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! We are open, and we welcome inside the Church all visitors who follow state COVID guidelines.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The True Goal of Life

[Editorial Note:  We so often speak to the need to study the Holy Fathers.  What is presented below is one "letter" - one of eighty in a little book titled, "The Spiritual Life" from St. Theophan the Recluse.  These letters were spiritual guidance given by the saint to those who came to him for counsel.  This letter in particular is to a young adult, but its content should resonate with all of us, for we share in the insecurities expressed in this letter.  For this reason, it struck me as pertinent to many things that surround us in the world today.  The chapter's title is the title given this post - "The True Goal of Life."  It goes longer than most posts here, but we hope you'll find it edifying enough to seek out the book for yourselves, and be edified by its content even further.  ISBN 978-0-9729956-1-0.  FrB]

What has happened to you?  What kinds of questions are these?  "I do not know what to do with my life.  Should I be doing something in particular?  Should I define some particular purpose for myself?"  I read this and I was dumbfounded; where could such odd thoughts have come from?  Indeed, you already settled all of this when you expressed the desire to stand at the level of human dignity, as God intended it to be.  What have we been talking about, if not that!  Where did these problems come from?  I would guess that among your friends are progressive thinkers, or that you have joined a society having such people in it, and they have scattered your good sense.  Such people usually rave in this manner.  Phrases such as "the good of mankind" and "the good of the people" are always on their tongues.  Probably you, after hearing so many profound ideas, were captivated by them, and when you turned your eyes to your real life, you saw with regret that you had vegetated in your family circle without benefit or purpose.  Oh!  Only now has someone opened your eyes!

If my guess is correct, then you owe me an apology, because you said nothing about this, even though you gave your promise to write about everything honestly.  Wheter this is the case or not, I cannot put your problems aside without offering a solution.  Our entire discussion will serve as the complete solution.  For right now I will tell you only briefly a general thought, so you may see that the life you have lived up to this point, and that you are now living, is the true life, and there is nothing in it that needs to be changed.

One needs to know for certain the exact purpose of life.  Is this wise, however?  For is it not already certain?  The general assumption is that, because there is a life beyond the grave, the purpose of the true life, without exception, must be there, and not here.  This assumption is known to everyone, and there is no reason to go into it, although in practice, it is remembered least of all.  But make it a rule for your own life to pursue this purpose with all your strength; you will see for yourself what light will emanate from there onto your short sojourn on the earth and onto your affairs.  The first thing that will be opened will be the conviction that here on earth there are only the means to that other life.  There is a single rule concerning these means: To make use of these means, and to use them in such a way that they guide you toward your purpose and do not detract you from it, and are not at cross-purposes to it.  So there is the solution to your puzzle, "I do not know what to do with my life."  Look to Heaven, and measure every step of your life so that it is a step toward it.  It seems to me that it is so simple and at the same time comprehensive.

You ask, "Shouldn't I be doing something?"  Of course that is necessary.  Do whatever falls to your hands, in your circle and in your situation - and believe that this is and will be your true work; nothing more from you is required.  It is a great error to think that you must undertake important and great labors, whether for heaven, or, as progressives thin, in order to make one's contribution to humanity.  That is not necessary at all.  It is necessary only to do everything in accordance wiht the Lord's commandments.  Just exactly what is to be done?  Nothing in particular, just that which presents itself to each one according to the circumstances of his life, and which is demanded by the individual events with which each of us meets.  That is all.  God arranges the lot of each person, and the entire course of life of each one is also His all-good industry, as is each moment and each meeting.  Let us take an example: A poor man comes to us; God has brought him.  What are you supposed to do?  Help him.  God, Who has brought this poor man to you, with the desire, of course, that you act toward this poor man in a manner pleasing to Him, looks at you, to see how you will in fact act.  He will be pleased if you help.  Will you help?  You will have done what is pleasing to God, and will have made a big step toward the final goal: reward in Heaven.  If you generalize this instance, you will come to the conclusion that in all instances, and during each meeting, it is necessary to do what God wants us to do.  As to what He wants, we certainly know that from the commandments He has given us.  Is someone seeking help?  Help him.  Has someone offended you?  Forgive him.  Have you offended somebody?  Rush to ask forgiveness and make peace.  Did someone praise you?  Don't be proud.  Did someone scold you?  Do not be angry.  Is it time to pray?  Pray.  Is it time to work?  Work.  Etc., etc., etc.  If, after all of this has been explained, you set about to act in this way in every instance, so that your works will be pleasing to God, having carried them out according to the commandments without any deviation, then all the problems of your life will be solved completely and satisfactorily.  The purpose is the blessed life beyond the grave; the means are the works according to the commandments, the execution of which is required by each instance of life.  It seems to me that all of this is clear and simple; there is no reason to torture yourself with difficult problems.  You need to put out of your mind any plans about "multi-beneficial, all-embracing, common-to-all-mankind" activity such as the progressives rant about.  Then your life will be regarded as enclosed within peaceful boundaries, and leading toward the final goal without hindrance.  Remember, the Lord does not forget even a glass of cold water given to someone tormented by thirst.  

You will say, "All the same, it is still necessary to select and determine one's way of life!"  Indeed, how would we go about determining it?  We would start by thinking it over, and end up with mass confusion in our heads.  Best and most hopeful of all is to accept with obedience, gratitude and love that determination which God utters in the course of our life's circumstances.  I am taking your situation!  You are presently under your parent's protection.  What is the best thing to desire?  Warmth, safety, freedom.  Live, not flying a long way off in thought, but diligently doing each thing which falls to you.  "But still, think about how it is impossible to always remain that way.  I must, at some point, begin my own life.  How should I be then?  And how can I not think about it?"  There, that is the best line of thought for you in this matter!  Put yourself in God's hands and pray that He puts you in the place that He considers best, so that your fate does not hinder you, but instead helps you to attain that blessed life beyond the grave, without dreaming about some splendid lot.  After you have made up your mind in this way, wait patiently for the time when God will speak to you.  He will speak through the concurrence of circumstances and the will of your parents.  After you have become strengthened in these thoughts and have found peace in God, live without making empty plans, but doing the works that fall on you with respect to your parents, brothers, sisters, other relatives and to all people.  Do not think at all that this life is empty.  Everything that you do here, no matter what it is, will be a work, and if you do it with the consciousness that such a work is according to the commandments and that God wants such a thing, then the work will be pleasing to God.  So it is with every small thing.

It seems I have explained everything to you.  I would only add the hope that you have tried to grasp well what was written, have reinforced it, and thus made up your mind.  I predict to you that you will find complete peace, and that you will no longer be troubled by such thoughts as "My life is not going anywhere.... I am not doing anything useful."  There is just one other thing; it is necessary to keep the heart in check, because it takes pride in such nonsense.  True, it is no good without the heart, for what kind of life is it without the heart?  All the same, it is not good to give it free reign.  It is blind, and without strict guidance one immdiately falls into a ditch!

May the Lord bless you!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

13th Sunday - The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers

 (Mat 21:33-42)

“The Lord told this parable…”  It is the beginning that we ‘add’ to a Gospel reading in which we, in our time, are going to be taught by a parable that our Lord used to teach in the time of His ministry.  The words are not part of the scripture itself.  They are present, inserted by us to get our attention, kind of like our use of the words, “Wisdom!  Let us attend!”  “Wisdom!” is a proclamation that says to us, “What is coming contains great learning for us, if we are willing to pay attention.”  And then, “Let us attend!” is exactly that very command – “PAY ATTENTION!!!”

 In preparing for this homily, we were reading from others and found the following from a Fr. Andrew Philips, a ROCOR priest from the UK.  He offers these words to help us with this parable:

 This parable is also addressed to each of us today in a very personal sense. The vineyard is our own soul. It is hedged around with prayer, with our guardian-angel, our patron-saint. The wine-press is where we offer ourselves to Christ. The tower is our inner church where we pray to God. We are tenants of our God-created souls. The servants sent to us are all those occasions when God speaks to us. He speaks to us in prayer, He speaks to us through the word of His Holy Scriptures, He speaks to us through every opportunity, every meeting, every event that comes into our lives. He speaks to us through the presence of His Church in the world. And how do we react? Do we reject everything sent to us, everything allowed to us, as a chance to do better, to make good our weaknesses? Do we fail to heed God? Do we ignore the Church? If so, then we also beat and stone and kill the servants of God. We are warned: the Heir is coming.

The vineyard is our own soul.  From the parable, the Landowner (the Creator, God in Trinity) has “planted” this vineyard, He has gifted my soul to me.  He has set a hedge around it, and as Fr. Andrew points out, this “hedge”, this protection, is that which protects our souls, protects us spiritually.  And so naturally our minds are drawn to our guardian angel, to our patron saint, and to our own prayers.  But don’t neglect the other elements of protection given us as gifts from God.  There are the prayers of parents for us as children, whether they remain here with us or whether they have gone to be with the Lord.  Equally there are prayers of children for us as their parents.  There are the prayers of people whom we’ve been led by the Lord to be benefactors to them – and we can’t ignore the truths that a beggar’s prayer for us when we offer them help can be just as important as any of these other prayers.  And what of coworkers, or bosses, or even subordinates in the workplace.  Or even that person we allowed to go before us at a traffic light – perhaps they offered a prayer for us as well.  All of these, and more, become for us our “hedge”, protecting us from evils and temptations and failings that play against our search for salvation.

The wine-press is where we offer ourselves to Christ.  What is a wine press?  Look it up, and what do you find?  “It is a device that exerts controlled pressure to extract the sweet juices from the fruit.”  In our lives, God gives us the gifts of being tried, of needing to call upon Him when we find ourselves in need, or in trouble, or in illness, or in any number of situations where our human intellect isn’t enough to get us through the particular situation.  He exerts controlled pressure to engender in us the movement of drawing nearer to Him, of calling upon Him, of learning to depend upon Him, and not on our own abilities, or those of any in this world.  The definition of the press goes further to state that “the pressure must be controlled, especially with grapes, in order to avoid crushing the seeds, which would release undesirable tannins into the wine.”  The result of the press is to be something very sweet – just as our offering of ourselves to Christ is to be!

The tower is our inner church where we pray to God.  What is this “place for prayer” within us?  Our Lord taught us, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father Who is in the secret place; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Mat 6:6) The Holy Fathers teach us that “your room” can be taken both literally and figuratively.  “Your room” in the literal sense should be that place in which you have the ‘tools’ required for prayer – a place of peacefulness, untouched by worldly things, where you can place yourself before icons to aid in your prayer.  In the figurative sense, “your room” must be that ‘secret heart’ spoken of by David when he said, “Teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” (Ps 51:6)  Either of these places is “a tower” in that it should rise above the levels of all things earth-bound.  Your prayer is that which elevates you to the heavenly, which allows your spirit to leave this plane and connect with the place to which your heart is called – to the place of salvation that we spoke of last week, to the place of eternal life in Christ.

We are tenants of our God-created souls.  God has blessed us with the gift of life.  We all know of people who reject this gift as being “good”.  They life a life of misery – for no good reason.  As we’ll discuss in our Adult Study sessions over the next several weeks as we read “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” by Elder Thaddeus, one person can be miserable while having all apparent blessings, and another who appears to be put upon from all sides can be in bliss.  The “building” of our souls between these two disparate people differs little from one to the other.  It is the tenant who is different.  One diligently cares for the building given to live in and brings blessings to those who approach.  The other trashes the building, and in so doing brings troubles to any who approach him or her.

The servants sent to us are all those occasions when God speaks to us. He speaks to us in prayer, He speaks to us through the word of His Holy Scriptures, He speaks to us through every opportunity, every meeting, every event that comes into our lives. He speaks to us through the presence of His Church in the world.  Look backward in your life.  Who had the greatest positive impact on you as a person, with ‘positive’ meaning moving you toward that goal of attaining eternal life?  Perhaps it was a parent, but it’s equally likely that it might have been a grandparent, or even an ‘adopted relative’.  In our lives, Popadia was blessed to come to ‘adopt’, or better stated, be adopted by, a wonderful woman who became her sponsor upon entering the church.  In a worldly sense, there was nothing special about her.  Oh, she had a beautiful voice, and enjoyed opera, but on the level of person-to-person, she was ‘nice.’  But on the spiritual level, she exuded faith.  Elderly, she labored to be at divine services.  She taught us “young people” so much about living a life of faith – lessons that can’t be purchased, but are only recognized as gifts from God after looking backward on them.  That’s one example.  You no doubt have your own.  Cherish these, and from what you’ve learned, share even moreso to those who need YOU to be that “gift from God” of being His servant sent to others to speak to them about faith.  All of these cause the vision of the Church to be “alive” to those who see in us a faith that cannot be shaken by old age, or weakness, or infirmity, or worldly cares.  Our steadfast holding to our faith needs to speak to those who look at us for strength.  We can show what the presence of our Lord’s Church in this world means to gaining eternal life.  We can, and we must!

And how do we react? Do we reject everything sent to us, everything allowed to us, as a chance to do better, to make good our weaknesses? Do we fail to heed God? Do we ignore the Church? If so, then we also beat and stone and kill the servants of God.  God forbid that we should adopt the perspective of the wicked servants of our Lord’s parable today!  “Making good our weaknesses” carries with it the responsibility to depend upon, call on, and believe that we will receive deliverance through His strength.  If I “stand firm in my faith and am courageous,” as St. Paul encourages in today’s Epistle, then my weaknesses are of no consequence.  There is no personal weakness if we draw on the strength of the Lord.  Carrying Fr. Andrew’s analysis just a tad bit further, it is not only our ignoring the Church that equates to beating and stoning the servants that God sends to us, but it is any choice we make that separates us from the elements we’ve just outlined – rejection of dependence on our patron or guardian, rejection of prayer, accepting suffering as an evil as opposed to a gift that can draw us nearer to our Lord. 

We are warned: the Heir is coming.  We all know what time it is.  If the Lord’s return is not at the very door, it is certainly on the horizon.  Time indeed is drawing short.  Our Lord has delivered to us clear instruction as to how we must prepare for His return.  His instructions are not only clear, they are simple.  Repent.  Love your neighbor.  Love your enemies.  Pray.  Care for the poor and needy. 

There was a writing from Fr. Seraphim Rose that beautifully expresses these ideas.  It says, “Only struggle a little more.  Carry your Cross without complaining.  Don’t think you are anything special.  Don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are.  And, especially, love one another.”

May we all embrace the simple message of our Lord, and live as He directs, for our own salvation, and for the salvation of those whose lives can be changed by what they see in us!

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Friday, August 28, 2020

Patriarch Pavle on St. Basil's Teaching - 3 Stages of Spiritual Growth

The following is from an interview with Patriarch Pavle of blessed memory which can be found here in its entirety:  https://orthochristian.com/57464.html

St. Basil the Great says that there are three stages of spiritual growth.

The first stage is that of slave. A slave knows that his fate depends on the master to whom he belongs, who has the right to beat, kill, or sell him and his wife and children. Therefore, he will carry out his master’s will. Spiritually speaking, this is the Christian who does the will of God out of fear of hellfire. He understands that even a thousand years of living in sin will never pay off, while there he might be in torment for all of eternity.

The second stage is that of hireling. This is a free man who receives pay for his labor. He works to the extent that he gets paid. Spiritually speaking, this is the Christian whose wants to reach the highest possible level in Paradise. Not all levels there are the same. He who is worthy and good forever advances closer and closer to God, without ever attaining to Him, since God is infinite – but, still, he moves closer and closer. God, of course, is our life and our blessedness – He is our everything.

The third stage is that of son or daughter. A son carries out his father’s will not because he is afraid that his father will punish him, for he is not a slave; nor because he wants to get paid by his father, for he is not a hireling. He does so willingly, so that his father might be pleased. Spiritually speaking, this is the Christian who carries out God’s will because He loves God, so that God might be pleased.

While the first two are thinking about themselves – one does not want to be punished, while the other wants to get paid – the son or daughter is thinking about God. This is the true Christian. But no one can reach this level until he has passed through the first two. How long one will linger at each stage depends on each person individually.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Prayer of Elder Paisios

The blessed Elder encouraged us to "say this prayer every day, and God will always be at your side."

Our Lord Jesus Christ,

Do not abandon Your servants who live far away from the Church. May Your love work to bring everyone near You.

Remember, O Lord, Your servants who are suffering from cancer,

Your servants who are suffering from small or great afflictions,

Your servants who are suffering from bodily disabilities,

Your servants who are suffering from spiritual disabilities.

Remember our rulers, and help them to govern in a Christian manner.

Remember, O Lord, the children who come from troubled families and divorced couples.

Remember, O Lord, the orphans of the whole world, all those who are pained and unjustly treated in this life, and all those who have lost their spouses.

Remember, O Lord, all those in prison, anarchists, drug addicts, murders, evil-doers, thieves, and enlighten them and help them to be corrected.

Remember all immigrants,

All those who travel by sea, land, and air, and protect them.

Remember our Church, the Fathers of the Church and the Faithful.

Remember, O Lord, all Monastic communities, men and women, Elders and Eldresses, all brotherhoods and Fathers.

Remember, O Lord, Your servants who are in time of war,

All those who flee to the mountains and to the plains,

All those who are like endangered little birds.

Remember Your servants who have left their homes and their work and are suffering.

Remember, O Lord, the poor, the homeless, the unemployed, and all refugees.

Remember, O Lord, all nations, and have them in Your arms, protecting them with Your Holy Protection, and keeping them from every evil and from war. And our beloved homeland, keep in Your arms day and night, and protect it with Your Divine Protection, keeping it from every evil and from war.

Remember, O Lord, the suffering, abandoned, wronged, and tested families, and richly give them Your mercy.

Remember Your servants who are suffering from spiritual and bodily problems of all nature.

Remember all those who are in despair, and help and give peace to them.

Remember, O Lord, Your servants who have asked of our prayers.

Remember, O Lord, all those who have reposed from all ages, and grant them eternal rest.


Friday, August 7, 2020

Transfiguration - The Uncreated Light

 All of us are familiar with light.  The sun’s light awakens us in the morning.  It warms our skin when we are outdoors.  It causes plants to grow, and indeed, they tend to grow TOWARD the light of the sun, seeking it’s nourishment.

We know about light that comes from other sources.  We light candles in the Church as symbols of our faith, filled with warmth and light.  We know about the light that comes from electricity.  We know of light that comes from other things in nature, animals and insects which emit light, some under the sea, some that fly through the night air.  We even know about light that comes from chemical reactions (the “light sticks” that are all the rage).

But inside every one of these sources of light that we’ve mentioned, each produces light that is a product explainable through the creation.  The sun’s light comes from nuclear fusion which in turn emits photons.  Candles burn the fuel of wax, and in the conversion of stored energy in the wax, again photons are emitted which we can see.  This process is true in every instance of light we’ve mentioned.

But on Mount Tabor, something different happened.  Our Lord takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, and there He meets with Moses and Elijah.  And what do the Evangelists say about what happens there?

St. Matthew:  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light….  (And) behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them.” (Mat 17:2, 5)

St. Mark:  His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. (Mark 9:3)

St. Luke:  As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. (Luke 9:29)

What is the source of this light that the three Evangelists document?  Note that their words do not define it, but rather allude to it, point to it.  They have no words to use which can comprehend the reality of this light.  It is “like” things, but it is not those things.  St. John Chrysostom explains this inability to fully express what the Apostles witness, but cannot in human terms comprehend.

When the Lord wishes to say something about Himself, He uses human images.  As for instance, He went up to the mountain, and was transfigured before them, and His face shone as the light, and His garments became white as snow.  He revealed, he says, a little of His divinity, He showed them the indwelling of God… The Evangelist then wanted to show His brilliance, and so he says, He shone.  How did He shine?  Tell me.  Exceedingly.  And how do you say?  As the sun… Why do you say so?  Because I have no other star brighter.  And He was white as snow.  Why as snow?  Because I have no other matter whiter.  That He did not shine (in an earthly) way is indicated by the following: ‘And the disciples fell to the ground.’  If He had shone as the sun, the disciples would not have fallen (for they saw the sun every day, and did not fall); but because He shone more than the sun and more than the snow, that is why, unable to bear the brilliance, they fell down. (Homily 56 on Matthew)

St. John goes on to indicate that this light, different from light inside of creation, is the very Light of God Himself, not light from His creation, but the Light that IS His being.

It is THIS light that the saints of the church speak of as uncreated light.  It is THIS light that we will encounter on that last day when we come before the Lord for Judgment.  It is THIS light that reveals all things (for how did Peter, James and John know that those who spoke with the Lord were Moses and Elijah?).

May we be illumined by the Light that is Christ our Lord!

 

Friday, July 24, 2020