Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio

This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small 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. See our Parish web page:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recharging the Battery

No one who tries to live the Fast in earnest can say that they don't get "drained" during its course.  It's natural for it to happen, in fact - it's our "purpose" in the fast, to drain the body.  But the "drain" we endure must not at the same time drain the spirit.  That is counter to our purpose.

Today, by the Grace of God, the chance to charge the spirit comes to me, as I leave to participate in our annual Diocesan Clergy Retreat.  It is an event that occurs each year during the last half of the Fast, and is attended by many (sad to say, not all) of our Diocesan clergy, led by His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph.

During the time we spend together, there are discussions, teaching sessions, and time for all of us to share the challenges we encounter in our own ministries, and to be strengthened by the love and brotherhood of all.  Additionally, we share the opportunity to start, to live through, and to end each day in prayer with one another.

Several years ago, this event was held at a beautiful farm in upstate New York.  The farm's owner had taken from his own resources and built a small log chapel on the property, and he and his wife (of blessed memory) opened their home to us.  I mention this because of the ending to a particular day there.  Each night there is a service, and on Friday evenings after the service, the chapel fills every available space with a priest or His Eminence standing to hear the confessions of brother clergy.  The room is filled with the pouring out of hearts, with tears, and with great rejoicing over the repentance offered by us and accepted by our Lord.  After offering my own confession, I exited the small chapel and stood outside on the small porch.  The night was crisp - almost frigid, breath hanging in the air, and there was not a cloud in the sky.  In this place, the stars are phenomenal, for you can see them all.  And on that night, it was as if after that confession, looking up you could sense the presence of the Lord looking down upon us.  There was a palpable sense of communion without Eucharist.

The six hour drive home seemed to fly by.  The car was filled with sacred music, accompanied by a single voice in the driver's seat.

May all of our confessions, yours and mine, be so uplifting this year!  And may our Lord grant that same "recharge" to all who gather for this year's retreat in Chicago!  Pray for us who, in our unworthiness, the Lord has set in place to minister to you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Doing Battle in the Fast

The reading time spent this week has been from Saint Athanasius of Alexandria who wrote on the life of Saint Anthony the Great.

Among the wonderful things taught in this account of the life of the Saint (and there are many) is an apology for our being faithful to labor in the Lord.

A servant would not dare to say, 'Because I worked yesterday, I will not work today,' and considering the past will do no work in the future.  But as it is written in the Gospel, daily we must show the same readiness to please the Master.  So let us daily abide firm in our discipline, knowing that if we are careless for a single day the Lord will not pardon us for the sake of the past, but will be angered over our neglect.  Judas, because of one night, destroyed his previous labor.

It's human nature to desire a respite, a break from labors.  But our call in following the Lord is to do as He showed by His example.  People were constantly pressing Him to grant their pleas for His healing, His forgiveness, His compassion.  The Lord had to sneak off to be alone even to pray!

As we journey through the Fast, it's natural for all of us to "want a break".  If we're doing it right, it takes a toll on us.  But this is a good thing!  We come to a point where our stomachs complain.  Wonderful!  For when we listen to that complaint, we are reminded of our spiritual need for food, to read, to pray, to give alms, to attend services, to draw our spirits closer to our Source of the Heavenly Food!

We need to remember our Lord's own words to us.  He said, "If you do the things I command you, henceforth I do not call you servants, but friends." (John 14:15)  In our struggles with the Fast, in our persistence in serving our Lord, not waning from our efforts, not seeking that respite, not even acknowledging any fatigue, we begin to follow His commandments in this way, moving away from being servants, moving toward becoming children of God, heirs of the Kingdom.

Keep the faith.  Persevere in the Fast!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Week of the Cross

We're now nearly at the midpoint of the Great Fast.  This coming Sunday, the Church presents to us the Holy Cross of our Lord as a reward for our efforts in the Fast to date, and as an encouragement to persevere, to continue the struggle for just a little longer.

While the duration of the Great Fast sounds daunting to us, the time is really so very short to attempt to correct those things in our lives that need correction.  In fact, the best we can do is to seek the Lord's help in attempting to move towards Him by removing the largest logs from our eyes (Matthew Chapter 7).  Only then, perhaps in the next fasting season, will we be granted the vision to see the branches that need to be removed, and then the twigs, and then the splinters, and so on.

Our task is finding today's log, and being resolute about extracting it.  Saint Innocent wrote, "Without faith in Jesus Christ no one can return to God and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. No one, even though he believe in Jesus Christ, can regard himself to be His disciple and share His glory in Heaven if he does not act as Jesus Christ did. And no one is able to follow Jesus Christ if he does not receive help from the Holy Spirit.  To receive the Holy Spirit, we must use the means granted us by God." 

God has granted us the means to follow Him by giving us the Holy Spirit as our guide.  He urges us to follow the Lord, to act as He did, as He does.  We can say with our lips, "I believe."  We can express that as our faith.  But if our actions do not match our words, then they are only words, and empty ones at that.

Saint John Climacus taught, "In all your understandings and in every way of life, whether you are living in obedience (that is, under the direction of a spiritual father), or not submitting your work to anyone, whether in outward or in spiritual matters, let it be your rule and practice to ask yourself, 'Am I really doing this in accordance with God's will?'"  

If that which is foremost in our minds is conformance to His will, seeking it first, then we are walking in the Spirit, being guided by Him.  Then the words of our lips ring true, not empty.  Then we seek what is best for ourselves by caring for our enemies, for the poor, and for anyone whom the Lord guides us to come to know.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov sums up these thoughts with these words:  "Prayer, fasting, vigils, and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, certainly do not constitute the aim of our Christian life.  They are but the indispensable means of attaining that aim.  For the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.  As for fasts, vigils, prayers and almsgiving, and other good works done in the name of Christ, they are only the means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.  Note well that it is only good works done in the name of Christ that bring us the fruits of the Spirit."

In essence, Saint Seraphim is saying that if we pass through this Fast, and we complete it without failing once to fast as we had planned, but at the same time do not draw nearer to the Lord in Spirit, the Fasting was in vain.  If we promise God in the Fast to work for the needy, to give more than we have before, but at the end are no nearer to Christ, our almsgiving has been in vain.  If we attend every Divine Service in the Church without exception, but at the end are no closer to the Lord, our attendance has been in vain.

As we come to the weekend wherein we draw strength from the Cross of our Lord, let us not lose sight of the fact that our struggle so far in the Fast, and the struggle which remains, is intended to draw us to Him, building within ourselves that 'home', that space we dedicate to the Holy Spirit, for His permanent residence within us.  Drawing strength from the Cross of Christ, let us open our hearts to the Spirit, and to following our Lord today, throughout the Fast, and for as many days as He gives us!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Living in an "un-Orthodox" World

I find that each Great Fast brings yet another encounter with someone whom I think knows me, but clearly they don't.  Our Lord teaches us "When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father Who is in the secret place; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly." (Mat 6:17-18)  And so we, as Orthodox Christians, don't go around promoting our fasts - especially the Great Fast.  And yet, there are those who, in their own attempts to justify themselves seek to compare and contrast themselves with us.

Case in point for this week....  I have a dear person whom I love and with whom I speak occasionally.  This person grew up Orthodox, but converted to Catholicism while a young person.  I was asked, "So, do you fast from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays?"

How does one answer such a question?  I could have said, "Yes," and left it at that.  But I chose to remind this person of that Orthodox background.  And so I said, "No, we fast every day."

There was shock at this recognition, and denial of what clearly should have been the recollection of the faith held before.  And it caused me to consider how we begin to look at the world around us once we take a step away from the "straight and narrow" path our Lord sets out for us.

Saint Macarius lived in the 4th century.  Even then, he taught with these words.  "The inhabitants of this world, the children of this age, are like wheat in a sieve.  They are being sifted by restless thoughts of this world.  They are constantly tossed to and fro by earthly care, desire and absorption in a variety of material concerns.  Satan tosses such souls as a sifter sifts wheat.  By these concerns he disturbs men, keeps them anxious and in a state of nervous motion."

Nervous motion - doesn't that describe all that we see around us in the world today?  We are called to be "the salt of the earth" (Mat 5:13), that which preserves what is good and pure and holy.  How will we 'preserve' anything if we allow ourselves to be drawn by Satan into such "nervous motion"?

The world around us does not understand us.  That does not make us "wrong" - it makes us followers of our Lord, Who Himself was not understood by those around Him, even among His own apostles at times.

For us, we must try with all our strength to follow the example of our Lord, praying to Him for His help in conforming ourselves to His holy will.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 10 - Maintaining the "Good Start"

Being a week-and-a-half into the Fast, there's a kind of automatic tendency to look backwards, assess how we've done, and then to look forward as well.  If we've slipped up at all (as I know I have), we need to guard against this assessment becoming demoralizing.  We tend to say, "Oh, I've failed in the first 10 days.  How will I ever make it another 30 or 40?  It's just too difficult.  I might as well give up."

And if we do this, we've done two rather horrible things.  Firstly, we've admitted that we give Christ no room to deliver us in our need.  Secondly, we give Satan free reign, declaring him to be victorious in our lives, granting him a victory over Christ (God-forbid!), giving up that which Christ has already won for us, if only we lay claim to it.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, in his Epistle to Polycarp, writes, "Where the labor is great, the gain is all the greater."  This isn't supposed to be easy.  Our path into and through the Great Fast is intended to be a spiritual struggle.  And as in any struggle, we may lose battles, but we must win the war.

Persevere, my brothers and sisters in Christ!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Yesterday, on this same day during the Great Fast in each year, that we celebrate "the Sunday of Orthodoxy," also called "the Triumph of Orthodoxy."  It commemorates the final victory of the Church over the iconoclasts, those who would have declared the use of icons to be counter to the law and/or the will of God, to be a form of idol worship.

While the Holy Church won that victory (in the eighth century), those who hold to such a position never truly "went away."  They remain around us to this very day.

Within the Stichera on Lord I Call from Vespers for this day, one of the hymns we sing (and this is where great teaching from the Church emanates), "The Grace of Truth has shown on us.  The mysteries darkly prefigured in times of old have now been openly fulfilled.  Behold, the Church is clothed in beauty beyond all earthly measure, through the Icon of the Incarnate Christ that was foreshadowed by the Ark of Testimony.  This is the safeguard of the Orthodox Faith, for if we hold fast to the Icon of the Savior, Whom we worship, we shall not go astray.  Let all who do not share this faith be covered in shame.  But we shall glory in the Icon of the Word made flesh, which we venerate, but do not worship as an idol.  So let us kiss His precious Icon, and with all the faithful cry aloud, 'O Lord, save Your people, and bless Your inheritance.' " 

Listen carefully to these words.  "Let all who do not share this faith be covered in shame."  It refers to those who venerate icons in spirit and truth in the Orthodox manner, yes.  But it speaks also to those who revere the Holy Sacraments, and those who abide by the doctrines handed down by the Holy Fathers, and those who know that salvation comes through Christ within this very Church that He established.  Therefore, let us accept not only icons, but the fullness of the faith - including (and especially in this season) the Church's prescription for aiding us in our ascetic efforts through the increase in Divine services, in prescriptions for reading Scripture, in fasting and almsgiving.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Holy Church as Unity

As we progress down the path of the Great Fast, even though only within this first week, let us bring to mind and to prayer the unity to which we are called within the Church.  We know how many times during Divine Services we pray for our hierarchs, for our clergy, and for our faithful, and in so doing we (in words) call ourselves to this unity.  But what does it mean to us 'practically'?  Why is the 'chain' from bishop through presbyter and deacon to the faithful important to us?

Know that when you pray alone, in the silence of your home, or wherever you make space and time to pray, you do not "pray alone."  What prayers do you utter?  Do you ask the Lord for forgiveness?  Know that the Church, in her prayers, through her bishops and priests, has also done this for you within this day.  Do you ask for health?  Know that the Church has already asked this for you as well.  Do you ask for wisdom, or for those things that can benefit your salvation?  Know that even these are within the prayers offered by the Church within this very day, also for you.

Know also, though, that those same prayers are offered for all the faithful!  And so, you are not alone in your prayer, for it is 'mingled' with the prayers of the Church through her servants, the clergy.  But you are also not alone for your own prayer is mingled with the prayers of all of the faithful, together, as in one voice.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch writes in his Epistle to the Ephesians about this with these words.  "It is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do.  For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp.  Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung.  And man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son.  It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God."

The image of harp and choir are wonderful for us.  It helps us to understand that our own 'individual' prayer is never that.  Indeed, we are a part of something greater.  It gives our prayer additional meaning.  It encourages us to not be careless in offering that prayer, but to be diligent in keeping to a regimen encouraging our prayer, and to pray in earnest, not hurriedly, not inattentively, but with faith being moved to love.  Even our 'silent prayer,' those times when we come before the Lord with no words to offer - only a heart needing to be connected to God, even those prayers are part of "the choir."

Sing, therefore!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Right Minded Fasting

As we move ahead in the Great Fast, having barely left its entry portals, we will no doubt begin to be affected by the efforts we make to remove things from our diets and from our 'normal' ways of doing things, and we will also be affected by our attempts to add things to our daily regimen.  The body, which is worldly, will resist.  It is the spirit which must overcome.  The spirit is that portion which declares our heavenly citizenship, and in seeking that heavenly home, this season is one in which we attempt to bring the body into subjugation to the spirit.

Saint Basil wrote of this, teaching, "The Lord says, 'Be not as the hypocrites, of sad countenance, but anoint your head and wash your face.'  Let us, therefore, exhibit the demeanor that we have been taught, not being doleful about the coming days, but maintaining a joyful attitude, as befits holy people.  No one who desponds is crowned, no one who sulks sets up a trophy of victory.  Do not be sullen while you are being healed.  It would be absurd not to rejoice over the health of your soul.  For satiety brings delight to the stomach, whereas fasting brings profit to the soul.  Be of good cheer, for the Physician has given you a medicine that destroys sin.  For just as the tapeworms that breed in the intestines are obliterated by certain very pungent drugs, so also fasting - a remedy truly worthy of its appellation - when introduced into the soul, kills off the sin that lurks deep within it."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Epistle to Diognetus - The Letter of Mathetes, Excerpts

A late 2d century apology addressed to a certain Diognetus who is otherwise unknown. Diognetus was a tutor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who admired him for his freedom from superstition and sound educational advice (Meditations 1.6), but he is not likely to be the recipient, or even the assumed recipient, of this apology from around A.D. 200.

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

To sum up all in one word--what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and loves also the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible bodies, looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reflections on Forgiveness....

As we move away from this day dedicated to seeking and granting forgiveness from and to one another, a simple and sinful priest is humbled by the look seen in the eyes of the faithful who came to Liturgy on this day, and who stayed to take part in the Vespers of Forgiveness.  Within those eyes, one did not need any particular gift to see true remorse, and the sincere desire to connect with brother and sister in Christ, and through them, connect to our Lord and Master.

We all certainly remember and pray "the Lord's Prayer" - many times each day.  But we do not nearly so often remember Jesus' words which follow His instruction on how to pray.  "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Mat 6:14-15)

On this day, may our Lord richly bless all of you who drew near to one another by granting that unconditional forgiveness to those who requested it, both of whom approached one another in purity of heart!

Forgive me!

My brothers and sisters in Christ:

On this day, as we come together to seek forgiveness from one another, and granting that forgiveness myself freely and unreservedly to all, I ask in all humility that you forgive this sinful priest for any and all transgressions I have committed.

With all love in Christ,
Father Basil

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Friday the 4th of March - Reading from Zechariah (Zech 8:7-17, 19-23)

"They shall be My people, and I will be their God."  As our God makes promises to His people (in this case, to the Jews, but by extension, to the Church), He is faithful to execute His promise.  We are His people.  He is our God.  And it is for that reason that within this current season we yearly strive to bring ourselves closer to living in the manner in which He taught us to live.

"Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor, and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, says the Lord."  Tomorrow, we come together to purge from our corporate and our personal inventories those things which divide.  Are these things which we come to remove not things that begin as "imaginings of evil in our hearts"?  Are they not all things that are "against our neighbor"?  Jesus taught us who our neighbor is, and in so doing showed us that everyone is a neighbor, especially those in need (parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10).

"The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness."  These fasts were to commemorate events in the downfall of the first Jewish commonwealth, including the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. But hear in the words of the prophet how God intends even these events to be for "joy and gladness."  What a remarkable thing!

Earlier within the same prophecy of Zechariah (Chapter 7) God says to the prophet, "Speak to the people of the land and to the priests, saying, 'Though you fasted and mourned in the fifth or seventh months, lo these seventy years, did you at all fast for Me?  And if you eat or drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves?'"  The people indeed fasted, maintaining an outward conformance to their faith, but inwardly their hearts were not set upon God.

This is the warning contained in this prophecy to us, now thousands of years later.  The same words that God uttered to His people the Jews then, the same prophet speaks to us today!  Fast, but do so in love, with the heart set upon God, not harboring anything against another, but focusing only on what separates me personally from my Lord and my God.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"For the day of the Lord is coming...."

As we follow the daily readings, today we read from Joel Chapters 2 and 3.  And while today's reading begins with Verse 12 of Chapter 2, we really need to go back to the beginning of the chapter to find our compass.

"Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound an alarm in My holy mountain!  Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord is coming, for it is at hand."

This is not the only warning of our Lord's return that we have been given.  Jesus Himself spoke of it in Matthew 25 (in our Gospel reading from just this past Sunday), and again in 2Peter 3, where the Apostle tells us,

"Beloved, I now write to you... that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandments of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.'"

This is what the world would have us accept (or rather, force down our throats).  But look at the world around you.  Is it really the same as since the "beginning of creation"?  Haven't we moved so very far away from the path that the Lord calls us to walk?  And as we come to this new, next Great Fast, where are we to direct our feet so that we choose the right path, and not that of a world (and the ruler of this world) that would lead us to destruction?

One set of answers comes from the opening verse of today's reading from Joel Chapter 2.

"'Now, therefore,' says the Lord, 'turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.'  So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness."

Another comes from the same Chapter of 2Peter from above, at Verse 17-18:

"Therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory, now and forever. Amen!"

Turn to the Lord how?  With fasting?  You may say, "OK, I planned on that."  With weeping?  You may think, "OK, I know that I've had those confessions in which I wept like a child, and I did leave feeling cleaner, so I guess I understand."

With mourning?  Now you're probably thinking, "Father, why do you always need to go to such morbid extremes?"

But my beloved children in Christ, the Lord clearly teaches, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted," does He not?  How often have you prayed this verse from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chapter 5) during Divine Liturgy and not understood that Jesus is not sending a blessing on those who have lost a loved one, but rather on all of us who see our separation from Him and truly mourn for that distance, desiring with all our hearts that it might be closed?

Yes, mourn for our sins that separate us from the Lord!  Mourn for the fact that in our sins we know we fall short of His commandments for us, and in that knowledge in fear we remove ourselves from Him even before awaiting to see if He has abandoned us (which He never has, which He never will - remember the Father of the Prodigal!!!).

Elder Ephraim of Mount Athos teaches, "The first divine fruit of silence is mourning - grief according to God - joy-grief.  Afterward come luminous thoughts, which bring the holy flow of tears streaming with life, from which also comes the second baptism, and the soul is purified and shines and becomes like the angels."

Joy-grief?  Yes, let's learn of that one, as well.  Not by words.  Let us learn about it together as we walk the path of the Great Fast, laboring beside one another, praying for one another, covering for one another's faults, forgiving one another unconditionally, seeking what is good for the other as we pray for what is good for us.

May it be so for all of us as we move toward the Passion of our Lord.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Entering the Great Fast

This evening, as we come to the portal of the Great Fast, a small group of faithful met at the Chapel to discuss the article (from the Lenten Triodion), "The Meaning of the Great Fast: The True Nature of Fasting" by Mother Mary and Archbp. Kallistos.

Among the comments shared was that of being struck by the comment from the article, "A critic of fasting says to (Fr. Alexander Elchaninov), 'Our work suffers and we become irritable... I have never seen servants [in pre-revolutionary Russia] so bad tempered as during the last days of Holy Week.  Clearly, fasting has a very bad effect on the nerves.'  To this Father Alexander replies, 'You are quite right... If it is not accompanied by prayer and an increased spiritual life, it merely leads to a heightened state of irritability.  It is natural that servants who took their fasting seriously and who were forced to work hard during Lent, while not being allowed to go to church, were angry and irritable.'"

The strickenness in this case is due to the recognition that our fast is harmed by a lack of accompanying prayer.  How often do we hear grumblings at the frequency of services during the Great Fast?  "It's so hard...  We feel compelled to go to church, and there are six or seven services each week." 

While this is true, it is these very services which are our supports, our aides in carrying us through the Fast, enabling us to endure what the Fast accomplishes in us physically so that the Lord may grant us the grace to be changed spiritually.  And within these additional services, what do we find?  Wednesday and even Friday Presanctified Liturgies.  Soul Saturday Liturgies.  We have the gift of being able to receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord three or four times each week!  What a blessing this Fast is!!!

The article points to the fact that Saint John Climacus teaches us of this "joy-creating sorrow" which describes perfectly our ascetic efforts in the Great Fast.  It is akin to looking forward to Holy Week.  We do so with great fear and trembling, recognizing what our God is about to accomplish for us.  We know that He comes to Jerusalem to submit Himself to persecution and death on the Cross.  We know that we are about to be witnesses again to the Crucifixion of our God by lawless men.  And yet knowing that fearful sorrow lies before us, we await it with such sweet joy of anticipation, for we know also that He rises again!  And the joy of His Resurrection wipes clean the fearful sorrow of witnessing Him on the Cross.