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. See our most recent COVID statement at our Parish web page:

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Ladder

Sunday of St. John Climacus (2021)

Heb 6:13-20/Mark 9:17-31

Being the Sunday on which we remember Saint John Climacus, it seemed good for us to spend a little time, not on ‘who’ he is, but rather on what he has left for us and the Church as his legacy, his gift to us for our spiritual growth in Christ.

His great work, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, is read in every Orthodox monastery each year during the Great Fast.  For those who have not visited a monastery, when meals are served, the abbot or abbess of the monastery will select a monk or nun from the group who stands and reads spiritually beneficial material while the group sits quietly and eats.  It is during this time that “The Ladder” would be read.

I brought an icon which is used on this day.  It depicts a group of monks all trying to climb from earth to heaven, with Christ at the top, reaching out to accept those who complete the climb, angels who are encouraging those on the ladder during their ascent, demons flying about with arrows and hooks pulling the monks from the ladder, and typically there is a dragon with wide open jaws at the bottom swallowing those who fall.  It is simultaneously an awe inspiring and fearful image to contemplate, for it shows what we endure in our lives as we also attempt to rise to that level to which our Lord calls us.

Although we are given this image of a ladder, and to us that means moving from one level to another after some struggle to climb, in fact the Ladder of Saint John is more a set of parallel rungs.  It’s not so much that you ever completely rise above one of the elements of the ladder.  Rather, we are continually trying to perfect our spirits in all of these areas.

The “rungs” of the Ladder are comprised of virtues we need to labor to acquire, of faults we need to labor to purge, and of characteristics we need to labor to adopt.  There are thirty such elements to the ladder.  Let’s take a look at them.

It begins with three ‘rungs’ which are designed to force us to break our connection with the world.  Specifically, they are “Renunciation,” “Detachment,” and “Exile”.  Renunciation does not indicate us rejecting the gift of life God has given us.  Rather, it means renouncing the world’s control over us.  One typical encouragement from Saint John along these lines includes this:  “If you aspire to perfection, then do what good you can.  Speak evil of no one.  Rob no one.  Tell no lie.  Hate no one.  Do not separate yourself from the church.  Show compassion to the needy.  Do not scandalize.  Do not consider adulterous acts.  If you do all this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”  Detachment is an encouragement to divorce ourselves from the things of the world, possessions, comfort.  Saint John’s focus here is on our Lord’s commandment to “let the dead bury their own dead.” (Mat 8:22)  He teaches that if we remain attached to anything, we will suffer great griefs, for if we lose that to which we remain attached, then suffering begins.  Attach yourself to Christ, for He cannot be lost, and then there can be no grief!  Exile is the carrying of this breaking of connection with the world to our own hearts.  Saint John describes exile as “a disciplined heart, unheralded wisdom, a hidden life spent in unseen meditation, striving to be humble, wishing for poverty, longing for the divine.” 

After breaking with the world, the next set of concerns moves to practicing the virtues.  This includes a group of “fundamental virtues” – and bring us to the rungs, “Obedience,” “Penitence,” “Remembrance of Death,” and “Mourning” or sorrow.

Acquiring “Obedience” is easy to understand.  But Saint John carries it to places we may not immediately consider.  He teaches, “Obedience is a total renunciation of our own life,” indicating that we are servants, and as such, we belong to Him whom we serve.  He teaches, “A servant of the Lord stands bodily before men, but mentally he is knocking at the gates of heaven with prayer.”  Saint John defines “Repentance” as “the renewal of baptism, a contract with God for a fresh start in life.”  And it is through the “Remembrance of Death” that repentance is given life.  Saint John teaches, “As thought comes before speech, so the remembrance of death and of sin comes before weeping and mourning.”  He ends the chapter with these words:  “Do not deceive yourself, foolish worker, into thinking that one time can make up for another.  The day is not long enough to allow you to repay in full its debt to the Lord.  Some have said that you cannot pass a day devoutly unless you think of it as your last.”  On “Mourning” Saint John teaches, “It is a golden spur within a soul that has been stripped of all bonds and ties, set by holy sorrow to keep watch over the heart.”  He tells us that true mourning brings holy tears, and “If God in His love for us had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find.” 

After highlighting these fundamental virtues, Saint John moves to struggles against the passions.  He begins with those which are not physical in nature:  “Anger”, “Malice”, “Slander”, “Talkativeness,” “Falsehood,” and “Despondency.”  He teaches that “the first step to freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred, the thoughts silent when the soul is upset, and to remain calm when unclean winds blow.”  With respect to conquering malice, he teaches, “Let your malice and spite be turned against the devils.  Treat your body as an enemy, for the flesh is an ungrateful and treacherous friend.  The more you look after it, the more it hurts you.”  He defines slander as “the child of hatred and the remembrance of wrongs.”  To overcome this, he encourages us to “blame not the person who falls, but the prompting demon.  No one wants to sin against God, even though we all do without being compelled.”  He tells us that “Talkativeness is a doorway to slander,… a servant of lies, … the darkening of prayer.”  On falsehood he tells us, “A baby does not know how to lie, nor does a soul cleansed of evil.”  On despondency Saint John teaches that “Virtues can be acquired to overcome the passions.  But despondency is a kind of total death.” 

From these passions, Saint John moves to those which are tied to us physically, “Gluttony,” “Lust”, “Avarice,” and “Poverty,” before he returns to the non-physical passions of “Insensitivity,” “Fear,” “Vainglory (or vanity),” and “Pride.” 

Having defined ways to overcome the passions, Saint John moves to the virtues as he teaches us to cultivate “Simplicity,” “Humility,” and “Discernment.”  Finally, he brings us to a point of seeking unity with God, moving us toward what the Church calls “the contemplative life,” by teaching us to achieve “Stillness,” to remain in “Prayer,” to live in “Dispassion,” and to manifest “Love.”

Thirty of these “rungs” which lead to union with God.  And we’ve only offered Saint John’s words almost in passing for the first half of them, “glossing over” the final half by description only.

What’s the point?  The point for us is that achieving our goal of becoming truly a disciple of Christ, of living up to the name Christian, of truly being His servant is not something that happens instantaneously and mystically when we receive baptism.  Baptism and Chrismation are an “entry point” into a life of effort, a life of struggle.  In Matthew 11, Jesus is rebuking the crowds following Him, asking them what they thought they were going to Saint John the Forerunner to witness.  He says to them, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  These are difficult words for us to understand, but the Fathers teach us that one meaning is that the kingdom of heaven breaks into this world violently, through powerful miracles, and those who are vigilant and filled with the Spirit aggressively take hold of it.  Those who hear and love the Word of God “take the kingdom by force” by exerting all effort to enter into the Kingdom while they are here on earth.  It is for this purpose that martyrs shed their blood.  The kingdom of heaven does not belong to the lazy or the sleeping, but to those who actively labor to achieve entry into it.

This does not give the picture of a people who are gifted salvation, but rather a people who are active participants in their own salvation.  And if we are to labor and struggle to attain the goal of entry to heaven, we need a plan.  One who builds a house and who starts by purchasing a hammer has made a start, but unless there is a plan, showing how to cut the wood, how big to make the openings for doors, where to lay the bricks of the foundation,  how to secure the roof, the house so built is doomed to fall.

Saint John Climacus gives to us such a plan for our efforts to take the kingdom by force.  His words are often very difficult as well, offering encouragement that the world would interpret as offensive.  It is not “the only” plan to open the kingdom to us.  But it remains a wonderful encouragement to all who read his words to make that plan for ourselves, and to labor to follow the plan.  And it remains a yearly encouragement for us to exert the spiritual labor and effort we expend together here in the Great Fast.  Remember the words we offered here on the Sunday of Forgiveness.  We are in this Fast together.  Our best and most important goal is to be an encouragement to one another, carrying us as a group, as a ‘family’ to the end of the Fast, so that we together may witness the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. 

Through the prayers of Saint John Climacus, may our Lord grant to us jointly the hearts to exert such effort, and to have hearts which desire entry to His kingdom above all else!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Mid-Fast Shift

For those who regularly attend the full schedule of services in the Orthodox Church during the Great Fast, this past week marks a "shift" in the spirit and content of the services.  

Prior to the Sunday of the Cross, the prayers of the Divine Services were markedly focused on repentance.  In the first week we celebrated the Canon of St. Andrew, which is the hallmark of Orthodox services focused on repentance.  But beyond St. Andrew, the content of Presanctified Liturgies also shared in the focus:

Come, O faithful, let us perform the works of God in the light.  Let us behave with decency as befits the day.  Let us not make unjust accusations against our neighbors, or place a cause of stumbling in their path.  Let us lay aside all fleshly pleasures and increase the spiritual gifts of our souls.  Let us give food to those in need, drawing near to Christ and crying in repentance: 'O our God, have mercy on us!'  (Idiomelon, First Friday)

But now that focus has shifted.  It is not so much that the time for repentance has passed.  Rather, it is a subtle message that the spirit of repentance should now be so ingrained within us that we are able to accept another additional focus.  What is that focus?  It is the Cross!

Beginning with the Sunday of the Cross, the Holy Church begins to prepare us for that which lay ahead.  For those who are not new to Holy Orthodoxy, we've lived through Holy Weeks before.  We know their rigors.  We anticipate their great sorrow.  We expect to find ourselves drying our eyes inside the churches.  We remember the priest's voice cracking as he reads the Gospels of the Crucifixion, and we agonize with him, considering the gift that our Savior is even at that very moment working for us and in us.

The "preparation" that the Church offers to us is not unlike that which our Lord offered to His own Apostles.  We know how often He told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law.  They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified."  (Mat 20:18-19)  He explained it all to them - fully, lovingly.  And they ignored the message.  When it happened, they were unprepared for what transpired.  They were filled with fear.

Let us heed the Church's message to prepare ourselves.  If we have not yet completed our walk to repentance, let us make a good ending to that process and submit ourselves to the sacrament.  But most of all, let us commit to being witnesses at as much of our Lord's walk to Bethany, to Jerusalem, to Gethsemane, to the Sanhedrin, to Golgotha, and to the Tomb as we find ourselves physically possible to be present.  If you can spend time guarding the Tomb, this is one of the most spiritually moving tasks in which a person can engage, and we recommend it to all!

May our Lord bless us to be prepared for being near to Him in this coming Passion Week.  If we hope to be near to Him throughout all eternity, what better place to make a start?