American Christmas

American Christmas
From "Living in the Eighth Day"
By Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
Available at most internet bookstores
And at www.lulu.com/transfiguration

My Dear Ones,

American Christmas-time is a bazaar annual mix of secular capitalistic
enthusiasm with business social parties and colored with religious
trappings. There is also an underlying excitement of American children,
young and adult, anticipating the possibility of special toys, favorite
movies/music, as well as the obligatory clothes from grandmother. There are
festive foods and sweets that may have had their start in other countries
but are uniquely American - from candy canes to fruit cakes to egg nog.

As one of the most religious nations among what are called industrialized
nations (although this antiquated term will need to be revised soon) - 86%
believe in God here compared to 70% in Europe and England. The problem is
that with a base-line freedom of religion and religious expression, the
theological differences hardly make Christians of different traditions
friends. So, the secular occasion dominates. This lowest common denominator
that has reduced the common American greeting "Merry Christmas" when I was
child to "Happy Holidays." The same secularization that has made Christmas
Trees into holiday trees and the lights and decorations into "Holiday"
rather than the overtly religious "Christmas." Even Santa Claus, Good Old
Saint Nick, can hardly even see the shadow of the beloved Syrian Bishop
Saint Nicholas of Myra. I doubt that few, if any, of the costumed jolly men
that sit in shopping malls listening to childhood wishes this time of year
even know why "Saint Nick" is celebrated so widely among the various
Christian churches - how he was a saint before the major divisions a shared
saint of all the historic apostolic church. Beyond the Apostles, the
numbers of these shared guides to Christian living are few enough - at least
captures the creative eye of a secular society once a year.

Nevertheless, I can't help seeing the love of God working through all this.
Despite the obvious blame games of churches to use this season to scare
children and ignorant believers, American Christmas-time can be quite
wondrous. With every parental fight over the last popular toy there is at
least one huge outpouring of generosity - usually amazing in its breadth and
depth. The fight against the secular distortions so common place is
actually a bit of a red herring. Some of these distortions are so obviously
drawn from mythological stories. Yes, Virginia even Rudolph is not entirely
the marketing genius of Macy's. Notice I didn't say pagan. Because this
too is distracting from the real issues.

The problems of secular capitalism with religious are not only during this
time of year. Theses distractions are year round. People do not all of the
sudden abandon their beliefs at this time of year. They live them out! As
they live them out throughout the year. Many of the naysayers of American
Christmas, right here in America, who throw away the lights and the trees
and even the gift giving - would be happy if the secular capitalism offer
exclusive sales on their merchandise to propagate their versions of what
every household should have and believe. Religious and bible stores also
count on holiday sales to stay in business.

So, instead of a singular message during this time of year, Americans (and
now many places in the world) get to have a variety of expressions and
diverse beliefs all appearing in the midst of this festive time. How can
any Christian complain when lights are shining at the darkest time of the
year in America - resembling shepherd's fires and pieces of heaven (like
angels) held close? How can we complain when a common saint of Holy
Orthodoxy is represented is ANY fashion during ANY time of the year - and
marketed as a generous "giver" not a criminal? How can we complain when
even a portion of the world around us decorates their yards and homes with
scenes of the nativity of Christ - no matter how gaudy or idol-resembling
they are - as they remain reminders of what we know and celebrate?

So all around us, through good wishes of annual cards, the thrill of light
decorations, Santa Claus (St. Nicholaus) for a whole month, and all of the
American versions of Christmas expressions, we can be reminded that "God is
with us" for He is called Emmanuel. Christ God became man for our
salvation, for hope in God's love for us - that He has not abandoned us -
that He was, is and will be with until the end of the world. We know that
out of a lowly, humble birth God brought forth His only begotten Son into
the world for the sake of the world. The Creator dwells among the created
as one of His creatures, yet remaining fully God, showing us the way to
God's loving embrace even in His birth in the flesh. In other words, He
walked among us and still is with us - so isn't it appropriate that even
non-believers would celebrate His birth. Even if they euphemistically say
"Happy Holidays," I still hear their wish for a "Merry Christmas." And, in
every lit display - I see the light shining in the darkness and my hope in
the Lord's love for us is increased.

This year in our mission, we will be celebrating Christmas through the New
Year until all of our Orthodox Tewahedo brethren celebrate with us. We
look at the wisdom of the Armenian tradition of keeping the Epiphany and
Christmas attached as they were in the early church. We will be having the
sunrise fire in the Nazranie tradition on December 25 and the Blessing of
Water on January 8.

Fr. Nareg of St. John's Armenian Church in Milwaukee included us in their
seasonal mailing and invitation to their festal services. In the letter, he
talks about "Yughakin" - which I always thought was a Russian practice. I
am sure it can be applied in every church and parish; every mission and
ministry of Holy Orthodoxy.

"It is customary in the Armenian Church to provide Yughakin around the
feasts of Christmas and Easter. This practice dates back as far as the time
of Moses in the Old Testament.

"Yughakin in Armenian means "price of oil" - Yugh meaning oil and kin
meaning price. Donations were earmarked towards the purchase of oil, which
in turn would keep the lanterns burning. Today we do no have oil-burning
lamps, however, we have utilities and other essential operating expenses,
which your donations help defray the cost of the church.

"As we share with you the good news of the birth of Christ the Lord, we urge
you to travel from the "fields and reach Bethlehem" to witness, celebrate,
and actually enjoy the birth of the King. And, as we celebrate the Holy
Season, let us remember those who are desperate and dependent on our care.
Let us make the Christmas celebration meaningful with our gifts to the
Lord's Work."

So, let us be inspired to give, not just to our home churches - but to
mission and ministries that always need your support. Besides our own
mission and ministry, Kochamma chose additional local charitable activities
for our family this year.

All of us in this mission continue to be honored by the benefits of your
prayers that have brought many blessings during a difficult year. Please
continue your support in prayer for us and for the furtherance of Christ's
blessing in His mission in Madison, Wisconsin (and around the world). If
you are inclined, a financial contribution will also assist us in this work.

On behalf of Holy Transfiguration Malankara Orthodox Mission and my family,
I wish you a Merry Christmas season. May God's love fill you in your
gift-giving and in your gift-receiving. May you and all your loved ones
know His peace this season and may His peace be known throughout the world.

your servant,

John-Brian Achen
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Syrian Mission
P.O.Box 5207, Madison, Wisconsin 53705 ~
(608) 242-4244 www.maruroopa.blogspot.com


A tree gives glory to God first of all by being a tree.

A tree gives glory to God first of all by being a tree. For in being
what God means it to be, it is imitating an idea which is in God and
which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree
imitates God by being a tree.

The more it is like itself, the more it is like Him. If it tried to be
like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be
less like God and therefore it would give Him less glory.

No two trees are alike. And their individuality is no imperfection.

Thomas Merton
Seeds of Contemplation
New Directions Books, p 24


Gibran On Good and Evil

On Good and Evil

Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?
Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it
thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.

You are good when you are one with yourself.
Yet when you are not one with yourself you are not evil.
For a divided house is not a den of thieves; it is only a divided house.
And a ship without rudder may wander aimlessly among perilous isles yet sink
not to the bottom.

You are good when you strive to give of yourself.
Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.
For when you strive for gain you are but a root that clings to the earth and
sucks at her breast.
Surely the fruit cannot say to the root, "Be like me, ripe and full and ever
giving of your abundance."
For to the fruit giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.

You are good when you are fully awake in your speech,
Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without
And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue.

You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps.
Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping.
Even those who limp go not backward. But you who are strong and swift, see
that you do not limp before the lame, deeming it kindness.

From Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
(sent by Alex Patico)


sanity minus love

From: Jim Forest

Having read Hannah Arendt's book about the trial in Jerusalem in
1961 of Adolph Eichmann, the chief bureaucrat of the Holocaust, Merton was
inspired to write an essay: "A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf


* * *

One of the most disturbing facts to come out in the Eichmann trial
was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane....
[Eichmann's job] happened to be the supervision of mass murder. He was
thoughtful, orderly, unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system,
for law and order. He was obedient, loyal, a faithful officer of a great
state.... Apparently he slept well. He had a good appetite....

The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense
of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and
understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve
it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us
that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.

It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms
and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate
the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared.
What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic
getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics
will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one
suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons,
logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will he obeying
sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of
their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off,
then, it will be no mistake. We can no longer assume that because a man is
"sane" he is therefore in his "right mind."

The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have
lost their meaning is itself meaningless. A man can be "sane" in the limited
sense that he is not impeded by disordered emotions from acting in a cool,
orderly tier, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in
which he finds himself. He can be perfectly "adjusted." God knows, perhaps
such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself.

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that
excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love
other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to
recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one's own?

-- Thomas Merton
Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1966), 45-49


There Is No Rush

From: Sally Mahe

There Is No Rush

The theology of progress forces us to act before we are ready. We speak
before we know what to say. We respond before we feel the truth of what we
know. In the process, we inadvertently create suffering, heaping imprecision
upon inaccuracy, until we are all buried under a mountain of misperception.

But Sabbath says, Be still. Stop. There is no rush to get to the end,
because we are never finished. Take time to rest, and eat, and drink, and be
refreshed. And in the gentle rhythm of that refreshment, listen to the sound
the heart makes as it speaks the quiet truth of what is needed.

Wayne Muller
Source: Sabbath, Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest


God is good.

"God is good. He alone is truly and fully good. He is good without mixture of evil; in Him all evils disappears. From Him comes all good. All that is good not only comes from Him, but is also His presence. Where the good is, there God is present.''

Paulos Mar Gregorios



Prayer is a Relationship Word

Prayer is a relationship word; it can never be thought of in abstraction, isolated from others or from God. Unfortunately, we have reduced prayer to a private act, an occasion for selfish concern or complaint.  Yet prayer is never exclusive or divisive; it is inclusive and caring.  Authentic prayer is never self-serving or self-complacent; it involves a sense of compassion for all people and all creation.


The whole Orthodox understanding, discipline, and teaching about prayer may be condensed into the short formula commonly known as the “Jesus prayer.” […]


“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” This brief prayer is a simple prayer and not a complicated exercise. The Jesus Prayer can be used by everyone as a concise, arrow-prayer that leads directly from our heart to the heart of God via the heart of the world.  It is the realization – beyond the recitation of conventional prayers – of the power of silence.  For when prayer culminates in silence, we awaken to new awareness. Then, prayer becomes a way of noticing more clearly and responding more effectively to the world within us and around us. 




His Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

From the Foreword written by His Holiness

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer by Norris J. Chumley

2011 Harper Collins Publishers



Making a House for God in Our Hearts

What is the purpose of prayer? To make a link between prayer and mind, between mind and heart, between the power that thinks and the power that loves. So the mind that descends its awareness into the heart is not an activity of the human being, it is a work of God. What we are doing is that we pray to God for the unity of our own being, the whole being.  


When we pray, we are making a house for him (God) in our heart, and when God enters he brings sublime peace with him. Once united to God, we are never alone, and we need never fear anything again. God becomes our protector, the foundation for our whole life. 


In the Gospel we say that God is our Father. This is a God who loves us, a God who is himself love. When God himself settles into our being, he makes a house for himself in our heart. He’s hugging us.


Archimandrite Teofil of  Brancoveanu Monastery (Romanian Orthodox Church

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer by Norris J. Chumley

2011 Harper Collins Publishers




Holy St. Mary's Falling Asleep - Digest

From Malankara SOC Discussion Forum
9 Messages In This Digest

1. A portion of the Sermon about St. Mary's Dormition- Catholicose Aboo
Posted by: "SOCM Moderators" SOCM Moderators
A portion of the Sermon about St. Mary's Dormition - Catholicose Aboon Mor Basalious Thomas I

2. Prayers For St.Mary in Arabic and Aramaic- Jerusalem
Posted by: "SOCM Moderators" SOCM Moderators

Prayers For St.Mary in Arabic and Aramaic- Jerusalem By Archbishop Mor Sewerios Malki Murad Inside the Church Of tomb Mary Mother of God in Jerusalem

3. St. Mary in the Armenian Church
Posted by: "SOCM Moderators" SOCM Moderators Sun Aug 14, 2011 1:21 pm (PDT)
St. Mary in the Armenian Church

The feast of St. Mary's Assumption into heaven, Saturday 14 August 2010, Armenian Orthodox Church

4. St. Mary's Song in Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Posted by: "SOCM Moderators" SOCM Moderators

St. Mary's Song in Ethiopian Orthodox Church
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whYljJETe6w <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whYljJETe6w>

Experience the Feast Day of St. Mary in Axum, North Ethiopia

5. Coptic orthodox Church St Mary hymn Al Selam leki
Posted by: "SOCM Moderators" SOCM Moderators

Coptic orthodox Church St Mary hymn Al Selam leki http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsoY1__5BJ8

6a. The Feast of the Assumption (Shunoyo) of St. Mary
Posted by: "SOC Digest" SOC Digest
The Feast of the Assumption (Shunoyo) of St. Mary
by Fr. Mathai Varkey Puthukkunnathu

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your
offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." Gen:

The Holy Syrian Orthodox Church observes the sacred Fast of the
Assumption of Saint Mary (Theotokos-Yoldas(th) Aaloho-God Bearer)
from the 10th of August for 5 days and concludes with the celebration of the Assumption Feast on the 15th. Saint Mary is the Blessed Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was chosen by the Almighty, according to the divine commandment made at the Garden of Eden. Redemption from the aberration of sin is made possible by the blood of the unblemished Lamb. Saint Mary gave birth to that unblemished Son of God, the Virgin Eve Lamb, who crushed the head of the arch enemy, Satan. This made her to be the Theotokos, God Bearer, and the Second Eve. The first Eve brought disobedience and caused sin to overpower the creation, where as Saint Mary's absolute submission to the Will of God brought
forth eternal salvation to the world. "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her". Luke 1:38. This unique obedience and unparallel forbearance to uphold the Divine Will has brought about the Redemption of the sinful humanity. It is worth mentioning here that the Holy Syrian Orthodox Church does not believe in the immaculate birth of Saint Mary. All humans are born with the original sin and one of the divine mercies that we receive through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism is the grace that wipes away the blemishes/stain of the original sin. That is the reason why the Feast of the Assumption has been given more importance by the Holy Church than to the feast of the birth of Saint Mary.

Continue read @ http://www.socdigest.org/articles/06aug06.html

7. Dormition of the Theotokos - Daivamathavinte Vaangippu perunal
Posted by: "Mathew G M" Mathew G M


In Christ, Mathew G M

8. Assumption Versus Dormition,Departure
Posted by: "Zach George" Zach George

According to the Orthodox tradition, August 15 is celebrated as the Dormition/Departure of the Theotokos. The Catholic Church celebrates the day as the Assumption of Mary. Though, both the celebrations allude to the same event, the inner meaning and focus is very different. The orthodox view is that Mary died a natural death and her soul was received by Son and on the third day, after her death, her body was transported to heaven.

The Catholic Church's dogmatic definition is given by Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus (in 1950).HH declared “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.Pope Pius XII deliberately left open the question of whether Mary died before her Assumption though the more common teaching of the early Fathers is that she did.

The Catholic Church gives more importance to the assumption, i.e., the acceptance of Mary into heaven. But the Orthodox Church focuses on the "Soonoyo". Soonoyo means departure (or Vangippu in Malayalam) and Dormition means falling asleep. Soonoyo is a common word connoting death. The assumption of Mary is not recorded in any of the texts used for service by the church, though some references are made in some of the songs used in the service. It is believed by some that Soonoyo is the earlier tradition than the Assumption. The Syrian Church while not denying the Assumption gives paramount importance to Soonoyo.

References :
H G Dr. Gabriel Mar Gregorios (1997).Kurishum Thejassum
Justice Benjamin Koshy (2010).Blessed Virgin Mary

Submitted by
Zach George Arapura

9. A Prayer used in the Syrian Orthodox Church Liturgy for the Interces
Posted by: "SOCM Moderators" SOCM Moderators

A Prayer used in the Syrian Orthodox Church Liturgy (Malayalam) for the Intercession of Mother Mary


Orthodox Peace Fellowship conference to focus on forgiveness

Orthodox Peace Fellowship conference to focus on forgiveness:

UW professor Robert D. Enright, Kim Phuc to be keynote speakers


The North American Conference of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship has chosen Madison as the location for its 2011 conference, to be held Friday, Sept. 16 to Sunday, Sept. 18. “Forgiveness: Finding Wholeness Again” is the conference theme.


Robert D. Enright Ph.D., professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be a keynote speaker. Enright is a founding member of the International Forgiveness Institute Inc., is the author of four books including “Forgiveness is a Choice.” He has appeared on “20/20” and “NBC Nightly News,” and his work has been featured in TIME, McCall’s Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the LA Times.


Some of the other speakers expected at the event:


  • Kim Phuc (the child depicted in the 1972 Pulitzer Prize winning photo, running naked after being burned in a South Vietnamese napalm attack);


  • Rev. George Morelli Ph.D. (chairman of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese Department of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry);


  • Judith Toy (Buddhist cleric and author of “Murder as a Call to Love”);


  • Miroslav Volf (director of the Yale Center for faith and Culture and author of “Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace”);


  • Rev. John-Brian Paprock (pastor of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Madison, and author of “Neighbors, Strangers and Everyone Else”).



“‘Forgiveness’ is a topic that has much to do with ‘peace,” says Alexander Patico of the OPF. “Conflict between two individuals or two groups can cease, but often the seeds of future conflict are there, ready to germinate at the first opportunity.  Without forgiveness, we achieve only a surface calm, not a reconciliation that is the foundation of true peace.”


Without forgiveness, says Patico, “inner peace remains elusive, as well. There are, however, many different ways to think about forgiveness – what it means and what conditions must exist for it to happen. The conference will explore those different conceptions, so that forgiving might become more feasible for all who take part.”


Additional speakers are in the process of being confirmed. The conference will also include films, food and fellowship. Non-members and non-Orthodox are welcome to attend.


The event will be held at the Bishop O’Connor Pastoral Center, 702 S. High Point Road, Madison. At the end of the conference, attendees can choose to attend Sunday services at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, 11 North 7th St., Madison.


Information will be available about conference costs shortly; the organization plans to offer low-cost options for those with financial challenges or who are coming from greater distances.


Reservations must be received prior to Wednesday, Sept. 14. More information is available by contacting Patico at opfnorthamerica@gmail.com or Rev. Paprock at frjohnbrian@gmal.com or 608.242.4244


The Orthodox Peace Fellowship is an association of Orthodox Christians applying the principles of the Gospel to situations of division and conflict – in the home, the parish, the community, the work place, and within and between nations.



# # #

On the Fruit of Transfiguration

On the Fruit of Transfiguration

The day of the celebration of the festival day of the mission - Holy Transfiguration (Koodara or Maruroopa - Debre Tabor or Buhe) - this local congregation has a picnic with a procession and the blessing of fruit.

Fr John Brian summarizes the lessons of the last few weeks and talks about the Holy Transfiguration and the meaning, symbols and spiritual benefit of the blessing of grapes and other fruit at this feast day of Christ's Transfiguration on Mount Tabor

This sermon lesson uses the readings and services appointed from the Malankara Syrian lectionary and was given on Sunday, August 7, 2011 by Fr. John Brian Paprock at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.

"We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God and not of us." 2 Corinthians 4:7.

PODCAST OR DOWNLOAD: http://feeds.feedburner.com/frjohnbrian or
Listen on-line here:


The Divine Image

The Divine Image
by William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
...Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity, a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
William Blake:
The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.


Power of Discernment

What is a man to do when the demon takes the form of an angel of light and tries to seduce him?
In this case a man needs great power of discernment to discriminate rightly between good and evil.  So in your heedlessness, do not be carried away too quickly by what you see, but be weighty (not easy to move) and, carefully testing everything, accept the good and reject the evil.  Always you must test and examine, and only afterwards believe.
Know that the actions of grace are manifest and the demon, in spite of his transformations, cannot produce them, namely, meekness, friendliness, humility, hatred of the world, cutting off passion and lust - which are the effects of grace.
Works of the demons are: arrogance, conceit, intimidation and all evil. By such actions you will be able to discern whether the light shining in your heart is of God or of Satan.
Lettuce looks like mustard, and vinegar in color like wine; but when you taste them the palate discerns and defines the difference between each.  In the same way the soul, if it has discernment, can discriminate by mental taste the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the fantasies and illusions of the Deceiver Satan.
From the Instructions to Hesychasts of St. Gregory of Sinai
Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart
translated by E. Khadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer
Faber and Faber, 1951 (Tenth printing, 1983), London


Degrees of Prayer

There are various degrees of prayer. The first degree is bodily pryaer, consisting for the most part in reading, in standing, and in making prostrations. In all this there must needs be patience, labour, and sweat; for the attention runs away, the heart feels nothing and has no desire to pray. Yet in spite of this, give yourself a moderate rule and keep to it. Such is active prayer.

The second degree is prayer with attention: the mind becomes accustomed to collecting itself in the hour of prayer, and prays consciously throughout, without distraction. The mind is focused upon written words to the point of speaking them as if they were its own.

The third degree is prayer of feeling: the heart is warmed by concentration so that what hitherto has only been thought now becomes feeling. Where first it was a contrite phrase now it is contrition itself; and what was once a petition in words is transformed into a sensation of entire necessity. Whoever has passed thourgh action and thought to true feeling, will pray without words, for God is God of the heart. So that the end of apprenticeship in prayer can only be said to come when in our prayers we move only from feeling to feeling. In this state reading may cease, as well as deliberate thought; let there be only a dwelling in feeling with specific marks of prayer.

When the feeling of prayer reaches the point where it becomes continuous, then spiritual prayer may be said to begin. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit praying for us, the last degree of prayer which our minds can grasp.

But there is, they say, yet another kind of prayer which cannot be comprehended by our mind, and which goes beyond the limits of consciousness: on this read St. Isaac the Syrian.

St. Theophan the Recluse
What is Prayer? The Test of Everything
page 52, The Art of Prayer - An Orthodox Anthology
Compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo
Translated by E. Kadloubovsky and E. M. Palmer
1966 (sixth printing 1985)
faber and faber - London and New York


Seven Mercies

Seven Mercies
By Origen

For you, the Son of God was killed. How could it please you to sin again? And yet, lest these things not so much build up your souls for virtue as cast them down to despair, you heard how many sacrifices there were in the Law for sins. Now hear how many are the remissions of sins in the gospel.

First is the one by which we are baptized "for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4).

A second remission is in the suffering of martyrdom.

Third, is that which is given through alms. For the Savior says, "but nevertheless, give what you have and, behold, all things are clean for you. (Luke 11:41).

A fourth remission of sins is given for us through the fact that we also forgive the sins of our brothers. For thus the Lord and Savior himself says, "If you will forgive from the heart your brothers' sins, your Father will also forgive you your sins. But if you will not forgive your brothers from the heart, neither will your Father forgive you” (Mt 6: 14, 15). And thus he taught us to say in prayer, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12).

A fifth forgiveness of sins is when "someone will convert a sinner from the error of his way." For thus divine Scripture says, "Whoever will make a sinner turn from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.,,(Jas 5:20).

There is also a sixth forgiveness through the abundance of love as the Lord himself says, "Truly I say to you, her many sins are forgiven because she loved much.” (Luke 7:47). And the Apostle says, "Because love will cover a multitude of sins" (1 Pet 4:8).

And there is still a seventh remission of sins through penance, although admittedly it is difficult and toilsome, when the sinner washes "his couch in tears” (Ps 6:7) and his "tears" become his "bread day and night” (Ps 41:4) when he is not ashamed to make known his sin to the priest of the Lord and to seek a cure according to the one who says, "I said, 'I will proclaim to the Lord my injustice against myself,' and you forgave the impiety of my heart" (Ps 31:5). What the Apostle James said is fulfilled in this:' "But if anyone is sick, let that person call the presbyters of the Church, and they will place their hands on him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and if he is in sins, they will be forgiven him.” (Jas 5:14-15).

Fathers of the Church Series, Volume 83, Homilies on Leviticus by Origen.

Difficulty with Difficult Issues

Difficulty with Difficult Issues

A Middle Aged Man wrote:
February 16 at 4:15pm

Dearest Father, God Help us all!

I pray you are well. I want to talk w/ you about personal & spiritual matters. I pray you do not mind. I want to explain to you that I suffer from mental illness, inherited from both my parents. I am bipolar & struggle w/ severe depression. This has been a life long issue. Years ago, I had a very severe breakdown that I'm still feeling the effects of. Every so often this monster really strikes at me, it takes all my energy to fight back, but my sister needs help.

[a detailed explanation followed - snipped here for confidentiality]

This is where it's at. Again I & others are trying to steer her to get serious about help. So she is still taking no real responsibility for her actions & shows no remorse. She continues to lie & manipulate & neglect any responsibilities in her life. She keeps distant to me because she can't manipulate the truth & doesn't want to hear what I say. I'm so at a lost. My heart & soul is so very heavy & so exhausted. Thank you for caring, I send you my prayers & love.

Rev Fr John Brian replied:
February 17 at 4:00pm

I have prayed about this and for you and for your family.

First, let me say that I am sorry for the loss of your niece.

I am also sorry that your life has been such a struggle both internally and externally. I am familiar with the conditions of childhood and adult dysfunction, as a survivor and as a family member.

On this topic of your own diagnosis, I will assume that you have professional help with your biochemical imbalances.

What is important for us in these kinds of difficult circumstances is to be conscious - honest - aware... "Awake you who sleeps and rise from the dead." This "awake" state for some requires biochemical assistance, but more importantly requires perseverance of honesty, openminded and willingness to do what is good, holy, pure.

In honesty, we need to admit our own limitations and give everything else to God and His angels.

In openmindedness, we need to be able to see new directions, receive help from new sources, accept new even divergent ideas.

In willingness, we need to safely endure the current moment as it passes, wait for the opportunity (wait on the Lord) and then step forward in that new direction - which may mean away from those we love.

In all this perseverance remembering the promises of Christ, the teachings of David in the Psalms and other from the scripture and among the saints, how they endured for what is good, holy, pure.

Remember God loves each of us, each of your family, and sees them the way he made them (in His image) we may not be able to see as God sees. We need to admit our limitations with honesty - this also means accepting that God created each of us with free will - the ability to make decisions regardless of our circumstance.

It is not so much what is happening to us and around us, but HOW we deal with it.

May the Lord bless you with His peace and fill you with His love. May He give wisdom to take of care of that which you can, so that you will be better able to serve your family in the future.

Thank you for your prayers for me, an unworthy servant.

The Middle Aged Man replied:
February 26 at 2:17pm

Dear Fr. John Brian,

+++Father Bless+++
Thank you for your kindness & your love & prayers.
Your words fill my heart w/ faith & hope.
Middle Aged Man
Spiritual Love sent using Butterflies on Facebook

Father John-Brian Paprock
From internet correspondence 2009



Prayer is not form, it is function.
It is not posture, it is relation.
However, proper posture and proper form give prayer more profound function and deeper relationship.
One cannot know this until one has made the effort.

We will put effort into how and when we pray only after an honest appraisal of our distance from God and our lack communication with Him during the activities of our day-to-day life. These problem in our relationship with God become evident in times of sorrow and struggle.

"Lord, teach us to pray" is a request that reveals the Lord's prayer in the scriptures. In Holy Qurbana (liturgy), the priest announces the congregation's willingness to be taught the fullness of the Lord's prayer, by asking God:
- to open our mouths and our lips
- to cleanse our bodies and our souls
- purify our hearts and our minds
- so that we may invoke Thee and Pray to Thee, saying:
Our Father...

Why do you bow down before the altar?
1. that is what in the book instructions (rubrics) - obedience
2. that is what I need to do for proper worship and prayer - humilty
3. this is my proper position before God - honesty
4. I need to present myself before God for His mercy on us all - sacrifice

Humbly written and submitted by a servant for edification and spiritual development.

Fr John Brian
Holy Transfiguration Mission
Madison, Wisconsin

Truly Desire the Will of God

Dear Father John-Brian,

I'm having a difficult time with this quote from Dorotheos of Gaza in The Book of Mystical Chapters (McGulkin, 2003, page 69):

"But if a person does not truly desire the will of God,
even if they were to go to a prophet,
God would put it into the heart of that prophet
to give a response comparable to the deceit
that was in the seeker's heart."

Does that mean that the person who does not truly desire the Will of God, who goes to see a prophet will have his or her selfish delusion/desire reinforced or encouraged by something God puts in/on the heart of the prophet???

How does one know if one TRULY desires the Will of God? How do I know my ego isn't involved or that I'm not lying to myself?


Dearest Child of God,

For who does not want the will of the God of beneficence, mercy and love - the one who has all power and yet waits for us.

If we are honest, we will admit our limited-ness and only want the clarity and nurturance of God's will. This is why we must know ourselves with microscopic honesty - so that we are not self-deceiving.

The only one who can lie to himself is one who is hiding from himself. The only one who can lie to God is one who is hiding from God. So one who wants to hide, who wants to decieve, will only get the confirmation they are seeking - as he IS NOT seeking the will of God.

Do not worry. God will not keep His will hidden just because we are confused. The next step in following His way is always clear. If we are not sure, we can look around and we will always see the next most loving thing to do, the next "right" action. We may not be able to see much further.

There is the old adage: what you look for, you will find.

pray for me, a servant

Father John-Brian Paprock
From internet correspondence 2009



A Christian...

...believes that the coming to earth of Jesus Christ the God-man was not a divine one- sided act but a call for people to respond to the love of God.

...does not look on faith as abstract conviction but total trust in God revealed in Christ.

...accepts the word of God recorded in scripture but guards against giving a literal interpretation to every line.

...views the academic study of the Bible and Church History as an important means of clarification of the meaning of revelation and establishing the actual circumstances of Sacred History.

...recognizes the activity of Christ in the Church and in all life.

...believes that the Church lives and grows in the strength of Christ.

...respects the ritual forms of devotion without forgetting for a moment that they are secondary in comparison with love for God and other people.

...guards against authoritarianism and paternalism which are rooted not in the spirit of faith but in characteristics inherent to the fallen nature of humanity.

...know that the opponents of Christ(illegitimate rulers, power-loving members of the Hierarchy, fanatical supporters of the past) are to be found not only in the Gospel period but reappear under various guises at any time in history.

...experiences the divisions among Christians as a sin which is common to all and a violation of Christ's will.

..sees all that is beautiful, creative and good as belonging to God, the secret activity of Christ's grace.

...treats the works of art of the church over the centuries not as a mistake but as a way of realizing God's gifts.

...recognizes the line dividing Tradition, the spirit of faith and learning, from traditions, many of which are associated with folk-lore and are impermanent accretions to religious life.

...believes that Christ reveals himself in the sacraments of the church, in her sanctification of the world, in her teaching and in acts of service, but knows that none of these aspects is sufficient on its own, for Christ came as savior ,healer and teacher.

...knows that the kingdom of God which is to come can reign within us even today.

...believes one and the same God revealed himself in both Testaments, but that God revealed himself gradually as befitted the level of human consciousness.

...does not ask for tangible signs but remembers that creation is a miracle.

...refuses to point to human imperfection or to the 'survival of the animal nature' as the sole reason for the existence of evil in human beings but believes in the reality of metaphysical evil.

...rejects the tendency to find in scripture or the writings of Church fathers statements about natural science to be held valid for all time.

...believes in the significance of the hierarchical and canonical principal in the church seeing them as structural features of an active organism (and) knows that liturgical rules and canon law have changed over the centuries and cannot and should not remain absolutely unaltered in the future. This is also true of theological interpretation of the truths of the faith, which has a long history and passed through phases when more of the truth was revealed and interpretation deepened(for example in the councils).

...is not afraid to look critically at the church's past following the example of the teachers of the 0ld Testament and the Church Fathers.

...is open to all that is valuable in all Christian denominations and non-Christian beliefs.

...does not consider reason and science to be enemies of the faith. Knowledge enlightened by the spirit of Faith deepens our understanding of the greatness of the creator.

...affirms with the apostle Paul that the witness of faith in the world is first and foremost the witness of service and active love.

...does not reject good even if it comes from non-religious people but rejects force, dictatorship and hatred even if they are perpetrated in the name of Christ.

...professes that freedom is one of the most important laws of the Spirit and in the light of this sees sin as a form of slavery.

...sees that the Christian vocation can be realized in everything: in prayer, work, creativity, in active work and moral discipline.

...considers that when some area of life is infected by sin this should not serve as a reason for rejecting it. On the contrary, the struggle to establish the Kingdom of God should take place at the center of life.

Fr. Alexander Men (Russian Orthodox Priest - d. 1990)
"Christianity for the XXIst Century" published by Continuum 1998)

God is a Father

There was a story that I am fond of repeating about a serendipity that occurred in the midst of this darkest and loneliest time. Shortly after my son was born, I was sitting in my car not wanting to go inside, but not wanting to go anywhere else either. So I sat in the driveway and listened to the radio, but I could not find a song or station I was satisfied with. As I was flipping through the stations, I clicked one the local Christian station. I heard:

"Today we are speaking about the Book of Job."

I thought, "This I can listen to."

"But first I would like to share a personal story," said the speaker. I will paraphrase the poignant story he told:

His 3-year-old son suffered many ear infections. During one particularly severe infection, the father took his son to see the doctor. The doctor explained that antibiotics would work, but first, the pus and infection had to be scraped off his eardrum, to prevent damage to the child's hearing.

Being a good father and not wishing any damage to his son's hearing, he told the doctor to proceed.

The doctor then explained that it is a very painful procedure.

Being a good father and not wishing to have his son suffer any undo pain, he told the doctor to knock him out with anesthesia.

The doctor explained that the child at 3 years old was too young for the potential damaging effects of anesthesia.

Being a good father and not wishing to have his son suffer an undo pain, he told the doctor to use a shot of Novocain to numb out the ear.

The doctor explained that the child's body was too small to be sure not to strike a nerve and cause greater harm.

Being a good father and not wishing to have his son suffer an undo pain, he asked in frustration, "Well, what do want me to do about it?"

The doctor said, "Hold him."

So the father secured the son by holding him in a hug-like position. The doctor began the scrapping and the child began screaming and crying. Being a good father, listening to his cries was very difficult, but that wasn't the worst part of being the father that day. In the position he was holding his son, they were both facing a mirror. No, the screaming and crying were not the worst for this good father. The expression on the 3-year-old's face that clearly said, "Dad, why are you letting him do this to me?"

It was at that moment of frustration and angst that the good father understood how much God loves us and how He holds us when we are in pain, even though, as a Good Father, He does not wish any of His children to suffer undo pain.

I am not too proud to tell you that I cried and wept for a long time after hearing that story. I felt God's hand reach down and touch my heart, reassuring me of His love and His presence. I have not doubted since that He is indeed my Father and that He has allowed me to grow in His light.

Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
Living in the Eighth Day: Orthodox Pastoral Reflections in American Mission
Father’s Day (06-20-04) pages 40-41
Holy Transfiguration Publications, 2005, Madison, Wisconsin
www.lulu.com/transfiguration - transfiguration@usa.com

the most powerful effective spiritual work

the most powerful effective spiritual work

Christ call upon us to pray before God. He persists in asking us to pray and not lose heart, to pray with persistence and passion. This call points to the source from which we receive the power for conversion, renewal, and growth. This is how Christ explains the need for prayer. For through prayer we gain something that cannot be gained otherwise. This "thing" that can only be granted by prayer belongs to God: "How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Lk. 11:12)!

Prayer is spiritual contact with God. God's purpose in urging us to pray without growing weary is that prayer progressively brings about an essential day-to-day change in us. Prayer must be made with constant zeal in order that we should be changed into something higher than our nature. This is actually realized in us when we feel that we have become something more than ourselves. And this is what summons us to more pleading and urgency until our prayer is answered. For through prayer, we receive what we do not basically deserve.

For this reason, we have to realize that prayer is an essential action through which conversion, renewal, and growth of one's soul take place. This is brought about through God while man remains unconscious of the change.

Neither bliss, nor interior peace, not a feeling that prayer is answered, nor any other feeling is equal to the hidden action of the Holy Spirit in one's soul. Such action qualifies the soul for eternal life.

Prayer is the most powerful effective spiritual work and has its own spontaneous reward without the evidence of feelings. Prayer could not have an end or an aim higher than itself. It is the highest aim of the highest work.

Prayer is opening oneself toward the effective, invisible, and imperceptible power of God. Man can never leave the presence of God without being transformed and renewed in his being, for this is what Christ has promised. However, such transformation will not be in the form of a sudden leap. It will take its time and course as an imperceptible but meticulous build-up.

Whoever persists in surrendering himself to God by praying without growing weary receives in the end more than he desired. He even receives more than he deserves. Everyone who lives by prayer in the end gathers and gains for himself an immense trust in God, so powerful and so certain that it can almost be seen and touched. His soul becomes imbued with God through and through, even to its very depths. Man thus perceives God in a most vivid way. He feels as though his soul has become greater and stronger. Neither ignoring his own weakness nor forgetting his shortcomings, he becomes sure of the existence of another being higher than his own temporal one.

This sure feeling of the existence of God and of his power broadens the scope of the soul's perception of divine realities. It also widens its power of discernment and vision. Thus the soul witnesses within itself a new birth, a new horizon, and a new world. This is its beloved world, the world of Jesus. God, not one's own sense or ego, is the source of this world. Man comes to lay hold of this knowledge, not through his own mind, but through the will of the Holy Spirit, without any intervention of human will, effort, or worldly wisdom.

When the soul ascends to the world of true light, which is within its own self, it begins to feel in harmony with God through constant prayer. It then loses all dichotomy as well as doubt and anxiety when truth pervades all its feelings and movements. Its past and present experiences are melted in the fire of divine love. This excludes all prejudice and fears of the self, as well as the flaws of selfishness and doubt. It leaves no feelings in the soul except total awareness of the sovereignty of the Spirit and absolute obedience to his will.

Father Matta El-Meskeen - Matthew the Poor

Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way
Page 14-15 - Introduction to the Second Edition (written in the Desert of Wadi El-Rayyan in 1968) Translation from the Monastery of St Macarius the Great - Egypt Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 2003

a power that changes lives

a power that changes lives

The world now thirsts to see living faith in the person of Jesus Christ; not simply to hear about it, but to live it. So many books tell about Christ; so many preachers speak about Christ; but so few people live and speak WITH Christ.

The Church cannot live on principles of faith to be studied. Faith in Christ is not a theory. It is a power that changes lives. Everyone in Christ should have this power. One must be able to change one's own life and renew it through the power of Christ.

But our faith in Christ will ever remain powerless until we meet him face to face within ourselves. In all patience, long-suffering, and courage, we must bear the shame that will cover us when our souls are stripped naked before God's pure and searching eyes. It is only then that we will emerge with an authentic spiritual experience and renewal for our souls. We will then gain a true knowledge and awareness of the holiness and kindness of Christ.

Every meeting with Christ is a prayer of renewal. Every prayer is an experience of faith. Every experience of faith is eternal life. But that does not mean that the facts of faith, doctrine, or theology can be shaped or changed according to man's inward experience. The facts of faith are as firmly established as is God himself. However, our experience only intensifies their clarity and throws them into sharper relief, for God is truly revealed in his saints. Thus we know God, and always will know him only in proportion to the experience of his saints, those who fear him throughout the ages.

Father Matta El-Meskeen - Matthew the Poor Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way Page 13, Introduction to the Second Edition (written in the Desert of Wadi El-Rayyan in 1968) Translation from the Monastery of St Macarius the Great - Egypt Published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 2003

prayer for a friend in trouble

[from the correspondence of Rev Fr John Brian]

Q: Can you write a little prayer for my FB Friend who is suicidal after severe abuse by a boyfriend?

prayer for a friend in trouble

O Lord, Jesus Christ, we come before You with all our troubles and all our worries because we know that You will hear us. We know You can heal us of our infirmities, strengthen us in our tribulations and protect us from all harms. We ask You to protect one of the little ones who has suffered through the hands of others, through life circumstance and through her own inadequate efforts. Protect her from the evil around her and from harmful delusions that would cause her to harm herself. Make Your loving, merciful and benevolent power known to her, so that she can see the way of hope, of love, of redemption, of healing and of wholeness. Grant her peace in her troubled time and quell the urges that seek to destroy her. Wrap guardian angel wings around her to keep her safe through the night-time of her life. And then, when the night is done, make that radiant light to shine upon her to nourish her in all Your ways - the ways of love, righteousness and peace. This we ask of You in the same hope and expectation as the woman did for a daughter possessed, the centurion did for his servant and all those that brought the sick, the maimed, the possessed and the diseased for your healing touch while you walked among us. Work with her a miracle for good (and all who suffer in the night-time) . Make us all examples of your loving-kindness in this world. Help us in our lowly faith. We know that you can do all things for those that believe and that with You nothing is impossible - and so, all of this we ask You in Your Holy Name, together with the Father who created all people in His likeness and the Holy Spirit who gives life to all. Forever and ever. Amen.

Pray for me, a servant
Fr John Brian


[from the correspondence of Rev Fr John Brian]

May the risen Christ bless and keep you. May His healing touch bring you wholeness despite the challenges you face in this life. The holy martyrs kept their focus even while being inflicted with horrendous pain and suffering. These are examples to us. There are stories of the singing of psalms while being burned and praising God while being tortured.

When I am suffering in very similar ways as you do, I remember visiting a bishop who was dying and who refused morphine so that he could keep a clear mind as long as he could. In his moments of clarity he would take visitors. After a short visit and blessing, I was talking in the hall and heard "ababababababababababababa..." coming from his room.

"What is he saying?" I asked.

"He is repeating 'abba" over and over."
"Why Abba (father) and not other prayers?"
"He is unable to keep his focus to read or saying anything more."

I believe God sent angels to him because of his faith.
Pray for me, a servant
Fr John Brian


Who Needs a Superhero?

Who Needs a Superhero?

We live in a scary world, and hero stories express our longing for safety
and security. While we can sometimes hedge ourselves against disaster, life
is ultimately beyond our control. If only some more-than-human power would
set the world right, we think. If only someone could walk beside us to see
us through the perils of life, someone genuinely good and supremely strong.

So we keep looking for heroes. We idolize our athletes, but they scarcely
make any real difference in the world. We elevate our leaders on lofty
pedestals, but from that vantage their clay feet are all the more obvious.
We expect miracles from doctors, cops, and firefighters, but they all fail
us often enough to remind us that they too are only human, after all.

When real heroes let us down, we turn to the fictional variety. The more
troubling our times, it seems, the grander our heroes. In these days of
terrorism, war, epidemics, ecological disaster, and shaky economics, we need
superheroes, those costumed do-gooders who were born in the frightful
shadows of the Great Depression and World War II. ...

Admittedly, not all superheroes offer sterling role models. Like television, movies and books in general, the comic book field has its share of needless violence, sexual stereotypes, and other offensive material. But if we separate the wheat from the chaff, we'll find comic books offering much heroism, idealism, and sacrificial nobility as any area of the entertainment industry.

In fact, nobody does heroes better than comic books. As far as I can see,
there's just one drawback with these caped adventurers: they aren't real.

That leaves us in a bind. Flesh-and-blood heroes aren't big enough to save
us, and comic book heroes are make-believe. ...

The spiritual hunger for heroes is woven into the fabric of the human
creature. Our Maker built us with a persistent longing for a rescuer who
will save us from injustice and suffering. We dream of a champion who will
lift us and lead us home. In our bleakest moments, we pray for someone to
save us from ourselves.

Religion is the deepest expression of our longing for a savior; but all our
hero stories finally point in the same direction. Every heroic saga,
legend, and myth is ultimately a variation on one universal story: When all
seemed lost, a hero stepped in to rescue us from the evil around and within

As it turns out, this story happens to be true, and the hero is absolutely

H. Michael Brewer
"Who Needs a Superhero?" pages 9-10
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan 2004

Every Savage Creature Gentle

Every Savage Creature Gentle

Stories concerning Ethiopian's relations with wild animals are legion. ...
In his desert cave Abuna Abd el-Mesih el-Habashi is said to have spoken to
lizards, snakes and scorpions as 'his friends.'

Even a very large and dangerous snake is said to have lived with el-Habashi
(the Ethiopian) for some years, the monstrous snake would come and sit next
to him or even lie down on his lap. Jackals are said to have slept at the
cave entrance. Abuna Abd el-Mesih is reported to have lived with a wolf in
1964; the wolf in the cave used to sit with him and he patted it on the
back, allowing the tawny-grey mammal, which had a formidable reputation for
flesh eating, to leave the cave if visitors came to see the Ethiopian

Once a gigantic snake came to Abuna Abd el-Mesih and blew something into his face, but the desert monk was unafraid. He would even walk out into the
desert carrying a scorpion in his hand. He showed no signs of fear when
handling scorpions, disregarding the lobster-like pincers and jointed tail
that could easily inflict poison upon anyone touching such a dangerous
arachnid. (1 Kings 12:11). Abuna Abd el-Mesih was deeply offended when
visiting monks killed scorpions in his cave. He describes all life forms in
the natural world as his 'family.'

When once challenged to fit a wooden door to the mouth of his cave for
reasons of personal security, Abuna Abd el-Mesih replied, "A jackal does not need a door does he?"

He also liked to quote Job 5:17, "For you will be in league with the stones
of the field; and the beasts of the field will be at peace with you."

Perhaps all the stories of love between humans and beasts in any century,
from the fourth century and even to our own, are parables of mutual love:

"With Christ every brute beast is wise and every savage creature gentle."

From the Testimony of Dr John Watson in the book
"The Ethiopian Servant Of Christ: The Life of Father Abd el-Mesih
By His Grace Bishop Macarius, pages 124-5
St Shenouda's Monastery Press, Sydney, Australia 2009

Candles Lit

The candles burning on the altar represent the non-created Light of the Trinity, for the Lord dwells in an unapproachable light.

They also represent the fire of Divinity which destroys our ungodliness and sins.

The candles lit before the icons of the Savior signify that He is the True Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John 1:9); at the same time, He is a Fire which engulfs and revives our souls and bodies.

The candles lit before the icons of the Theotokos are a symbol of the fact that She is the Mother of the Unapproachable Light, and also of Her most pure and burning love for God and Her love for mankind.

The candles lit before icons of saints reflect their ardent love for God for Whose sake they gave up everything that man prizes in life, including their very lives, as did the holy apostles, martyrs and others.

These candles also mean that these saints are lamps burning for us and providing light for us by their own saintly living, their virtues and their ardent intercession for us before God through their constant prayers by day and night.

The burning candles also stand for our ardent zeal and the sincere sacrifice we make out of reverence and gratitude to them for their solicitude on our behalf before God.

St. John of Kronstadt [from My Life in Christ]

Vigil lights are lit for many reasons:

Vigil lights are lit for many reasons:

First - because our faith is light. Christ said: "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). The light of the lampada reminds us of that light by which Christ illumines our souls.

Second - in order to remind us of the radiant character of the saint before whose icon we light the lampada, for saints are called sons of light (John 12:36, Luke 16:8).

Third - in order to serve as a reproach to us for our dark deeds, for our evil thoughts and desires, and in order to call us to the path of evangelical light; and so that we would more zealously try to fulfill the commandments of the Savior: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works" (Matthew 5:16).

Fourth - so that the lampada would be our small sacrifice to God, Who gave Himself completely as a sacrifice for us, and as a small sign of our great gratitude and radiant love for Him from Whom we ask in prayer for life, and health, and salvation and everything that only boundless heavenly love can bestow.

Fifth - so that terror would strike the evil powers who sometimes assault us even at the time of prayer and lead away our thoughts from the Creator. The evil powers love the darkness and tremble at every light, especially at that which belongs to God and to those who please Him.

Sixth - so that this light would rouse us to selflessness. Just as the oil and wick burn in the lampada, submissive to our will, so let our souls also burn with the flame of love in all our sufferings, always being submissive to God's will.

Seventh - in order to teach us that just as the lampada cannot be lit without our hand, so too, our heart, our inward lampada, cannot be lit without the holy fire of God's grace, even if it were to be filled with all the virtues. All these virtues of ours are, after all, like combustible material, but the fire which ignites them proceeds from God.

Eighth - in order to remind us that before anything else the Creator of the world created light, and after that everything else in order: "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). And it must be so also at the beginning of our spiritual life, so that before anything else the light of Christ's truth would shine within us. From this light of Christ's truth subsequently every good is created, springs up and grows in us.

St. Nikolai of Ochrid [from an email]

[In the first week of February is the festal day of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, candles are blessed in the Syrian Orthodox tradition]

Power of a Good Word

Power of a Good Word

They say the Abba Macarius the Egyptian once went up from Scete to the Nitrian mountain. As he drew near to a certain place, he said to his disciple, "Pass on a little in front of me."

When he had done so there met him a certain heathen priest, who was running along and carrying some wood about the noon. That brother cried out to him, saying "O minister to devils, why are you running?"

The priest turned round and hit him with many severe blows, and left him with but very little breath remaining in him. He took up his wood and went on his way.

When he had gone a little further, the blessed Macarius met him on his journey, and said to him, "May you be helped, O man of labors?"

The priest was astonished, came to him and said, "What fair thing have you seen in me that you should salute me in this gracious fashion?"

The old man replied, "I see that you toil, and that you do not know that you are toiling for naught."

The he said to the old man, "At your salutation I also was very sorry, and I learned that you did belong to the Great God. But a wicked monk met me just before you did, he cursed me, and I hit him even unto death."

The Old man knew that it was his disciple of whom he spoke. The priest laid hold of the feet of Macarius, saying, "I will not let you go until you make me a monk."

They came to a place where the brother was ling, carried him and brought him to the church of the mountain. When the fathers saw the heathen priest with him, they marveled that he had been converted from the error, which he held. Abba Macarius took him and made him a monk, and through him many heathen became Christians.

Abba Macarius said, "An evil word makes wicked even those who are good, and a good word makes good even those who are wicked, as it is written."

Paradise of the Holy Fathers - Volume II:
Containing the counsels of the holy men and the questions and answers of the ascetic brethren generally know as "the sayings of the Fathers of Egypt"
Pages 54-55, St. Shenouda Coptic Monastery, Putty, NSW, Australia 2008

The Visible and Invisible Church

The Visible and Invisible Church

THE CHURCH VISIBLE, or upon earth, lives in complete communion and unity with the whole body of the Church, of which Christ is the Head. She has abiding within her Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit in all their
living fullness, but not in the fullness of their manifestation, for she
acts and knows not fully, but only so far as it pleases God.

Inasmuch as the earthly and visible Church is not the fullness and completeness of the whole Church which the Lord has appointed to appear at the final judgment of all creation, she acts and knows only within her own limits; and (according to the words of Paul the Apostle, to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 5. 12) does not judge the rest of mankind, and only looks upon those as excluded, that is to say, not belonging to her, who exclude themselves.

The rest of mankind, whether alien from the Church, or united to her by ties which God has not willed to reveal to her, she leaves to the judgment of the great day. The Church on earth judges for herself only, according to the grace of the Spirit, and the freedom granted her through Christ, inviting also the rest of mankind to the unity and adoption of God in Christ; but upon those who do not hear her appeal she pronounces no sentence, knowing the command of her Saviour and Head, "not to judge another man's servant" (Rom. 14. 4).

Alexei Khomiakov (1804-1860)
In his best known "The Church is One"
(It seems the entire writing by Khomiakov is online here, but I can't find
my "hard" copy to compare)

Mission and Theosis

Mission and Theosis

Salvation is more than liberation of humanity or humanization, but divinization of the humanity and the cosmos. Finite salvation of the created is not infinite liberation, that is the infinite divinization as humanity is not created for one another alone, but for the Creator as well.

The aim of salvation is not restitution of the unfallen state and Adam and Eve, but elevation to the status and fulness of the Second Adam, which is called Christification or Trinitification.

The first Adam fell when tempted, but the Second Adam did not fall. Therefore our aim is not just humanization, but theosis. It is for this theosis that the Incarnation took place as "good news of a great joy which will come to all the people" (Lk 2:10)...

Ulltimately all the differences and separations between human beings will be dissolved in a mutual sharing of beingness (perichoresis) where 'thine and 'mine' are ot different in the case of property, purpose or will, but different only in different personal and group identities with full openness to penetrate each other...

The aim of mission can't be anything less than the deification, unification and reconciliation of all churches and the whole world into the unity of the measure and the stature of the fullness of Christ. It is not humanization or socialization but divinization, which is social transformation in the model of Holy Trinity, which may be called Trinification. The aim of mission is not only Theosis but along with it the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Osthathiose
Sharing God and a Sharing World, page 150-152
1995 jointly [ublished by ISPCK (Kashmere Gate, Delhi, India) & CSS (Tiruvalla, Kerala, India)

Nurturing Prayer

Nurturing Prayer

Be gentle toward yourself. Sometimes you will have wandering thoughts, distractions during prayer. Don't fight them or force them down. Perhaps they are signals of deep wounded areas within that will need attention... If they surface during prayer, envision yourself lifting them lovingly and putting them in to the healing hands of Jesus Christ. If they seem trivial distractions, don't use force. Smile at them as you would at a little child at play at the edges of your consciousness.

You won't always feel deep love for God or deep longing for prayer. There are seasons of the spirit just as there are seasons during the year. As with any committed friendship, there will be times when you feel much emotional concentration on the other and times when you feel blank and dry. This does not weaken or invalidate the prayer in the least. Some of the most powerful times of prayer are the times when with humor and honesty we admit to God that at the moment we feel dry, bored, not in the mood, and yet, nevertheless, we are willing to be reached and nurtured. Great miracles of opening and change within can happen in these times.

If every day, no matter what your mood, you allow the love of God to feed you deeply through some form of prayer, if only for a few minutes, amazing changes can happen in your life. God, whose name is love, offers us - with every breath we take - a new, transforming energy for our tense, stress-filled bodies and an inner healing that reaches depths we had not dreamed!

Flora Slosson Wuellner
Prayer, Stress and Our Inner Wounds, pages 24-25
1985 Upper Room, Nashville,Tennessee

Healing Distortion

Whether our most deeply rooted problem is causedby sin or by wound, or (most likely) by a combination of the two, through Jesus we see a God who with inexorable powers of compassion calls forth the innermost, most hidden self of shame, weakness, and hurt into a healed llife.

This healing is possible not only because of the healing will and power of God but also because of the nature of our humanity wthin God.

Our energies, our powers, and our gifts came originally from the light and the hands of one Creator, who created all beings and powers in the divine image. The gift of freedom... endowed us with the power to misuse and pervert our gifts and energies and to pass on to others, woundingly, the hurting and the hurtful.

But no matter how distorted and hurtful our powers within, they were originally created from the divine surce, and they hold the potentiality for the unique and beautiful. In their healing, they are not wiped out or destroyed, for nothing in God's creation can ultimately be destroyed. Rather, they are restiored to their original, intended power of gifted creativity.

Our fear, when healed, becomes intuitive, empathetic compassion and sensitivity toward others.

Our destructive anger, when healed, becomes a passion, a hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness.

Our perfectionism, our compulsion to organize and dominate, when healed, becomes released, joyous power to build and create.

Our intertia and our withdrawals, when healed, become increasing powers for peace and integrity.

Our possessiveness, our jealousies, and our physical addictions, when healed, become growing released powers to become lovers and healers of the world around us.

Flora Slosson Wuellner
Prayer, Stress and Our Inner Wounds, pages 49-50
1985 Upper Room, Nashville,Tennessee

Spiritual Maturity II

The individual also needs to develop a sense of inner identity that
demonstrates the uniqueness of his/ her qualities as a creation. We all
desire a personal connection of our essence with that of the divine. St.
Gregory Palamas speaks of the power of the Eucharist to connect each one of
us personally to the Holy Trinity. All the sacraments of the church are
gifts of the Holy Spirit that bring us up close and personal with the Holy
Trinity. St. Gregory says, "At the reception of the Eucharist our minds
become the minds of Christ. St. Nilus of Sinai says every "Prayer is an
ascent of the mind to God." Within the witness and spiritual practices of
our church we possess the integrated path and expression to personally
access God.

Spiritual identity is the basis and core principal that provides us the
meaning of why we are Orthodox Christians. It directs a system of
orientation that guides our soul and spirit energy. Jung views the search
for the path of identity as "The center to possessing a complete integration and individuation of our selfhood." C.S. Lewis said, "Developing these qualities of Divine Love...transform our hearts." St. Augustine in his City of God defines this further. "Thy has made us, for thyself and our hearts have no rest till it comes to thee."

Why with all of the resources we possess as a well-established institution
can we not achieve these objectives? Gordon Allport of Harvard defined the
process of faith development with a level of deep spiritual insight. A
growing knowledge of self and an awareness of its place in the cosmos begins our path to spiritual wholeness. Likening to the words of St. Peter he assumes the call to the royal priesthood and the level of responsibility for us all to possess within the priesthood of all believers. This begins the path toward union with the Divine. Within Orthodoxy we would call this theosis and this is preconditioned on possessing metanoia, which is repentance. This path of union is all included in our interior cross to God in the form of askesis; which is that struggle to possess control of our passions and thoughts. As we acquire acceptance and trust in the spirit, we discover that synergeia with the Divine.

In synergeia, there is personal growth from an immature religion to mature
religion. Religion in its immaturity is a narcissistic pursuit of self-love. With maturity, religion is "not directed by impulse and fear. It tends to be rather control and direct toward a goal that is no longer determined by mere self-interest."

"Developing the qualities and identity of spiritual maturity in Orthodoxy"
Hon. Dr. Robert Scott, D.MIN (The Hellenic Chronicle, March 2000)
Keynote address: Twelfth Annual Meeting of Orthodox Clergy and Laity (OCL):
Berkeley, California, Radisson Hotel, Berkeley Marina, November 12-14, 1999.

Spiritual Maturity I

Holy Spirit is a divine spark that lifts up our souls. Carl Jung, the
Swiss psychoanalyst, spoke of the Divine Nous. "Man did not create the
Spirit but the Spirit makes him creative, always spurring him on, giving him enthusiasm and inspiration." This divine inspiration leads to the
transcendence of self. This process begins with the transformation of the
heart and the contrition of soul as the genesis from which the fruits of the Spirit come forth.

Therefore, what are the elements that constitute spiritual integrity? St.
Peter and St. Paul speak of our unique and special relationship with God.
Our spiritual identity is rooted in the personal relationship that we all
possess with the Divine Creator. This relationship extends our identity
beyond the realm of words and thoughts into a process of spiritual action.
Prof. George Flovosky of Harvard University said, "A Christian has to feel
himself personally in the presence of God." Jung observes that this level of integration is part of the process of individuation. This integration is a transformation of the self and a harmonizing of the unconscious elements and conscious elements of our psyche. This harmony of self and our sense of spiritual identity is the collective dilemma that our Orthodoxy in America is immersed in today. We have integrated many spiritual symbols as a conscious aspect of our faith, but unconsciously within our interior cross we are terribly conflicted as we do not live the Gospel that we believe in.

Our spiritual identity is manifested by a consistent behavior. Aristotle
said, "We are what we repeatedly do. The pursuit of excellence is not an act but a habit."

This level of spiritual insight is impossible to achieve unless we develop
the final and most difficult to attain quality which is spiritual maturity.
The process of maturation and maturity is a major social ailment in our
society. Maturation is a process of growth and how many in our society live
an existence of emotional and spiritual death because they fail to develop
themselves. Their emptiness of self and their inability to fulfill those
innate and instinctive necessity of the soul, is the foundation of all
social ills in our society. Erich Fromm, the German psychoanalyst and social philosopher, wrote extensively about the psychological conditions of
identity and maturity.

Our need for identity is a condition of mans search for meaning. All our
passions and strivings are an attempt to find an answer to our existence.
Individuals that adhere to the quality of relatedness seek to find
satisfaction by loving others outside themselves. In this cooperative union
the greater good is created. In being assumed into the pursuit of the
greater good our personal integrity and freedom is enhanced and there is an
artful extension of our individuality. The narcissists' path is one of
self-love. This inward journey is not to the interior cross but to our ego
for there is no attempt to gather our soul energy for the benefit of others. These egos seek only self-pleasure.

Those who follow the path of relatedness can find transcendence and as many
of our Church Fathers have written, the transformation of the heart. Fromm
said: "In man's need for transcendence lies the root of love...the
satisfaction of the need to create, leads to happiness." C.S. Lewis, the
British theologian, goes on a little further: "All human things pass away
and therefore, we should not let our happiness depend on them but on the
only Beloved One who will never pass away." In all our striving for the
external possessions and privileges of our American society, we have cut
ourselves off from those internal and transcendent qualities; in which true
joy and love are only found.

"Developing the qualities and identity of spiritual maturity in Orthodoxy"
Hon. Dr. Robert Scott, D.MIN (The Hellenic Chronicle, March 2000)
Keynote address: Twelfth Annual Meeting of Orthodox Clergy and Laity (OCL):
Berkeley, California, Radisson Hotel, Berkeley Marina, November 12-14, 1999.