Category Archives: Virtues

Gleanings from a Book: “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in the plains of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s? “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” offers a glimpse of the life of this immigrant who lived a faithful Orthodox Christian life in the American plains before there were churches available in the region. It follows Fr. Nicola through his immigration, his adjustment to life on the plains, his ordination, his intense years of service as a missionary priest, all the way to his departing from this life. American Orthodox Christians – especially those in the Antiochian Archdiocese – will do well to read this book, to expand their knowledge of the history of Orthodox Christianity in the United States.

Readers who have marveled at the experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books will see some parallels in “Apostle to the Plains.” The Yanneys also lived in a sod house for a period of time while they were homesteading. Although the Ingalls family’s experiences preceded the Yanneys’ by some 20 years, and happened largely in different states, both families suffered illnesses and loss. There were times when each family struggled to attend school or church (because there was none, or it was far away). And despite their hard times, both families endeavored to do what was right and persevered with dogged determination.

A large portion of “Apostle to the Plains” is dedicated to recounting the missionary journeys and busy life of Fr. Nicola’s years as a traveling priest, and at points these chapters feel a bit overwhelming. Even with today’s technology and travel infrastructure, his months of travel and the few weeks at home in between trips would exhaust anyone. But when the reader remembers that his travels happened more than a century ago, with much slower communication and more tedious means of transportation, what he accomplished is truly astounding. Fr. Nicola and his family clearly loved God and took their calling to be a priest (and the priest’s family) very seriously, and they embraced the reality of what that entailed.

Fr. Nicola’s life was far from easy: he left his home in Lebanon at age 19, with his brand-new bride (whom he barely knew) shortly after their wedding and moved to far away Nebraska, where they had to adjust to new language and culture, different weather, and near isolation from family; and where there was no Orthodox Church. The book goes on to share their trials in homesteading, the joys of births and occasional clergy visits, the sorrows of losses and deaths in the family. When Fr. Nicola was ordained to the priesthood, he not only was in charge of the parish in their hometown of Kearney Nebraska, but he was also charged with being the missionary priest who visited Orthodox Christians all over the American plains.

A large section of the book follows Fr. Nicola’s travels. When he traveled, Fr. would hear people’s confessions, commune them, baptize those in need of baptism, marry young couples, and do all the priestly things for the Orthodox Christians who were scattered about the many parts of the plains of the United States. He always tried to be home again with his boys for Christmas and for Pascha (and often for all of Great Lent), but his travels kept him away from them and his home parish for months at a time every year. It was not an easy life for him or for his family, nor did it provide enough financial income.

Fr. Nicola was generous to a fault. Throughout his life, he raised money to share with others back home in Lebanon, and to fund local causes. He and the family generously hosted guests for Sunday luncheons. He traveled extensively, at great cost to himself and his family – and his being away from home made him unable to work and thus make additional income. So he and the family had very little financially. In fact, they had so little that even with re-mortgaging their home multiple times, he was unable to pay $140 in damages from a lawsuit that had been brought against him and his parish! Fr. Nicola gave and gave and gave of both his money and his time, and had very little on earth to show for his generosity.

Readers may be surprised to find that this book offers a glimpse into the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn as well. The saintly bishop ordained Fr. Nicola, and Fr. Nicola was under his jurisdiction for the rest of Bishop Raphael’s life. Fr. Nicola supported, honored, and admired Bishop Raphael and was justifiably sad when he departed this life. The saint’s passing not only removed him from his position overseeing the Syrian Orthodox churches in America, it also brought great division to those churches. “Apostle to the Plains” explains this division in a way that helps modern American Orthodox Christians to learn more about some of the struggles in the history of our Church.

Fr. Nicola continued to care for his flock right up to the very end of his life. He visited and cared for his Spanish-flu-suffering parishioners in his hometown of Kearney just hours before his collapse and death from that same illness. His sudden passing was a shock to his parishioners, the entire Kearney community, and the Orthodox Christians across the plains whom he had served so diligently.

The Afterword of the book, titled “The Legacy of Father Nicola” is a powerful ending, as it helps the reader to ponder how well the servant of God Nicola Yanney ran his race. It encourages the reader to look beyond Fr. Nicola (and the entire Yanney family)’s struggles, to see the victories, and especially to note his faithfulness. Reading this after having read the book’s account of his life, the reader cannot help but be encouraged in their own life to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings… [that they] may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (from Phil. 3:10-11)

May Fr. Nicola Yanney’s memory be eternal!

You can purchase “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” as a paperback or an ebook here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/apostle-to-the-plains-the-life-of-father-nicola-yanney/

Find additional information about Fr. Nicola Yanney, including interviews, videos, and slide shows related to his life and his gifts to the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America; a map of the states that he served; and more at St. George Orthodox Christian Church (the parish that he helped to found in Kearney, Nebraska)’s website: https://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/reverend_nicola_yanney

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“He would soon be married, and he wanted Martha and their children to live in safety and peace… In America, he could make a new home not only for himself and Martha but also for his brothers. If they all worked together, Nicola could send enough money to make sure that their father would live the rest of his days in comfort, cared for by loved ones who would remain in their village. To do this, however, Nicola himself would have to leave home.” (p. 23,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“While Martha continued to refurbish the [sod] house, Nicola turned his attention to the rest of the homestead. He only had a few months to prepare. Both he and Martha had experienced light snowfalls in the foothills of Koura, but nothing had prepared them for winter on the open plains… In the worst weather, the family would be beyond the reach of help for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Stables and pens had to be built for their animals and more supplies had to be brought from town and stored for the winter in case the roads became impassable.” (p. 51,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Even without a church of their own, the Syrians celebrated Saint Simeon’s feast day together as they had back in Fi’eh, as well as Christmas, Pascha, and other holy days. Nicola especially desired to help the newcomers, knowing how difficult it was to keep his Orthodox faith in the foreign land, especially without a church or a priest. Though their gatherings were filled with folk songs, dancing, and food, Nicola always remembered to offer prayers and lead his friends in singing hymns, knowing that it was their faith that bound the small community together more than anything else.” (pp. 58-59,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The kindly priest was… interested to hear of Nicola’s education at the monastery school. One of the reasons for his cross-country tour was to find pious men who might be ordained to serve the scattered Orthodox Syrians. Hearing this, the Syrians suggested that Father Raphael meet the Yanneys… At nine o’clock in the evening, fifteen of the Yanneys’ friends piled into four wagons to accompany Father Raphael on the eighteen-mile trip to the homestead… As they drew near the farm, their singing and shouting grew louder. Several of the men drew out their pistols and fired shots into the air to wake their unsuspecting friends. The Yanneys came running out of their small home, astonished by what was happening, and fell at Father Raphael’s feet. The priest greeted them warmly.” (pp. 72-73,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“With no other Syrian Orthodox priest living within a thousand miles of Kearney, Father Nicola had to serve his daughter’s funeral… At the conclusion of the funeral, Father Nicola placed his priestly stole on Anna’s head and said the prayer of absolution. He had arrived too late to hear her confession or to give her Holy communion.” (p. 146,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“‘My dear Elias, may you be pleasing to God. Be the best version of yourself. Avoid crude and offensive talk. Do not joke coarsely or easily give your heart to others. Be conscientious of your health before anything else… I ask God’s special blessings on you, that you take care of your brothers and your fellow countrymen. Make me proud. Keep me posted about yourself and write me often so that I always know you are fine. I kiss your cheeks thousands and millions of times…’” ~ from a letter Fr. Nicola wrote to his son Elias (pp. 183,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Though he had been tending to his parishioners only hours earlier, Father Nicola was confined to bed—unable to rise, his strength gone. By late that night, he knew that he was dying and had little time left. Motioning weakly, he beckoned his sons to his side. He had left them on their own so many times, and now he was leaving them once more. Calling Elias, John, and Moses close, Father Nicola said goodbye as he struggled for breath. As they leaned over their father, he gave them a final word by which he himself had tried to live, whispering, ‘Keep your hands and your heart clean.’”(p. 247,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The legacy of Father Nicola Yanney continues to this day… In him we see a worthy model of the Christian life—one who was faithful in adversity, steadfast in suffering, zealous in evangelism, and selfless in serving others. Through the daily sacrifice of his priesthood, Father Nicola laid down his life for his friends in imitation of his Master.” (pp. 266-267, “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky, Illustrated by S. Violette Palumbo

Author’s note: Most Sundays, a young friend from church comes to sit with me during coffee hour. He wants to tell about his week, what dinosaurs he learned about, what he and his brothers built with Legos, what games they invented, etc. A few months ago, when he discovered that I have Ms. Mishriky’s “Philo” books loaded into my phone, he (and sometimes a brother or two) began to also ask for a story. I happily comply whenever I can. Imagine my joy when I learned that a new “Philo” book was coming out! I looked forward to reading it myself, but I especially looked forward to reading it to my young friend! On Sunday I finally had a chance to read it to him, and we both enjoyed the story and were challenged to faithfulness through it. I was glad to share this book with him, and now I get to share it with you as well!

“Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky is an enjoyable story, just as I anticipated that it would be. But it is more than just a nice picture book. As she did in the other books in the “Philo” series, Ms. Mishriky braces her story with underlying truth, which she presents in a child-friendly and clearly understandable package: that is, in the story of a young Coptic Orthodox boy trying to learn how to juggle his Faith and his daily life.

Philo is an ordinary modern-day boy who meets common modern-day struggles head-on, and learns how to face them in a godly way, with the help of the “SuperHolies” (the fruit of the Spirit, each embodied as a superhero). In “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, Philo finds himself at boy scout camp for the first time. He struggles to live out the Faith while in such close proximity to other boys who are not Orthodox Christians. The Faithfulness SuperHoly helps Philo choose to continue to live the Faith, even in a tent with other boys.

Violette Palumbo’s illustrations visually bring Philo to life for the young reader. They are appropriately detailed without overwhelming the eyes. Previous friends of Philo will recognize him right away and anticipate “meeting” another of the SuperHolies, “up close up and personal”. Palumbo adds appropriate touches of humor to the story, as well (i.e.: have a look at Philo’s dad’s face as he helps Philo pack; or the illustration of Philo imagining himself as an old man, telling his grandchildren of his experience). The illustrations add to the story, strengthening it.

Children who read “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” will find themselves mirrored in Philo in some way or another. They will understand his hesitancy to pray and read scripture in the presence of others who do not believe what they believe. They will be challenged to make the sign of the cross to activate the SuperHolies in their own life when they run into such difficulties. God willing, they will also begin to listen to the Spirit whispering in their ear as He tells them what is right to do, just as Philo “hears” the SuperHolies; and hopefully they will act accordingly. And if the adults in the room are truly listening to the story, they will find themselves beginning to be mindful of these things, as well.

I hope my young friend wants to hear “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” again. Chances are, he will. And when he asks, I’ll gladly read it to him, not just for the story: but also for the Faithfulness it will inspire in each of us.
The AODCE thanks author Mireille Mishriky for allowing us to see an advanced electronic copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” so that we could write this review.

To purchase your own copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky (or any of the previous Philo books, some of which are available in French and Spanish), you will find it here: https://www.mireillemishriky.com/shop

Here are a few gleanings from “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, as well as a few ideas and resources that can help you and your family grow in Faithfulness:

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“‘Always remember to activate your SuperHolies, Philo, not only when you are scared, but also when you can’t make a decision. Always let the Holy Spirit guide you, especially during your camping trip next week,’ advised grandpa.” (p. 7, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“‘I won’t need my Bible, Daddy. I won’t have time to read it at night…’ said Philo.
‘There is always time to pray and read your Bible, Philo. Jesus comes first. Everything else comes second,’ said Philo’s father as he placed the Bible inside the bag.” (p. 10, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“Philo felt sad. He remembered what his mother often told him. ‘Not everyone loves Jesus, but Jesus loves everyone. Not everyone wants to hear about Jesus, but never stop speaking about His love. You might change someone’s heart without knowing it.’” (p. 13, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“Before going to sleep, Philo hesitated. He wanted to pray and read his Bible but he was embarrassed and worried that Tom and the other boys would make fun of him. The tent frame looked like a cross, reminding Philo to activate his SuperHolies.” (p.18, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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“…the Faithfulness SuperHoly was chosen to help Philo, and she started whispering into Philo’s heart. ‘…You are an example to your friends. Your love for Jesus might make your friends curious about Him. You could be the reason your friends decide to visit a Church or learn more about our Lord.’” (pp. 20-21, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)

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If your family ever has campfires or fire pit nights, one of those would be a great time to share “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly.” After all, in the story, Philo’s cub scout troop tells stories around a campfire, so it fits! Sitting around a fire telling stories is a great way to bond, as Philo’s troop discovers. After reading and discussing the book, you could continue the campfire storytelling with stories of your own. Have you or your children had opportunities to choose Faithfulness in the face of pressure, as Philo did? Tell your story! Are there members of your family (those around the campfire, or those away from it – even those gone on ahead of you) who have been faithful to God? Tell their stories! Does each family member have a favorite Bible story that exhibits Faithfulness? Let them tell the story! A beautifully bonding night of storytelling, and a boost of each family member’s longing to live a faithful life can result! (It’s up to you whether or not there is a campfire snack, but if there is, you could call it “S’more Faithfulness”!)
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If you have not yet “met” Philo and the SuperHolies, we introduced them (with a few other resources that had just become available) here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/08/15/a-handful-of-resources-summer-2018/

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Learn more about the virtue of faithfulness, including quotes from the scriptures and from the Church fathers, here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/on-pursuing-virtue-faithfulness/
Perhaps some of the insights into this virtue will be helpful as you approach reading “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your family.

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After sharing “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your family, you may want some ideas of ways to grow in Faithfulness. If that’s the case, maybe some of the lesson ideas suggested here would be helpful to your family: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/06/29/on-pursuing-virtue-faithfulness/

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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:
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“Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” (Ps. 36:5 NKJV)
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“O Lord God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O Lord? Your faithfulness also surrounds You.” (Ps. 89:* NKJV)
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“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)
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“Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You established the earth, and it abides.” (Ps. 119:90 NKJV)
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“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)
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“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)
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“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)
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“. . .If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim 2:13 NKJV)
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“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
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“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
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“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
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“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
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“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
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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:

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“For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:2 NKJV)
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“What is desired in a man is kindness…” (Proverbs 19:22 NKJV)
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“‘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)
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“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)
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“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)
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“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
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“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
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“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
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“Evil and faults are corrected by good, by love, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“You cannot be too gentle, too kind…” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov
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“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
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“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
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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!
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“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
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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: Patience

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 of patience by stating that, in order for us to completely obey God in all that we do, we must have the virtue of patience. This gives us an idea of how important this virtue is! Our Lord demonstrated for us perfect obedience to God in the context of incredible patience.

Patience is one of the fruits of the spirit, and it truly needs to come to us from God, with our cooperation. The Cambridge dictionary defines patience as “the ability to accept delay, suffering, or annoyance without complaining or becoming angry.” This does not come easily to us, nor does it “just happen” in our life. Fr. Thomas writes that we begin to acquire patience when we courageously and hopefully wait on the Lord through everything that comes our way. That means putting up with other people (as well as with ourselves!), and slowly growing in the grace of God. He says it takes a daily effort on our part to follow God’s commandments and do what He wills for our life. “Only those who are patient, according to Christ, bring forth fruit from the seeds of God’s Word that are sown in their hearts.”

Patience does not come quickly. It is work to pursue godliness, and that work is hard and long. Fr. Thomas reminds his readers that we can’t become patient just by using our own willpower: it is a grace that comes to us from God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

He writes that patience “is the power to ‘stay on the cross’ no matter what, doing only the will of the Lord.” Patience is not a solitary virtue: it is closely tied with faith, hope, love, humility, and obedience. Fr. Thomas encourages those who want to grow in patience to work at it daily through fasting, prayer, communion, remembering God, abiding in Christ, and viewing life through the light of God’s Kingdom. Uniting ourselves to Christ and living by the Holy Spirit’s power, he writes, is what the spiritual teachers tell us is the only way to acquire the virtue of patience.

 

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

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of patience, in its completion, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/patience
Here are some scriptures, quotes from saints, and quotes from Orthodox resources that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of patience in our own life:
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“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (Colossians 1: 9-12 NKJV)
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“Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.” (2 Thess. 3:5 NKJV)
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“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6: 10-11 NKJV)
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“And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6: 11-12 NKJV)
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“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1: 2-4 NKJV)
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“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble . . . against one another, that you may not be condemned; behold the Judge is standing at the doors. As an example of suffering and patience . . . take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the patience of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. “ (James 5: 7–11 NKJV)
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“…the Lord says: ‘In your patience possess ye your souls’ (Luke 21:19). He did not say: in your fast or in your vigil. By patience I mean that patience which is of God and is the queen of virtues and the basis of manly valor. It is in itself – peace amid strife, stillness in the midst of storm and an impregnable position for those who have acquired it.” ~ St. Gregory of Sinai

 

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“We should not find it strange if the passions and sicknesses war against us, but rather we should entreat God to give us patience, that great balm for the wounds of the soul as well as of the body. Patience is the one and only diamond which beautifies the Christian and makes straight the rough road of our salvation. Patience is the fortitude of the soul, the support, the deep root that holds the tree when the winds beat against it and the streams strike it.” ~ Elder Ephraim of the Holy Mountain (Athos)
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“…we are men who have no patience and no desire for a little labor and [no desire] to brace ourselves to accept anything with humility. Therefore we are crushed [by our difficulties]. The more we run away from temptations, the more they weigh us down and the less we are able to drive them away. Suppose a man for some reason dives into the sea: if he knows the art of swimming what does he do when a great wave comes along? He ducks under until it goes past and then he goes on swimming unharmed. But if he is determined to set himself against it, it pushes him away and hurls him back a great distance, and when again he begins to swim forward another wave comes upon him, and if he again tries to swim against it, again it forces him back, and he only tires himself out and makes no headway. But if he ducks his head and lowers himself under the wave, as I said, no harm comes to him and he continues to swim as long as he likes. Those who go on doing their work this way when they are in trouble, putting up with their temptations with patience and humility, come through unharmed. But if they get distressed and downcast, seeking the reasons for everything, tormenting themselves and being annoyed with themselves instead of helping themselves, they do themselves harm. If painful experiences crowd in upon us, we ought not to be disturbed; allowing ourselves to be disturbed by these experiences is sheer ignorance and pride because we are not recognizing our own condition and, as the Fathers tell us, we are running away from labor…we want to acquire virtue without effort.” ~ St. Dorotheos of Gaza
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“Patience adorns the soul with diamonds which are not of the earth but belong to the Jerusalem that is above. Patience is a sweet word. Patience is a sweet breath. Patience is an invincible weapon. Patience is a priceless adornment of man. Patience is a blessing of God.” ~ from the Spiritual Counsels of St. Raphael in “Modern Orthodox Saints, v. 10”
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“True patience consists in bearing calmly the evils others do to us, and in not being consumed by resentment against those who inflict them. Those who only appear to bear the evils done them by their neighbors, who suffer them in silence while they are looking for an opportunity for revenge, are not practicing patience, but only make a show of it.” ~ St. Gregory the Great
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“Let us not be resentful or faint-hearted when something unexpected happens to us, but allow Him, who knows all these things well, to test our soul in the fire for as long as He wants; for He does this in the interest and for the benefit of those being tested…A physician is a physician not only when he bathes and feeds the sick man…but even when he cauterizes and cuts…Knowing therefore that God is more tender-loving than all physicians, do not enquire too curiously about His therapy or ask Him for an explanation of it.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
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“You are angry with your neighbor, you despise him, do not like to speak peaceably and lovingly to him, because there is something harsh, abrupt, careless, unpleasant to you in his character, in his speech, in his manners—because he is more conscious of his dignity than perhaps is necessary; or because he may be somewhat proud and disrespectful; but you yourself, your neighbor’s physician and teacher, are more guilty than him.
‘Physician, heal thyself.’ Teacher, teach yourself.
Your own malice is the bitterest of all evils. Is it then possible to correct malice by means of evil? Having a beam in your own eye, can you pull out the mote from the eye of another?
Evil and faults are corrected by good, by love, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“It took Noah a hundred years to build his ark; log upon log he dragged to the construction. Do as he did; drag log upon log to your construction, patiently, in silence, day after day, and do not inquire about your surroundings. Remember that Noah was the only on in the whole world who ‘walked with God’ (Gen. 6:9), that is, in prayer. Imagine the crowding, the darkness, the stench, that he had to live in until he could step out into the pure air and build an altar to the Lord. The air and the altar you will find within you, explains St. John Chrysostom, but only after you have willingly gone through the same narrow gate as Noah.” ~ from “The Way of the Ascetics,” by Tito Colliander
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“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. While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible [Matthew 19:26].” ~ St. John Climacus
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Patience and diligence are good partners. If you missed it before, be sure to catch this post on diligence from our first round of blogs about the virtues: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/on-pursuing-virtue-diligence/

On Pursuing Virtue: Honesty

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 honesty opens with the statement that “the wise man who has knowledge lives according to the truth through a totally honest life.” But what does a “totally honest life” look like? Is honesty just about speaking truth and not telling lies? Or is there more to it? He goes on to explain.

There are several ways that we can live a truly honest life. One way is to always speak the truth and never lie or speak unfairly or demeaningly about others. Another way to live an honest life is to act sincerely, not putting on airs or trying to come across as someone we are not. In other words, we live an honest life if we are not a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy, lying, and deceit are things that Christ hated the most, according to Fr. Thomas. Our Lord accused the devil of these things, for the devil constantly pretends to be what he is not and tries to make others believe that what he says is the truth, although it is definitely not the truth.

We must be mindful of the devil’s trickery and of how cunningly he tries to deceive us, sometimes through other people. Even devoted religious leaders can be part of his deceit: just look at the scribes and Pharisees in the time of Christ! Christ condemned their hypocrisy, as well He should, because of its lack of truth.

In order to live an honest life, we must first and foremost look at ourselves. Do we present ourselves to others honestly, or do we pretend to be someone we are not? An honest person comes across exactly as they are, not speaking or acting in a way that makes others think they are anyone but who they really are.

Fr. Thomas writes that a truly honest person does not just speak the truth and present themselves to others honestly. An honest person is also honest in thought and mind, forever remembering that God sees and knows our heart. In his words, a truly honest person is “utterly honest and pure in all that he things, says and does, knowing that God sees all and judges with righteousness all those who ‘walk in integrity’ (Ps. 26:1, 11).”

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

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s writing about honesty here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/honesty
Here are some scriptures and quotes from saints that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of honesty in our own life:
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“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Ps. 33:14 OSB)
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“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” (Prov 6.16–19)
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“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.” (Proverbs 12:22 NKJV)
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“Therefore keep yourself from useless murmuring and refrain your tongue from evil speech; for no secret word will go unpunished, and a lying mouth will destroy one’s soul.” (Wisdom of Solomon 1:11 OSB)
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“A lie is an evil disgrace in a man, it will continue on the lips of the ignorant.” (Wisdom of Sirach 20: 24 OSB)

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“ The character of a liar brings dishonor, and his shame is continually with him.” (Wisdom of Sirach 20: 26 OSB)
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“Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” (2 Cor 13.7–8 NKJV)
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“Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25 OSB)
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“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds.” (Colossians 3:9 NKJV)
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Christ taught us truth; the Devil teaches us falsehood, and strives in every way to contradict every truth; devising various calumnies against it.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“Adorn yourself with truth, try to speak truth in all things; and do not support a lie, no matter who asks you. If you speak the truth and someone gets mad at you, don’t be upset, but take comfort in the words of the Lord: Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of truth, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:10).” ~ St. Gennadius of Constantinople
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If you wish that God should speedily give you hearty faith in prayer, strive with all your heart to speak and to do everything in regard to other people sincerely, and never be deceitful in your dealings with them. If you are straightforward and truthful with others, then God will give you straightforwardness and sincere faith also in reference to Himself.” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“When your brother sins against you in any way, for instance, if he speaks ill of you, or transmits with an evil intention your words in a perverted form to another, or calumniates you, do not be angered against him, but seek to find in him those good qualities which undoubtedly exist in every man, and dwell lovingly on them, despising his evil calumnies concerning you as dross, not worth attention, as an illusion of the Devil. The gold-diggers do not pay attention to the quality of sand and dirt in the gold-dust, but only look for the grains of gold; and though they are but few, they value this small quantity, and wash it out of heaps of useless sand. God acts in a like manner with us, cleansing us with great and long forbearance. How difficult this all is! But let us not become despondent, and let us recall the words of Christ: With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).” ~ St. John of Kronstadt
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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:
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“Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (Ps. 31:24 NKJV)
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“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)
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“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)
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“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)

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“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)
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“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)
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“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)
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“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

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“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
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“Hope also requires a life corresponding to the hope.” ~St. John of Kronstadt
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“Prayer breathes hope…” ~St. John of Kronstadt
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“Man’s patience gives birth to hope; good hope will glorify him.” ~Abba Evagrius
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“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
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“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
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