Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio

This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small mission community. We pray that it will be used by our own people, to their edification. And if you happen by and are inclined to read, give the glory to God!

The blog title, "Will He Find Faith on the Earth?" is from Luke 18:8, the "Parable of the Persistent Widow." It overlays the icon of the Last Judgment, an historical event detailed in Matthew Chapter 25, for which we wait as we pray in the Nicean Creed.

We serve the Holy Orthodox cycle of services in contemporary English. Under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Patriarchal Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia, we worship at 5107 Darrow Road in Hudson, Ohio (44236). If you are in the area, please join us for worship!

Regular services include:
Sunday Divine Liturgy 10AM (Sept 1 - May 31)
930AM (June 1 - Aug 31)
Vespers each Saturday 6PM

We pray that you might join us for as many of these services as possible!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why Do I Feel As If I'm Making No Spiritual Progress?


It’s a question we often ask ourselves.  There are just times in our lives when we seem to feel that God is not answering our prayers.  We want peace, and we are in turmoil.  We want to feel as if we’ve forgiven someone, but in our next encounter with them, the past is remembered, and we can’t truly say our forgiveness is complete.  We want to pray meaningfully, but after our prayers, we feel empty.
If we think for a few moments, we’ll find that there are other examples of how we feel that our spiritual progress is just not what we hoped it would be.  Does any of this sound familiar?  
And so, what do we do? 
If you are an athlete, how do you train for an event?  If you wish to run a 100 yard dash, do you go to the track the day before the race, run the course once, and think it to be enough?  The Olympics are beginning.  Those who are considered the best athletes in the world are there, and they are competing.  Do you think that there is one of them who has dedicated just the past month to training?  Most of those who go to compete have dedicated their entire young lives to achieving the goal of getting to this competition, for being given the chance to measure themselves against the best in the world, and to see if they can overcome the limitations that they know that they still have to emerge victorious over the others.
Do we hear and understand that last statement.  Those who go know that they have not achieved perfection.  They know that they have limitations.  How do they deal with this?  They compete so that their limitations do not come to the forefront.  They find ways to overcome the limitations.  If a gymnast knows from training that they’ve succeeded in performing a triple jump once in every 50 tries, you can count on them not including it in their routine!
What does this mean for us?  It means that we too need to see our limitations.  They, like our talents, are also “God given.”  If we were not limited in this way, how much more difficult would it be for us to find humility in our daily lives?
Saint Leonid of Optina was once asked by one who sought his spiritual counsel, “Why, after years of struggle, do I find myself worse instead of better, more inconsiderate, colder of heart?”  Saint Leonid’s reply can enlighten us in our own struggles.
“Very few have flown up in a short time on the wings of faith and virtue into the spiritual heaven, or have sensed in themselves the undying pledge of hope and the betrothal of future glory.  There are others who will never sense this during their whole life on earth.  They will not sense it according to the dispensation (the gift) of our heavenly Protector, God, Who always provides what is best for us.  For we, infants in our understanding of the judgments of Him Who directs the world, often ask of Him such tools which in their own right and power are for our salvation, but we would put them to entirely detrimental use because of our inexperience.  Therefore, the loving Father of lights hides from certain pious people the gifts which are for the salvation of some, but to others bring perdition.  What would happen if God, Who knows all things, completely fulfilled our every wish?  I think, but I’m not saying for certain, that everyone in the world would perish.  Even though He does not reject the prayers of His chosen ones, God still does not at all times fulfill their desires.  And this only in order to arrange everything in a better way, in keeping with His divine intent.  Just because you see yourself making no progress does not mean that you are not making any progress at all.  Such feelings can plant sincere humility in your heart.  And when you have the genuine awareness that you are deprived of spiritual fruit, then make an unfailing effort to force your striving with God.  When we have had no success in the virtues, three is no closer means for salvation than humbleness of mind.  Haughtiness, even when joined to the virtues, is offensive to God.  But a meek thought will not be forgotten before Him.”
God’s wisdom is greater than we can imagine.  Even we have the wisdom to know, for instance, that a child is not ready to drive a car.  All of the muscles, all of the awareness, they are present in the child.  But the child lacks the experience to control unforeseen things.  How can we expect God’s wisdom for us to be less than our own?  It is folly to think in this way!  He gives to us what we need, when we are ready.
It is up to us to be accepting (and thankful) for that which we have, to recognize it as adequate (for God always gives us what we need), and to seek His will (and not our own) from that starting point.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Romans 10:10


In today's epistle from Saint Paul (Rom 10:1-10), the reading ends with the line, "For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.”  These are powerful words for us as we attempt to follow those other words of Saint Paul, which exhort us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)  You see, the Protestant view that Jesus has accomplished all for us already, and that all we have to do is accept His gift of salvation is voided by these words of Saint Paul.  Clearly there is more to the issue of our salvation than waving our hands in the air and saying, “I believe, Jesus!  I believe!”

Now the earlier words from Saint Paul lead us to that very same place.  “For a man believes with his heart and so is justified.”  What do these words mean?  The word translated from the original Greek as ‘justified’ can also be read as ‘righteous’.  When we believe with our hearts, we may be found to be righteous.  And so, how do we truly begin to believe with our hearts?  The word in Greek used for 'heart' is literally that part of us that is our beating hearts - cardia!  The clear implication is that the source of our earthly life needs to be conformed to the source of our eternal life!  When we conform what we say, do, touch, or work upon here in this life as if our eternal life were already in effect, then we may be justified, we may be found to live righteously, we are conforming to God’s will.

What a thing to contemplate – that we might live here in this life as if we were already in that eternal life.  And yet, is this not how the saints of the Church have demonstrated themselves to us.  Doesn’t the study of the lives of the saints point us in this direction, that we are already in the Kingdom of Heaven if only we live within the commandments of our Lord?

Saint John Chrysostom writes about this same passage from Saint Paul by taking the path of looking at Saint Paul as the ‘physician’, out to heal the people of Rome by his words and instruction.  Saint Paul’s argument to the people of the Church of Rome was that the Law of Moses was null and void in comparison with the issues of faith.  Chrysostom teaches that the object of the Law was to lead mankind to righteousness.  But the Law didn’t have the ‘power’ to do this, it only provided the prescription.  The person, the individual, still needed to conform to that prescription to achieve righteousness.  But no one did.  No one could.  But then our Lord came, and gave a means by which all could be accomplished – not by living only to a set of rules, but by conforming the heart to His will – by faith!  In that faith, we come to understand that we are not ‘like God’.  We are not perfect.  His rules in the Law are beyond our ability to live within them without ever breaking them in some fashion.  In that faith that He gives to us, in that faith that we hold in our hearts, in the very life-blood that sustains us physically and which then permeates into our eternal spiritual lives, He shows us the way through repentance to live that righteous life that He desires of us.

How do we change our lives so that we have this kind of faith deep in our hearts, spiritually and physically?

I have a wonderful little book.  It’s titled “The Orthodox Companion”.  Don’t go looking for it, you won’t find it.  It was written by Fr. David Abramtsov and published by the Syrian Antiochian Archdiocese under Metropolitan Anthony back in 1956.  Yes – it’s ‘old’.  But  within the book are small treasures of Orthodoxy, little things that we can use, especially to answer big questions like the one I just posed about changing our lives so that we can find this deep faith, a faith that fills our hearts, a faith that we won’t be able to suppress our lips from confessing.  What are some of these tidbit guides for us?

One is that we change the way we approach our day.  When we are about to begin our daily ‘duties’, whatever they may be, we could/should offer some or all of the “Prayers of the Optina Elders”.  The beauty of these is that whatever our particular work or duties are, they don’t matter in the least.  The prayers still apply, whether you’re a doctor going in to do heart surgery or a farmer going out to clean dung from your barn.  What are these prayers?

1)   Grant to me, Lord, that with peace of mind I may face all that this new day is to bring.  If we can’t start with our minds being at peace, how is the day not going to be filled with trouble and turmoil?  In short - Make a good beginning. 
2)   Grant me the grace to surrender myself completely to Your Holy will.  If I during the day decide that “I know what’s best – stand aside, God,” am I going to have any hope of being found righteous?  Do I truly believe with my heart if I do such things?
3)   For every hour of this day, instruct and prepare me in all things.  None of us can say what might happen next.  If I’m in the kitchen preparing supper, there’s always that chance that my finger could be sliced into the pile of potatoes.  The neighbor’s house could catch fire.  Or my child might ask for a loving response when I’m troubled.  Whatever might happen, isn’t is right for us to pray for God’s gift to prepare us for whatever may come our way?
4)   Whatever news I may receive during this day, teach me to accept it tranquilly, knowing that all things are done to fulfill Your Holy will.  We so very often forget that God accomplishes good out of evil.  We see evil surrounding us, and we conclude that God has abandoned us.  But in our hearts, those same hearts that we are trying to conform to His will, we know that He never abandons us, He is never far from us.
5)   Govern my thoughts and feelings in all I do or say.  Wow – if only!
6)   When unforeseen things occur, let me not forget that all comes from You.  This is like Number 4 above, but reinforces that everything – and that means everything – comes from God, and I need to recognize His sovereignty therefore over the things that I perceive to be in my control.  Ultimately, they are in His control.  Remember 9/11?  Remember how devastated we were?  Remember how so many questioned how God could permit people to be murdered in that way?  Remember how many came to God in prayer because of that day?  Remember how we found such spiritual strength as a nation, to rally around those who were harmed on that day?  Can we not see that God had a plan, even in such tragedy?  Can we see how we've reverted as a nation back to a place of complacency since, how we've forgotten our need to reach out to our God?
7)   Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonably toward every member of my family, that I may not bring them to confusion or sorrow.  Sincerity and reasonability.  If we approach spouse, child, parent with these, do our dealings with them ever go wrong?  And yet, how often do our dealings with family go wrong, usually because we are either or both insincere and/or unreasonable?  What a thing to pray!
8)   Bestow on me, my Lord, the strength to endure the fatigue of the day, and to bear my part in all its passing events.  Is it easy for us to remain sincere and reasonable when we’re tired?  It’s a common human excuse for misbehavior – “I’m tired!”  It means, “Leave me alone.  Stay away from me.”  These are words that divide us from those who love us.
9)   Guide my will and teach me to pray, believe, hope, suffer, forgive, and love. Amen!  Teach me to pray!  How many times in my life have I sat speechless, knowing that I needed to reach toward God, but not being able to find even a word to make that attempt?  How many times have I grown angry at myself for my impotence in reaching toward Him?  How many times have I sat in such silence, and then found myself resorting to words He has already given me?  Sometimes it’s Psalm 51 – “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy…”  Sometimes it’s some other Psalm whose words apply to the situation I find myself in.  But often it’s our Lord’s own words that He gave us in response to the request of His own Apostles when they asked Him “Teach  us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:2)  Yes – it’s the Lord’s Prayer.

Let's look at an example that summarizes all we’ve talked about to this point, of having our hearts conform to the Lord’s will, of living a life that is always seeking His guidance, of praying for His peace, of treating others with respect and kindness even in the face of adversity, and of prayer that is inspired by Him.

We’ve told the story before, but it bears repeating as often as necessary.  I relate the story as it was told to me by a priest I knew quite a few years ago, and so if the details are "off", let me apologize in advance for any errors.

Quite a few years ago in the OCA, Bishop Dimitri was assigned to the Diocese of the South – Dallas I think was the ‘home’ cathedral.  Anyhow, Bishop Dimitri was invited to participate in a multi-denominational meeting with a group of other Christian denominations, and the ‘leader’ of the gathering was a certain Southern Baptist pastor who apparently had little love for the Orthodox.  Forced to introduce Bishop Dimitri to give the invocation prayer, the minister stood, and his introduction said basically, “Now, Bishop Dimitri is going to read us one of those written-down kind of prayers.” 

It was an unprovoked attack on one he didn’t even know.  It was a situation that could have forced any of us into returning evil for evil – generating confrontation.  But if we live the prayers we’ve just outlined, if we seek to believe with our hearts so that we’ll be found justified and righteous, we would likely do exactly what Bishop Dimitri did.

He stood quietly, went to the podium, took out a book and opened it, put on his glasses, looked down, and began to read:

“Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name….”

When he finished the prayer, there was a standing ovation!  

Love even those that hate us....

Glory to Jesus Christ!