Tag Archives: Diligence

On Pursuing Virtue: Diligence

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

The final virtue listed in “The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians” is diligence. Let’s take a moment to think about this virtue. Merriam-Webster defines diligence as “steady, earnest, and energetic effort; a persevering application.” This perseverance is essential all that we do! And we are not just to be diligent for the sake of completing our work: we are also called to be diligent as we work to fight laziness in our life. Author and podcaster Annalisa Boyd offers a more Orthodox definition of diligence. She says, “We use diligence to fight against sloth or laziness. Diligence is doing any task (work/chore/job/responsibility) until it is completed to the very best of our ability.” (1)

So, essentially, diligence is persisting with a task until it is completed, and persisting with persistence, all the while contradicting the grievous sin of sloth/laziness in our life. In a physical context such as a workplace or home, it is easy to understand how valuable diligence is instead of sloth, because diligence gets work done that must be done! But why is diligence a virtue, and not just a good work ethic? How does a virtuous mindset relate to our spiritual lives? St. Theophan the Recluse had this to say about diligence (although he doesn’t actually use the word itself): “Our entire lives, in all their parts and details, must be devoted to God. The general rule is that everything you do should be done according to the Divine will and for the sake of pleasing God, in praise of His Most Holy Name. Thus, we should examine each act which occurs to see if it is in compliance with the Divine will and then perform it with the conviction that is totally in compliance with it and is pleasing to God. A person who always asks with such discretion and in the clear consciousness of pleasing God with his actions cannot fail at the same time to acknowledge that his life is proceeding truthfully. Although his acts are not brilliant or perfect, he permits nothing consciously in them that would offend God or would not be pleasing to Him. This consciousness fills his heart with peaceful quiet from the tranquility of the conscience, and with that spiritual joy which is born of the feeling that he is not alien to God. For although he is not great, or distinguished, or famous, he is still His servant who tries in every way possible to please Him, directs all his efforts towards this, and believes that God himself sees him as such.” (2) So it seems that diligence is not just a physical choice about “getting work done” but is a spiritual mindset; a consciousness that chooses to pursue Godliness in all that we do, while we do it! By its very nature, diligence pushes us to persist in our quest to attain all of the virtues and quell all of the grievous sins that keep us separated from God.

Since diligence is important on so many levels, how can we attain it? First of all, we need to decide to choose diligence: “To live diligently we must consciously choose such a life. Saint Theophan calls this a ‘God-pleasing life’ as compared to a ‘Man-pleasing life.’ This is the nature of the Orthodox way of life.” (2) We can look to the scriptures (the earthly life of our Lord Himself is the model of diligence for any human being; St. Joseph’s life was full of diligence; the Theotokos and the woman described in Proverbs 31 offer other examples) to see how true diligence looks. The scriptures also contain many verses encouraging us to be diligent. We can read the lives of the saints to see how they applied this virtue to their life. We will need to continually pray and ask God, the saints, and our guardian angel for help as we pursue this virtue. And then, we must do it: choose diligence, and persistently live a diligent life.

Diligence may be the last virtue on the list in “The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians,” but it is an important one! Acquiring this virtue will better enable us to better pursue (and thus acquire) all of the others. When we fight against the grievous sins that entrap us and fill our lives instead with the virtues, we will find ourselves growing closer to being who God created us to be. So, let us diligently pursue all of the virtues in order to better honor and glorify Him.


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

  1. “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers,” article by Annalisa Boyd,  http://www.pravmir.com/ascetic-lives-mothers/
  2. Australian Orthodox “Mode of Life” blog post on St. Theophan the Recluse’s teachings on diligence: http://modeoflife.org/saint-theophan-the-recluse-what-it-means-to-be-diligent/

 

Additional resources on diligence for us to consider:

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Check out these Bible verses about diligence: https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Diligence

Or these https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=diligence&qs_version=NKJV

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“… if you have diligence and zeal, you will be given greater grace from God. But he who has neither diligence nor zeal, by his negligence will extinguish and lose even that grace which he seems to have from God.” ~ Blessed Theophylact

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“Never by our sole diligence or zeal nor by our most tireless efforts can we reach perfection. Human zeal is not enough to win the sublime rewards of blessedness. The Lord must be there to help and to guide our hearts toward what is good. Every moment we must join in the prayer of David: ‘Direct my footsteps along Your paths so that my feet do not move astray’ (Ps. 16:5) and ‘He has settled my feet on a rock and guided my footsteps’ (Ps. 39:3) – all this so that the invisible guide of the human spirit may direct back toward love of virtue our free will, which in its ignorance of the good and its obsession with passion is carried headlong into sin.”~ St. John Cassian

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“Watch yourself with all diligence, lest the enemy steal near and rob you, depriving you of this great treasure, which is inner peace and stillness of soul. The enemy strives to destroy the peace of the soul, because he knows that when the soul is in turmoil it is more easily led to evil. But you must guard your peace. ” ~ St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

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“A healthy and growing spiritual life requires commitment and diligence. Diligence in the disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading/study. Diligence in rooting out the weeds of sin in our lives. Diligence in encouraging others, in working together, and showing the love and compassion of Christ in our lives… How diligent are you in your spiritual disciplines?” ~ from an excellent (although not Orthodox) meditation on diligence, found here: http://www.biblical-illuminations.com/2006_Oct/diligence.asp

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“The degree of negligence or diligence with which a man tries to attain to Christ’s stature reveals what stage he has reached — whether he is in his spiritual infancy or has achieved maturity.” ~ St. Gregory of Sinai
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“Diligence is the backbone of success.” Read the stories of four diligent workers from history, here: http://www.livingapex.com/examples-of-diligence-and-success/. Then apply their stories to your spiritual life. What can you take away from this (secular) piece that can help you apply diligence to your life and become a spiritual success?

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“When we see work as drudgery and demeaning, something not worthy of our time, we will fail our Lord and miss out on many opportunities. There is no work too small, as our Lord worked as a tradesman, a carpenter. [St.] Paul made tents, [St.] Luke was a doctor, [St.] Philemon was a slave owner who saw diligence to free a slave. They, and all, did it with supreme excellence.” Read more of this (not Orthodox, but thought provoking) meditation on diligence here: http://www.discipleshiptools.org/apps/articles/?articleid=37145&columnid=4166

Learning About a Saint: St. Raphael, Bishop of Brooklyn (commemorated on Feb. 27 and the first Saturday of November)

Note: 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of St. Raphael of Brooklyn’s repose in the Lord. Parish Life Conference attendees in the Antiochian Archdiocese will notice that the creative arts festival theme this year is based on the life of St. Raphael. As a result, many of the children in that archdiocese have already studied his life so that they could complete their projects. Here is a brief synopsis of his life, courtesy of the Antiochian Village Camp’s website, for anyone not yet familiar with this saint.

Our holy Father Raphael was born in Syria in 1860 with the name Rafia. The exact date of Raphael’s birth is not known, but he estimated it to be on or near his Name Day, the Synaxis of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, November 8.

St. Raphael attended elementary school, where he did very well, but in 1874 it appeared that his father would no longer be able to afford his son’s tuition. Fortunately, help came from Deacon Athanasios Atallah (later Metropolitan of Homs), who recommended to Patriarch Hierotheos of Antioch that Rafia be accepted as a student of the Patriarchate in preparation for the priesthood.

Since the Balamand Seminary had been closed in 1840, Patriarch Joachim III of Constantinople invited the Patiarch of Antioch to send at least one deserving student to study on scholarship at the School of Theology at Halki, and Saint Raphael was the one who was selected to go.

On December 8, 1885 he was ordained to the diaconate at the school chapel. Patriarch Gerasimos of Antioch was impressed with Deacon Raphael and often took him along on his pastoral visitations of his parishes. When His Beatitude could not be present, Deacon Raphael was asked to preach the Word of God to the people.

The Patriarch gave his blessing, and Deacon Raphael was accepted as a student at the Theological Academy in Kiev.

When Patriarch Gerasimos resigned in order to accept the See of Jerusalem, Archmandrite Raphael regarded this as an opportunity to free the Church of Antioch from its domination by foreign hierarchs. In November 1891 Metropolitan Spyridon, a Greek Cypriot, was elected as Patriarch of Antioch. Many Arabs believed that he had purchased the election by distributing 10,000 liras to several notable people in Damascus. Archmandrite Raphael refused to commemorate the new Patriarch during services at the Representation Church. As a result, he was suspended from his priestly functions by Patriarch Spyridon. Saint Raphael accepted his suspension, but continued to write articles in Russian newspapers in defense of the Antiochian cause. The Patriarchs of Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria and Jerusalem successfully petitioned the Tsar to forbid Russian newspapers from publishing his articles. With this door closed to him, Saint Raphael began to publish his writings in book form. Eventually, Patriarch Spyridon wrote to the Assistant Oberprocurator of Russia, a friend of Saint Raphael’s, asking him to persuade Father Raphael to ask for the Patriarch’s forgiveness. He did so, and the suspension was lifted. Saint Raphael was allowed to transfer from the jurisdiction of Antioch to the Church of Russia, and to remain there. He went to Kazan, taking a position as instructor in Arabic studies at the theological academy. He remained there until 1895 when he was invited by the Syrian Orthodox Benevolent Society of New York to come to that city to be the pastor of the Arab Orthodox community.

Archmandrite Raphael arrived in New York on November 2, 1895 and was welcomed by a delegation of Arab Christians who were awaiting their leader from Russia. On November 5, his first Sunday in America, he assisted Bishop Nicholas in serving the Divine Liturgy at the Russian Church in New York City. Less than two weeks after his arrival, Archmandrite Raphael found a suitable place in lower Manhattan to set up a chapel, and furnished it with ecclesiastical items that he had brought with him from Russia. Bishop Nicholas blessed the new chapel, which was dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra.

In the summer of 1896, Saint Raphael undertook the first of several pastoral journeys across the continent. He visited thirty cities between New York and San Francisco, seeking out the Master’s lost sheep in cities, towns, and on isolated farms. He fed the spiritually hungry people with the word of God in each place where he stopped. He performed marriages and baptisms, heard confessions, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the homes of the faithful where there was no church building. In other words, he zealously fulfilled his ministry as a preacher of the Gospel, enduring many hardships and afflictions, and he was watchful in all things concerning the care of his flock (2 Timothy 4:5).

In 1898, with the blessing of Bishop Nicholas, Saint Raphael produced his first book in the New World – an Arabic language service book titled The Book of True Consolation in the Divine Prayers. This book of liturgical services and prayers was very useful to priests in celebrating the divine services, and also to the people in their personal prayer life. The English version published by Archimandrite Seraphim Nassar is still being used today.

In March 1899, Saint Raphael received permission from Bishop Tikhon to start collecting funds for a cemetery, and for building a new church to replace the chapel, which was located in an old building on a dirty street. In the spring he left on another pastoral tour of 43 cities and towns. In Johnstown, PA, he reconciled those whose personal enmity threatened to divide the Arabic community. Although civil courts had been unable to make peace, Saint Raphael restored calm and put an end to the bitter feud. While in Johnstown, he received a telegram informing him that Metropolitan Melotios (Doumani) had been elected Patriarch of Antioch. With great joy, Saint Raphael told his people that for the first time in 168 years, a native Arab had been chosen as Primate of the Antiochian Church.

After the new Patriarch had been installed, Archimandrite Raphael was proposed to succeed Meletios as Metropolitan of Latakia. The Patriarch, however, stated that the Holy Synod could not elect Father Raphael because of his important work in America. In 1901, Metropolitan Gabriel of Beirut wrote to Archimandrite Raphael asking him to be his auxiliary bishop, but he declined saying he could not leave his American flock. First, he wanted to build a permanent church and to acquire a parish cemetery. The latter goal was achieved in August 1901, when Fr. Raphael purchased a section of Mt. Olivet cemetery on Long Island.

In December 1901, Archimandrite Raphael was elected as Bishop of Zahleh. Patriarch Meletios sent a telegram congratulating him and asking him to return. Father Raphael thanked the Patriarch, but again declined the higher office. He said that he wished to complete the project of building a temple for the Syrian community of New York. The following year, he bought an existing church building on Pacific Street in Brooklyn, and had it remodeled for Orthodox worship. Bishop Tikhon consecrated the church to the great joy of the faithful in attendance. Thus, Saint Raphael’s second major project was finished.

Since the number of parishes with the Diocese of North America was growing, Bishop Tikhon found it impossible to visit all of them. The Diocese had to be reorganized in order to administer it more efficiently. Therefore, Bishop Tikhon submitted a plan to the Russian Holy Synod which would transfer the See from San Francisco to New York because most parishes and individuals were concentrated in the East. Since various ethnic groups required special attention and pastoral leadership, Bishop Tikhon proposed that Archimandrite Raphael be made his second vicar bishop, with the Bishop of Alaska his first.

In 1903, the Holy Synod of Russia unanimously elected Archimandrite Raphael to be the Bishop of Brooklyn, while retaining him as head of the Syro-Arab Orthodox Mission in North America. The Holy Synod announced the election to Patriarch Meletios, who was pleased by their decision. Bishop Tikhon wrote to Saint Raphael to inform him of his election, and Father Raphael sent him a letter of acceptance. Meanwhile, Father Innocent Pustynsky was consecrated at Saint Tikhon’s first auxiliary bishop at St. Petersburg’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.

On the third Sunday of Great Lent 1904, Saint Raphael became the first Orthodox to be consecrated on American soil. Bishops Tikhon and Innocent performed the consecration at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Brooklyn. The new bishop’s vestments were a gift from Tsar Nicholas II. After his consecration, Bishop Raphael continued his pastoral labors, ordained priests, and assigned them to parishes, and helped Bishop Tikhon in the administration of the diocese.

At the end of 1904, Bishop Raphael announced his intention to publish a magazine called Al-Kalimat (The Word) as the official publication of the Syro-Arab Mission. Bishop Raphael knew that he could not visit all Orthodox Christians across North America in person, but through the ministry of the printed word he could preach the word of salvation even to people he would never meet.

In July 1905, Bishop Raphael consecrated the grounds for Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and blessed the orphanage at South Canaan, PA. Three days later, he presided at a conference of diocesan clergy at Old Forge, PA, because Archbishop Tikhon was in San Francisco. Among the clergy in attendance were three who would be numbered among the saints: Fathers Alexis Toth, Alexander Hotovitzky, and John Kochurov. (The last two would die as martyrs in Russia.)

For the next ten years, Bishop Raphael tended his growing flock. With the growth of his New York community came an increase in the number of children, and he was concerned about their future. He wanted to establish an evening school to educate them in a Christian atmosphere because the future of the Church in this country depended on the instruction of the youth. Children who did not speak Arabic were already going to non-Orthodox churches, where Sunday School classes were conducted in English. Bishop Raphael saw the absolute necessity for using English in worship and in education for the future progress of the Syro-Arab Mission.

Taking heed of Saint Paul’s words to pray in language that people understood (1 Corinthians 14:15-19), Saint Raphael recommended the use of the Service Book of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church, translated by Isabel Hapgood, in all of his parishes.

In March 1907, Saint Tikhon returned to Russia and was replaced by Archbishop Platon. Once again, Saint Raphael was considered for Episcopal office in Syria, having been nominated to succeed Patriarch Gregory as Metropolitan of Tripoli in 1908. The Holy Synod of Antioch removed Bishop Raphael’s name from the list of candidates, citing various canons forbidding a bishop being transferred from one city to another.

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy in 1911, Bishop Raphael was honored for his fifteen years of pastoral ministry in America. Archbishop Platon presented him with a silver covered icon of Christ and praised him for his work. In his humility, Bishop Raphael could not understand why he should be honored merely for doing his duty (Luke 17:10). He considered himself an “unworthy servant,” yet he did perfectly the work that fell to him (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians).

Toward the end of 1912, Bishop Raphael became ill while working in his office. Doctors diagnosed him with a heart ailment that eventually caused his death. After two weeks he felt strong enough to celebrate the Liturgy in his cathedral. In 1913-1914, this missionary bishop continued to make pastoral visitations to various cities. In 1915, he fell ill again and spent two months at home, bearing his illness with patience. At 12:40 am on February 27, he rested from his labors.

From his youth, Saint Raphael’s greatest joy was to serve the Church. When he came to America, he found his people scattered abroad, and he called them to unity. He never neglected his flock, but traveled throughout America, Canada, and Mexico in search of them so that he might care for them. He kept them from straying into strange pastures, and he protected them from spiritual harm. During twenty years of faithful ministry, he nurtured them and helped them to grow. At the time of his death, the Syro-Arab Mission had thirty parishes with 25,000 faithful.

Saint Raphael came into contact with all sorts of people, and was a gentle father to them. He gained their love and respect by first loving them, and also through his charming personality and excellent character. He was always kind and merciful with others, but was strict with himself. He accomplished many good things during his earthly life, and now he joins the holy angels in offering ceaseless prayer and praise to God.

Above excerpts taken from The Orthodox Church April/May 2000
(Reprinted with permission from https://avcamp.org/st-raphael-of-brooklyn/)

Rejoice, O Father Raphael, Adornment of the holy Church! Thou art Champion of the True Faith, Seeker of the lost, Consolation of the oppressed, Father to orphans, and Friend of the poor, Peacemaker and Good Shepherd, Joy of all the Orthodox, Son of Antioch, Boast of America; Intercede with Christ God for us and for all who honor thee.

Read a more in-depth telling of St. Raphael’s life here: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2015/02/27/100610-repose-of-st-raphael-the-bishop-of-brooklyn

In case you wondered why St. Raphael has two different commemoration days listed, read this: http://www.angelfire.com/pa3/straphaelcanonized/lives/DateFeast.html

Here are additional ways to help your family learn about St. Raphael:

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Find a timeline of St. Raphael’s life here: http://orthodoxhistory.org/2015/02/09/a-timeline-of-the-life-of-st-raphael/

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Download sheet music related to the life of St. Raphael here: http://oca.org/liturgics/music-downloads/north-american-saints

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Watch one of the winning videos about St. Raphael from the Antiochian Archdiocese’s creative arts festival, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGnuRE_O464

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“Several themes emerge as the story of St. Raphael’s life unfolds. The first is the mysterious way in which God led him from his native homeland to the shores of the American continent. The second is his submissive attitude to the providence of God. And the third is his love for the people of God. Though during his lifetime he was neither a wonder-worker nor a clairvoyant elder, St. Raphael embraced a life of total abandonment of self for the service of God and his fellow man: a life of true spiritual asceticism.”

(from The Life of Our Father among the Saints Raphael Hawaweeny, by The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, available here: http://store.antiochianvillage.org/Our-Father-Among-the-Saints-Raphael-Bishop-of-Brooklyn-Good-Shepherd-of-the-Lost-Sheep-in-America.html)

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“Bishop Raphael was a ‘rare man,’ reminiscent of the Apostle Paul himself, sitting in the lowly quarters of Rome, receiving all visitors in patience, sympathy, and hospitality. ‘I consider Bishop Raphael,’ [Episcopalian Reverend T. J.] Lacy wrote [in 1913, in the pages of a Brooklyn daily], ‘as one of the most outstanding men in our city, a worthy prelate, an outstanding scholar, a selfless Christian, a friend of the poor and a social worker among his compatriots a man of whom our Brooklyn can be proud.’” ~ from http://www.angelfire.com/pa3/straphaelcanonized/lives/Garrett.html

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Read the account of one miracle brought about by St. Raphael since his repose, here: http://www.antiochian.org/content/college-student-tells-story-miraculous-intervention-st-raphael
Read Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s blog post about St. Raphael, including stories of other miracles St. Raphael has worked, here: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/roadsfromemmaus/2015/02/27/st-raphael-and-me-on-the-100th-anniversary-of-his-repose/

On the Theotokos as Mother

Author’s note: as we approach Mother’s Day, I was thinking about this blog and wondering what we could post that would be helpful to the mothers (and, for that matter, to all women who care for children) in our Orthodox Christian Parenting community. Again and again, I thought of the Theotokos and her example to us. I am learning so much about the Theotokos and growing daily in my respect of and love for her. She is the best-ever-mother, a woman to emulate and aspire to, and a Christian like no other. (Addendum: most of the ways listed below are written in past tense, because they were things the Theotokos did while she was alive on earth. They could also be written in present tense, as she continues in her faithful love of Christ and His people.)

Ways in which we can aspire to be like the Theotokos:

The Theotokos willingly said yes to God, even knowing that what she was agreeing to would be culturally inacceptable and thereby very difficult for her. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) were words that implied that Mary’s life would be completely changed, scandalously outside “the norm.” And yet she said these words. And then she lived them. I am a Christian whose faith is far from perfect. These words which the Theotokos spoke to the archangel – and to God Himself – imply perfect faith, perfect trust in His Omniscience. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also willingly say yes to God, whatever He calls us to do. May we aspire to be like the Theotokos and willingly “let it be to me according to Your Word.”

The Theotokos was thoughtful. “…Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2: 19) The Mother of Our Lord didn’t just allow things to happen and then gloss them over, or ignore words that were said to her. Instead, she was attentive to her son, she absorbed events and messages, and then she carefully thought about them. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also pay attention to our children, the events that happen to us, and the words spoken to us. Then, may we ponder these things and allow God to speak through them to us, for our growth.

The Theotokos knew that her Son would suffer, and that thereby she would also suffer: “Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against, (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also)…’” (Luke 2:34-35) She was aware that there is suffering in the world and that it would touch her Son, and therefore, it would also touch her. She did not allow any fear she may have felt of that suffering to stifle her life or her Son’s life. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also be aware of this truth: that our children will suffer, and that we will suffer as well. And may we not allow our fears of that suffering to keep us from doing the work that God has set before us.

The Theotokos was steadfast in her faith. “[Mary and Joseph]… performed all things according to the law of the Lord… His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” (John 2:39, 41) Not just at the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth did Mary and Joseph follow God’s directions for faithful worship; but clearly they did so quite regularly! Making that annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem took effort and had to have been a challenge for the family, but they did it because it was the right thing to do. May we Orthodox Christian mothers make the steadfast efforts needed to strengthen our own faith and the faith of our children as well, no matter how difficult it may be. It is the right thing to do.

The Theotokos took her responsibility as a mother seriously. “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” (Luke 2:48) Imagine having God’s own Son in your care, and then losing track of Him?!? It must have been a frightening moment for Mary and Joseph when they realized He was not traveling in the caravan with them and they did not know where He was. They clearly cared deeply about Jesus, and they carefully retraced their steps until they found Him. Once they found Him, they asked the above question, which indicates the depth of their love for Him and concern when He went missing. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also care deeply for our children, looking after them and asking questions that show our children that they matter to us.

The Theotokos was in the background, supporting her Child, all of her life. Here’s what we know about Christ’s childhood, from the Gospel of Luke: “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit…” (Luke 2:40) There is no mention of the Theotokos or all of the work that she was doing to help him grow and/or to nurture that “strength in spirit.” And when our Lord was an adult, she remained in the background. “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with him.” (Matt. 12:46) Never front-and-center, the Theotokos nurtured, loved, served, cooked, sewed, cleaned up, and who knows what else, allowing Christ to grow. And even when He was grown, she did not demand or even expect the place of honor. She just stood outside and waited to have a chance to talk to Him. May we Orthodox Christian mothers serve and nurture our children, and be ready and humbly waiting for chances to speak with them all of their lives, as well!

The Theotokos prayed for those around her. “And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine!’” (John 2:3) She saw a need. She knew He could meet it, and so she simply stated the need to Him and asked Him to intervene. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also see the needs around us, simply bring them to Christ, and ask Him to meet those needs.

The Theotokos pointed people to her Son when they needed help. “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5) Knowing that Christ can do anything, Mary pointed the people who needed wine in His direction, with the expectation that they would do whatever He said. May we Orthodox Christian mothers (because we, too, know that Christ can do anything!) also point our own children – and all others around us – to Our Lord, with the same expectation! May we also lead the way, setting the example of doing whatever it is that He says to us!

The Theotokos intercedes for us. Her proximity to her Son allows the Theotokos to continue in constant prayer for the world. There have been many examples of people throughout the ages who have asked the Theotokos to pray for them, and God has heard and answered her prayers. There are also examples of times when people have witnessed her praying (ie the Fool-for-Christ Andrew at Blachernae, who saw her put her veil over the people and pray fervently for them). Clearly, she prays for all of us. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also pray for others; and may we also ask the Theotokos to pray for us and for our children!

I’ll never forget one special Sunday morning when I walked into the nave of our parish for Divine Liturgy. It was the first time I saw the Platytera icon which had just been installed in the apse of our church that week. The sight of the Theotokos and our Lord literally took my breath away. I gasped, thrilled at the beauty of the icon and in awe of the reality that it represents. What a joy to “behold the maidservant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38): not just on “The Sunday After the Installation of the Icon,” but every single day of our lives. The Theotokos, the Mother of God, is a joy to behold, a mother to aspire to be like, and a fervent intercessor for us all. Glory to God for her love for Him and for all of us!

Most Holy Theotokos, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are a few links related to this week’s blog:

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Find out why the Orthodox church so reveres Mary as the Theotokos, and find a myriad of her other nicknames, here: http://orthodoxyinamerica.org/article.php?id=31

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Read more about the Theotokos, how we can be blessed by her prayers, and more about how much we need her, here: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MetrakosTheotokos.php

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Read answers to questions you may have (or hear!) about the Theotokos, here: http://www.serfes.org/orthodox/questions.htm

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Ask the Theotokos for help every day of the week! Find a prayer every day here: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2012/08/03/prayers-to-the-theotokos-for-every-day-of-the-week/

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Pray the Akathist to the Mother of God found here: http://www.stsymeon.com/akathist.html

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Read the story of the Fool-for-Christ Andrew at Blachernae, who saw the Theotokos put her veil over the people and witnessed her fervent prayers on their behalf, here: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2008/10/01/102824-the-protection-of-our-most-holy-lady-the-mother-of-god-and-ever

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Find information about the Platytera icon and its beautiful symbolism here: http://dormitionpgh.org/tidbits/platytera.asp

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Gleanings from a Book: Help! I’m Bored in Church by Fr. David Smith

A note from the blogger: During the time that I was preparing the recent series of blogs on the Divine Liturgy, I was also reading the book Help! I’m Bored in Church, by Fr. David Smith. It was timely to be reading it while I researched and wrote those blogs. I found it so helpful that I decided to share a few of my gleanings from the book with you. So here is a “bonus” blog on the Divine Liturgy, in case you ever feel bored in church.

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The title of Fr. David Smith’s book Help! I’m Bored in Church caught my attention from the moment I saw it. I mean, who HASN’T felt bored in church? Maybe a few people haven’t, but in this entertainment-overload society, I for one have “felt” (or, perhaps, “chosen to feel”) bored in church, and I am certain that I am not alone. The title caught me, and the tagline Entering Fully into Worship in the Divine Liturgy only enhanced my desire to read this book. So I began, and here is what I found: honesty, truth, and logical steps towards being more involved in the Divine Liturgy, served up with a delightful touch of humor. (And Fr. David says things so well that I will use many of his quotes, straight up: rewording would be inadequate.)

“My original title for this book was Church is Boring. You might react to that title by saying, ‘Of course it’s boring. Finally you’re admitting it.’ If even priests admit that church is boring, then that settles it. We can all stay home and sleep in on Sundays.

“Or perhaps you think it’s irreverent to say, ‘Church is boring.’ You’re thinking, ‘It’s not right for you to speak about the Divine Liturgy like that. If the priest says church is boring, he shouldn’t be a priest.’ You don’t find church boring, and your only complaint is that it’s not longer.

“Or it’s more likely that you’re in the middle. Church seems boring at times, yes. But there’s something good about church as well, and so saying ‘church is boring’ makes you a little uncomfortable…” (p. 5)

Fr. David goes on to explain that the fact that we are sometimes bored in church actually says something about US, not about the Church. He encourages his readers to change. “You can’t make the Divine Liturgy any shorter, but you can accomplish something within yourself that makes the time you spend in the Liturgy an experience of spiritual delight. Useful. Necessary. Something you look forward to.” (p. 6)

“Look at it this way: If you feel cold, you put on a coat… What do you do if you feel bored? I’ll tell you, you need to do something. It’s a sad and pathetic person who is cold and says, ‘I’m cold but I don’t care enough about myself to put on a coat. I’ll just suffer and be unhappy.’ Would you do that? Certainly not! Well, don’t do it when you’re bored in church either. This is your challenge: Discover the coat you need to put on, and then—put it on! I’ll give you the answer which has worked for me: The coat consists of prayer and watchfulness…” (p. 9)

The book goes on to explore “six reasons people sometimes feel bored in church, five ways to think about your priest, four ways you can participate more fully in services, three kinds of waiting, two kinds of prayer, and the one thing truly needful in our relationship with God…” (from the back cover) Fr. David walks the reader through each part of the book quoting from scripture, the lives of the saints, and personal experience.

We have talked in recent blog posts about the Divine Liturgy being “the work of the people,” or “the offering of the people for the whole world.” Fr. David suggests that actually DOING that work or offering will keep us from experiencing boredom in church. Being fully present during the Divine Liturgy, adding our voices to the singing, praying for those we know (and those we don’t), etc., are all things we should be doing as our portion of that offering. And they will help us maintain control over our wandering, “I’m bored,” mindset. But what is the most important thing for us to do in the Divine Liturgy? “What is your work? If you’re standing in church during the Divine Liturgy, you really only have one task: to worship God. I find the words of our Lord to be very comforting because they’re so clear. But they also make me see that watchfulness… is not an option, it’s a necessity: ‘What I say to you I say to all: Watch!’” (pp. 107-108)

However, that one task of worshipping God fully is not necessarily an easy one. Fr. David asks, “Where is your mind when your body’s in church?” (p. 110) He goes on to explain that the one thing that we need most of all in our relationship with God, so that we can best worship Him, is silence. Our minds don’t like it, especially in this age of continuous information and entertainment, but we need it desperately. “Silence frees us from the weight of the world, but our minds like the weight of the world. Our minds get frightened and bored easily.

“The first time I put my dog in a car, when he was a puppy, he was so nervous he threw up. I told him we were in the car in order to go to the best dog-walking place in the entire universe, but he couldn’t hear me. He tried to keep his eyes away from the windows so he would not see the world flying by faster than he could imagine. He was shivering all over as if he were freezing, even though it was a hot day.

“Today, he launches into a frenzy of barking and spinning in little circles when he hears the word car. He loves the car. It takes him places he wants to go (usually). So it is with silence. When you first try it, your mind starts pacing like a coke addict on his first day in rehab. It yells, I don’t like this! a hundred times. It rapidly starts suggesting other things you could be doing. But when you embrace silence and learn to use it as a tool that (spiritually) takes you places you want to go, you start looking forward to it and long for it when you’re not getting enough.” (pp. 120-121)

Fr. David finishes with, “Is church sometimes boring? And could it be that I’m actually offering silence as a solution? Yes to both. You and I are both citizens in a world that is under the control of the enemy. He knows your weakest point is your mind, and he will do whatever he can to win you to his side. His only weapon, since our Lord took suffering and death away from him, is distraction. Noise and toys. Can he really swing something shiny in front of your face and get you to forget the love and mercy of God? I don’t know about you, but I’ll admit that, yes, it works on me more often than I would like to admit.
“What we’ve done here is to try to stop this from happening. This effort is the very foundation of the Christian life. But listen. We cannot live in the foundation of a house; we have to build on that foundation. Keep growing, keep moving upward…” (p. 130)

One way to begin is to read (and occasionally re-read) this book.

 

About the book: Help! I’m Bored in Church by Fr. David Smith can be found here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/help-im-bored-in-church/.

About the author: Fr. David Smith is the priest at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church in Syracuse, NY. He is married to Presbytera Donna, and they have four children. He has also written “Mary, Worthy of all Praise” (Conciliar Press; 2003), and “Christianity and Pleasure” (Regina Orthodox Press; 2008). For additional spiritual challenge and input, you can listen to Fr. David Smith’s sermons online at http://stsophias.org/sermons.html, or watch/listen to others on his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCS-09S_AEqBHebx1vDXM8RA.

One of his YouTube videos is about this book! See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJWHH0QzmbA.

A related note: Although this is geared to teens/young adults and is not by Fr. David, family members of all ages can benefit from watching this Be the Bee vlog about church being “boring.” (Perhaps it can be a discussion starter to share what you’re learning with your kids as you read this book?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TL0BYNUM9pw#t=237

 

Here are additional quotes from the book:

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“This is how I want you to think about your relationship to God—like a marriage. A perfect marriage—except that you commit adultery nearly every day. But here’s the good news: God will always welcome you back. He will always run out to the car to hug you and walk with you back into your home. But you have to go home… Picture [the front door of your church] in your mind. I never want you to walk through that door again without saying something to God about how you have cheated on Him since last time you were there. The door of your church, from now on, is the gateway of repentance for you. Only in this way will you understand why you’re there in that building.” (pp. 24-25)

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“When your time in church is spent in repentance and communion with God, your heart will be overflowing with joy when you walk out.” (p. 47)

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“Here’s why you should go to church: because you get way more than you bargained for. The Church is the point in the universe where God is most present, and let me give you this advice: I think you’d be the most happy you’ll ever be when  you’re consistently in that place. What you see is not what you get—you get way more than you can see. Look around at the icons, and embrace that hope that tells you those saints are with you right at that moment, and praying for you.” (p. 51)

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“Look around you while you’re in church, not to judge those who are also there, but to help your mind understand that the church is a holy pace. Your mind might occasionally whine like an annoying child that it wants to go to a different party. Tell it to be quiet. Look around you. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.” (p. 53)

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“The most spectacular miracle in human history takes place every Sunday in your church—the miracle of the bread becoming the Body and the wine becoming the Blood of God. Every word of the Divine Liturgy prepares for that miracle, celebrates it, points to it, makes it possible, and describes it. It’s a beautiful and awesome thing. If you don’t know what’s going on, you’re missing something you definitely shouldn’t be missing.

“Find a liturgy book and follow along. Get to know the parts of the Divine Liturgy, what each means and how each part contributes to the whole…” (p. 70)

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“The fact is that distracting yourself so you don’t get  bored will never provide a long-term substitute for the genuine, heartfelt, all-consuming worship of God. To achieve this, you need to bring your mind under control. Or, at least, more under control. Think of it as a continuum: on one end you have twenty thoughts galloping around your head like a herd of puppies, and on the other end you have a mind as focused and attentive as an experienced seeing-eye dog. Try to move yourself a little more toward having some control over your thoughts. Perhaps you’re not going to achieve guide-dog concentration at first, but you might be able to teach a puppy or two to stop pooping in the house.” (pp. 95-96)

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“When someone says, ‘Church is boring,’ he’s really saying, ‘When I come to church, I drag my problems along with me, like a dog trying to drag a dead deer around the yard.’ Why do that? Why not drop the problems off at the door and spend a few minutes each week living free of their weight?

“Of course, most of us keep (mentally) going back outside during the Divine Liturgy to rearrange, or reconsider, or just stare at our problems. But remember St. Seraphim’s advice: When your mind wanders, you should humble yourself and call out to God, ‘I have sinned, O Lord, in word, deed, thought and with all my senses.’ Repent that you allowed your mind to wander, and bring it back into the church.” (pp. 110-111)

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(When praying the Anaphora Prayers:) “But listen. Does God need to be reminded that He is inexpressible? Or eternally the same? Obviously not. God does not need to be reminded of anything—we do! While you are praying any of the words of the Liturgy—and always remember, the words of the Liturgy are indeed prayers— allow them to teach you about the faith. Allow them to fill you with the One we pray to and teach you why we pray. Allow them to teach you what we believe.” (p. 116)

 

The Real To-Do List

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

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

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

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