point of fact, thanksgiving adds nothing to Him, but it brings us closer to Him. For if, when we recall the benefactions of men, we are the more warmed by affection for them; much more, when we continually bring to mind the benefits of the Master towards us, shall we be more earnest with regard to His commandments.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
***
“Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
***
“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” ~St. Paul, Philippians 4:6
***
“When you are subjected to the malicious and furious violence of the passions, and to the harassments of the Devil, during the fulfillment of various works for God, accept these sufferings as sufferings for the name of Christ, and rejoice in your sufferings, thanking God; for the Devil is preparing you, without knowing it himself, the most shining crowns from the Lord.”~ St. John of Kronstadt
***
“For if God does not for a moment tire of giving us good things, how can we tire of thanking Him for these good things?” ~ St. Nikolaj Velimirovic
***
“We must begin with thanksgiving for everything. The beginning of joy is to be content with your situation.” ~ St. Ambrose of Optina
***
“Maintaining a spirit of gratitude, and seeing all of life – even with its surprises, struggles, disappointments, and crises – learning to see all of life through this prism of thankfulness is an extremely important spiritual discipline. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to many, but it’s a discipline we cultivate over time.” Read more of this inspiring sermon on “Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude” here: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/cultivating-an-attitude-of-gratitude
***
“We may tell our kids to take their worries to God, but have we told them that they should be presenting those anxieties and struggles with thanksgiving?” Read more in this blog which will help us to get our own gratitude in shape, thereby allowing us to better model it for our children: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/gratitude/
***
“When God showers us with blessings, we seldom look up to Him and say, ‘Why me, Lord?’ But when a stone falls on our life, we always look up and complain, ‘Why me, Lord?’” – from a sermon on gratitude by Fr. Rick Andrews. Read or listen to the sermon at http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/attitude-of-gratitude
***
Need some ideas of ways to walk in gratitude? Check out this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/

Gleanings From a Book: “Everything Tells Us About God” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Author’s note: This book is so eye-catching! As soon as I saw it, I was excited to read it! The illustrations are delightfully appealing. The book’s backstory adds to its intrigue. I couldn’t wait to crack it open! However, I had other writing that needed to happen, so when the book arrived, I reluctantly set it on the shelf to wait until now. It was hard to not peek, but I prefer to write about a book right after reading it, so I forced myself to wait. It was well worth the wait. This is a delightful book.

From the first glance, this beautiful book invites engagement. The cover sets the tone for the book: it creates an expectation for beauty, variety, and a joyful revelling in God’s generosity with His people. When the reader opens the book, the end paper catches their eye. It is a golden, nearly-completed puzzle. But why is that one piece missing? And what does this have to do with the title? Without reading a word, the reader is already curious and determined to know more!

The book begins by telling the reader that the world is like a giant puzzle. God made this puzzle to tell us about Himself. He designed each piece – each part of the world – to help us learn some of His secrets. When we really look at the pieces, we can learn about Him through them!

Page after engaging page, the book points out different things in our world and how God uses them to teach us about Himself. For example, the sun tells us we can’t live without God because His love warms our hearts and helps us to grow closer to Him. The food that we eat reminds us that God always makes sure we have what we need, and that He always takes care of us. The animals tell us about God, too: elephants help us see how mighty God is; hens and chicks remind us of how He cares for us; doves remind us of how the Holy Spirit brings us peace; etc.

Livia Coloji’s charming illustrations simultaneously cheer the reader and invite interaction. Bright colors, playful perspectives, and soft edges all help the reader to feel the warm message of the text. Readers can savor the images as well as the words. The first time through the book, the reader looks forward to turning the page to unveil the next illustration and the next piece of the puzzle. Every reading after that, the reader will anticipate the illustrations, revisiting old friends.

The book concludes with an answer to the reader’s initial question. The missing piece in the puzzle of God’s world is each of us! He gives us life so that we can be part of His puzzle. He wants to show the world part of Himself through us! When we love and serve God, we are able to be a puzzle piece to those around us!

The author’s note at the end of the book offers the reader a glimpse at its backstory. The concept of this book was initially presented to Ancient Faith Publishing by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory. He had written of a conversation with an elderly bishop on an airport run one day. As they drove, the bishop kept pointing things out in the world around them, and talking about how each thing pointed us to God. Katherine Hyde sent Fr. Thomas her rendition of his idea, but it got lost in the shuffle over the years. Fr. Thomas’ family has given their permission for her to publish it, so now we can read this book and marvel at God’s willingness to reveal Himself to us, one piece at a time!

The end paper at the back of the book shows the completed golden puzzle. The reader now knows why the piece was missing and can see how beautiful the puzzle is with all of its pieces in place. Glory to God for including each of us in the puzzle of His world!

Purchase your own copy of this book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/everything-tells-us-about-god/

Here are some gleanings from the book, as well as ideas of ways to incorporate it into a family time:

***
“The sun tells us that nothing can live without God… His warmth fills our hearts, and His love shines on us every day.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“The water we drink tells us Christ is our life…” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Rocks tell us Christ is as strong as a boulder… Nothing and no one can ever defeat Him or make him stop loving us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Small things, like flowers… tell us God cares about every detail of His creation.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Animals… tell us what God is like… The mother hen tells us He cares for us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Schools… tell us Christ is our Teacher… And He Himself is the perfect student of God the Father: He always does His Father’s will.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“The people we meet… tell us Jesus became human, just like us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
“Some years ago, Fr. Tom Hopko submitted to Ancient Faith Publishing a story… In this story… a young Fr. Tom drove an elderly bishop to the airport, hoping to engage in some deep theological conversation along the way. Instead, the bishop humbly and simply pointed out how everything they passed had something to tell us about the nature of God.” (a bit of the back story of the book, from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
***
If you have children who enjoy coloring, one of the first pages of the book has been made into a coloring page! Download and print it here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/content/everything-coloring-page.pdf
***
Family time idea #1: Before reading “Everything Tells Us About God” together, hand each family member a blank puzzle. Provide watercolor paints, markers, and/or colored pencils and invite them to write a message or create an image that makes them happy on the puzzle. Share the book while the images dry. Then have each person turn their puzzle over, and on each piece, write the name of something or someone in their life that points them to God. Who/what are the pieces that God uses in their life to draw them closer to Himself? (Be sure to help family members for whom the writing is difficult!)

(You may want to buy different sized puzzles, depending on the ages of those in your household. You can find blank puzzles online – for example, this one: http://www.orientaltrading.com/compoz-a-puzzle-blank-puzzles-28-a2-13646291.fltr;
or in a local craft store – for example, this one: http://www.michaels.com/design-a-puzzle-set-by-creatology/10489364.html)
***
Family time idea #2: Before sharing “Everything Tells Us About God” with the family, gather items (or pictures of them) that are mentioned in the book. Bring together a few rocks, some water, a cutout of the sun, some stuffed animals (an elephant, a hen, a bee, a lion, a lamb, and/or a dove), seeds, flowers, fruit, bread, stars, a picture of a playground, a picture of school, an article of dress-up clothes, a mini photo album, etc. would work. Place the items you’ve gathered on a large tray. Present them to the family, and ask why they think you’ve gathered these things? Then read the book together and ask the question again. Go through each item and ask how it tells you about God. What items did you miss that are important to your family? What if one of these “puzzle pieces” went missing from your life? What can we learn about how important each piece of God’s puzzle is to the world?
***
Family time idea #3: Read “Everything Tells Us About God” together, and then engage in a discussion. How does God reveal Himself to us? What “puzzle piece” from the book did each family member like, and why? Go out for a hike together. Occasionally stop and look around. What “puzzle pieces” do you notice that God has placed around you, that point you to Himself? At the end of the hike, or when you get back home again, invite each family member to think of their own “puzzle piece” that could be added to the book, and draw or write about it on this printable pdf.

Gleanings from a Book: “Time and Despondency” by Dr. Nicole Roccas

As soon as this book arrived in the mail, I resolved to read it and share some gleanings from it with this community. My thought process was somewhere along the lines of: “It will be great for parents and teachers to read this book so they can help their despondent kids.” In my mind’s eye, this book had the makings of an excellent tool for young people or for adults with teens in their life.

I was right.

And I was wrong.

Nicole Roccas’ “Time and Despondency” takes the reader on a journey through time and thought as it addresses the relationship between time and despondency, which is “no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.” (p. 15) The book offers much to ponder, including quotes from church fathers and other noted Christian authors, all pointing to the fact that despondency is a real problem for Christians. Not just teens and young adults encounter despondency. It is a struggle for Christians of all ages. Parents and teachers, too. Myself included.

But this book does not merely shake a finger in the face of its readers, scolding them for not caring or for abandoning the present or God, Who meets us in the present. Rather, the book extends grace to the reader. It encourages them to do the same to themselves and to others. Then it walks the reader through a host of ideas of ways to begin to heal and step away from despondency; whether with counter statements from scripture or with stepping stones built on virtues and disciplines.

As it turns out, I needed to read this book. Perhaps someday it will be helpful to me as I relate to the teens and young adults in my life. But right now, I needed to read this for my own salvation. Maybe once I have “removed the log from my own eye” I can begin to help others. I encourage you to read it, as well, so that we can journey together out of despondency and back to the present, where we find – and connect with – God.

You can purchase a copy of “Time and Despondency” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/time-and-despondency/

Listen to Dr. Nicole Rocca’s podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/timeeternal

Find her blog here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/

Note: when I read a book so that I can write a “Gleanings” blog post, I mark potential quotes to share by adhering sticky notes beside the quote. When I take a photo of the book to use for the blog’s illustration, I usually remove those sticky notes. This book, however, is so highly quotable that it garnered many, many sticky notes. I left them in the book for this illustration photo so that you can see for yourself that the gleanings I am sharing are not nearly all of the ones I’d have liked to share! There is so much to ponder in this book. Here are some gleanings from it:

***
“‘Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. […] Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.’” (Dr. Nicole Roccas quoting Alexander Schmemann, “Time and Despondency”, p. 23)
***
“Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness, yet this can present itself in countless ways, depending on the person. For some, the restlessness makes it problematic to sit alone, to read a book to completion, to pray for any length or intensity, or to finish a task at work. Others can perform all of these activities but find themselves hounded by a stubborn anger or boredom while doing so. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination towards sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p.26)
***
“Just as the poison of spiritual sickness begins in the soul, so too does healing. Even after despondency has affected the body or those around us, restoration starts within us and unfolds a new directions to revive all aspects of a person’s self and life…. In other words the restoration of a single human soul has almost limitless transformative effects that ripple throughout the rest of the world.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp.34-35 )
***
“Time is the dimensional fabric that allows relationship and action to happen. Without it, there would be little prospect of communion, forgiveness, or change of heart—all life-giving possibilities hinge on the interaction of time and eternity in the here and now of our existence. When we begin to look at these two realms from the vantage point of Christ and human relationship, it seems that eternity is not as far off as we often assume. In fact, eternal life—and with it, healing from despondency—begins when we start to exercise that capacity to ‘realize’ life while we live it every, every minute…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 44)
***
“…time affords us: the opportunity to turn toward (or away from) God, life, love, and goodness. Like a lover or a friend, God left space for a path back to relationship. In the fullness of time, Christ entered our world to pave this path for our sake. His Incarnation and Resurrection open the door for us, as God’s creatures, to ‘redeem time’…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 48)
***
“Viktor Frankl wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.’ Lest these words be dismissed as cliche, it’s worth mentioning that Frankl honed his thinking on human psychology while a prisoner in Auschwitz. Whenever I make excuses for my attitude, this quotation offers a suitable reality check.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 61)
***
“The opposite of this despondent condition is not happiness nor jubilation, but rather love—a turning outward from the self to one’s neighbor, God, and Eternity. The latter is crucial; in the view of the Church Fathers, the “every, every minute” we fail to realize in this life consists not merely of love or beauty but of eternity itself. Time then, becomes not only the vehicle of relationship and eternity, but the path of transformation we can travel to get there.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 65)
***
“Every day, every moment is accounted for in the church, and not just on an abstract levels but physically and concretely through the fasts, feasts, and seasons, all of which seek to manifest Christ in and through time. The Church calls not just our minds but our whole being and all our wandering loose ends back into existence, back into presence… Every juncture of sacred time links us to the Incarnation, the reaching of Eternity into this world, and in doing so, unites us not only to Christ but to the realization of are very selves as icons of Him. (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 88)
***
“Prayer is like a coin with two sides, doing and being. The ‘doing’ of prayer includes all the externalities—the words we articulate (audibly or not), the candles we light, the prostrations we make, the spaces we designate for prayer. In Orthodox Christianity, we have an abundance of highly developed rituals and practices to help us cultivate the journey inward. We sometimes burn incense, or use prayer ropes, or set certain corners of our homes apart for prayer. These rituals are not meant to be rote or mindless, but to nourish reverence and to remind us that we are incarnational beings—our bodies must learn to pray as well as our minds.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 98)
***
“We may not have chosen our disease, we may have no control over its remedy, but we can still choose to remain rather than to resist. ‘Abide in Me,’ Christ beckons us (John 15:4)—Stay. Endure. Surrender. Anyone in the midst of great pain knows it is a thousand times harder to accept this invitation than to give our hearts over to bitterness or despair. To stay with Christ where we are (rather than to seek Him where we are not) requires surrender and longsuffering, both of which move us to choose between him or hardness of heart.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 122)
***
“I’m of the opinion that the inverse of thanksgiving is not ingratitude but rumination, a relentless mental preoccupation with resolving the unfavorable aspects of our circumstances… Among other things, it suggests we may be living too much in our minds—that our mind is not dwelling in our heart, but oppressing it.”(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 141)
***
“Work that is good for the soul is hard enough that the mind must focus on it, but easy enough that the work can be sustained for long periods of time… There is a humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks like making the bed or folding clothes… When we can manage such tasks with even a hint of grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 151-152.)
***
“…one of the most beautiful things about sacredness is that it’s not all or nothing—it comes to us in small, ordinary things and times, and asks us to see the holy in finite moments. For whatever reason, we humans can only understand or encounter holiness in small morsels at a time—in a chalice, a piece of bread, a sip of wine. Any encounter with the sacred reminds us that it is enough to start somewhere, anywhere—it is enough to put one foot forward, to turn to Christ for one real moment. Wherever we begin, Real Life will seep out into the other areas of our existence.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 166-167)
***
“The liturgies of the Orthodox Church are punctuated countless ties by a simple supplication: ‘Lord, have mercy.’ To modern ears, such a prayer may sound stifling and self-diminishing: is God really so vengeful we must beg His forbearance at every turn? But in Orthodox conceptions, mercy is the balm of salvation, and to ask it of God affirms that He is merciful and loving in the first place.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)
***
“Redundant as it seems, worship in the liturgy turns time into a pilgrimage back—not back to our shame and feebleness, but through our feebleness and back to engagement, back to communion, back to Christ, one Kyrie eleison at a time.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)