Posts from the ‘Reflections and Essays’ Category

I Can Do All Thinks Through Christ, Who Strengthens Me (Phil. 4:13)

"There is no man who will not be grieved at the time of his chastisement; and there is not man who will not endure a bitter time, when he must drink the poison of temptations. Without them, it is not possible to obtain a strong will. When he has often experienced the help of God in temptations, a man also obtains strong faith. " -St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 37

“There is no man who will not be grieved at the time of his chastisement; and there is not man who will not endure a bitter time, when he must drink the poison of temptations…When he has often experienced the help of God in temptations, a man also obtains strong faith. ” -St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 37

There is an article (a few of them, actually) making the rounds on social media right now which tries to make the point that the phrase “God will not give you more than you can handle” is not an accurate thing to say. Unfortunately, these articles themselves don’t quite have things right.

They refer back to the quote from 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able.” (This is where the quote ‘God will not give you more than you can handle’ originates). The point is then attempted: this verse doesn’t mean you won’t be given things that can’t be handled, only that God will not allow a temptation you can’t bear – that the verse doesn’t say anything about other experiences you may have within life. Pointing out difficult situations – Auschwitz, cancer, rape, etc. – the authors then say that these things crush people and are more than can be borne (cf. 2 Cor. 1:8-9 for their Biblical example – where Paul says they are at the *point* of breaking in order to learn to trust in God, Who then enabled them to handle their temptations).

The truth of the matter is that the Fathers of the Church understand all of the negative and evil experiences that we endure in this life to fall in that broader category of ‘temptation.’ We may have a temptation to fall into a particular sin, or we may have the temptation of cancer or some other tragedy in our lives. Following is a portion of the wonderful commentary of St. John Chrysostom (4th C) on the particular verse in question. If you are interested in engaging with the question at hand, read through the commentary, and I will make a few points at the end for our consideration.

“Then, because he terrified them, see how again he raises them up, at the same time recommending moderation; in the words, God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able. There are therefore temptations which we are not able to bear. And what are these? All, so to speak. For the ability lies in God’s gracious influence; a power which we draw down by our own will. Wherefore that you may know and see that not only those which exceed our power, but not even these which are common to man is it possible without assistance from God easily to bear, he added, But will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. For, says he, not even those moderate temptations, as I was remarking, may we bear by our own power: but even in them we require aid from Him in our warfare that we may pass through them, and until we have passed, bear them. For He gives patience and brings on a speedy release; so that in this way also the temptation becomes bearable. This he covertly intimates, saying, will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it: and all things he refers to Him.” –St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on First Corinthians

It is very important that St. John points out to us that all temptation, everything evil we encounter, is too much for us to bear. From the ‘smallest’ temptation to the most dramatic events, all temptation is more than fallen humanity can bear. It is only through God’s assistance that we can bear all things. God will not give us more than we can bear, but bearing our temptations requires that we turn to Him for help.

God is infinitely powerful – by His grace we can endure anything. To say otherwise would be to doubt in the power of God. As St. John says, God will give us patience to endure, and also provides a way of escape, a way to come through out temptations when the time is right.

It is very easy for us to question this Biblical and Patristic teaching, mainly because we want God to moderate our temptations in a way that seems wise to us. We don’t want to bear temptation, but to already pass through it before it has even begun. We choose not to seek God in our moment of temptation, and then it becomes quickly more than we can bear. We want God’s comfort in a way we define. But God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and His foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 1:25).

Our ‘duty’ then, should we choose to accept St. Paul’s teaching, is to seek solace from all temptation in Christ, and to accept the path He lays out for us. We accept God’s help on God’s terms, and since His might is infinite, He can equip us, by His grace, to endure all things.

Posted by Matthew Jackson

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Christian Love of the World

There are a great multitude of Scriptural quotations which mention “loving the world.” The tone of these various quotations varies, typically between the two extremes – either a call to love the world, or a call to hate/reject the world. Since we would definitely state dogmatically that the Scriptures present a uniform theology and understanding of man, how do we put these two seemingly opposing statements together and understand to what the Scriptures are actually calling us?

First, two representative quotations:
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

“For God so love the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

These two quotes work nicely together in that both were penned by the same author. In his first Epistle, St. John commands the Christian community to “love not the world.” But in his Gospel he reminds us many times over that God does love the world. Since we are called to be like God, to put on the mind of Christ, it would follow then that we also are called to love the world, as our dearest Lord loves the world. So here we are told by St. John to love the world, yet not to love the world. How do we make sense of this dichotomy?

St. Augustine writes wonderfully about just this topic, and we can take a short quote from his writings to set in our minds a proper understanding of the Christian’s relationship to the world. St. Augustine writes,

“Therefore we [Christians] are both prohibited from loving in [the world] what it itself loves in itself, and we are commanded to love in it what it itself hates in itself, namely, the handiwork of God and the various comforts of His goodness.” -Blessed Augustine, Tractate 87 on the Gospel of St. John

So there we have it – our relationship with the world in simple terminology, while still maintaining the Biblical language of “love of the world.” We are told NOT to love those things which the world loves of itself. In other words, we are not to love self-will, power, control, passions, the flesh, sin…we are to reject those things that the world so easily latches onto, those things which bring immediate physical pleasure, but separate man eternally from God. In the world we ARE to love what God loves in the world, which are exactly those things that the world hates of itself. We are to love the beauty of the creation, the work of God in the world around us, the work of God in our lives. We see the world much like the New Testament parable – as a potter working with new clay, our Creator works to mold His creation so that mankind may come to know Him and to love Him. But it is exactly this movement that the world hates, but it requires a rejection of the individual and an acceptance of true personhood. We are only fulfilled and made human in Christ.

So the Christian is called to hate the sin and the passions and the fallenness of human society (the world), yet we are to deeply love our Lord’s creation, our brothers and sisters who walk on this earth, and our God for providing us with such a wonderful place to come to know, to love, and to grow in Him.

inspired by Fr. Paul Yerger’s homily from Sunday, September 30, 2012 – “Be ye separate” – 2 Cor. 6:17

Author Matthew Jackson

People Today Believe in God

“I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the Gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God’s creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.” — A. Kalomiros, THE RIVER OF FIRE [taken from Slava Bogu (Слава Богу за всё) on Facebook]

The suspicion of Dr. Kalomiros expresses exactly what I have thought as well (caveat – I have not read the book from which the quote was taken, so I am merely making a few comments on the content of the quote). We live in an age when more people than ever have been exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. More people have exposure to the teachings of the Church; more people know more about Christian Faith and doctrine and life than ever before. Because of our various advances in science, we know more about the physical creation than ever before in human history. Not only do we know more now, but our knowledge increases exponentially year by year. As Kalomiros writes, people today have a “profound consciousness” of the existence of God. Our science has done nothing but prove, continually, that this magnificent creation could not be without a Creator. God is real, and more people know this today than ever before.

The problem is not knowledge – people do not fail to believe, but rather they hate what they know. The rampant “atheism” of today is not true disbelief, but is the same affliction that the demons deal with. The demons know God is real, but they choose to reject Him. Great numbers of our contemporaries reject God as well. He is rejected because of the life He calls us to live. If He were to be acknowledged, then a radical transformation would take place in peoples’ lives and in our society. In short, God is so rejected and reviled today because people want to do whatever brings them pleasure. People want to determine their own course in life, and to make all of their own decisions. The heartbreaking reality, however, is that in following this course people become slaves to their passions, instead of finding true freedom and personhood in Christ.

Even those of us who acknowledge our Lord and profess ourselves as Christians have to keep this in mind – the will of God is what we are called to seek and to submit to at all times. We are not to rely on our own will and our own wisdom, but to submit ourselves to God. Those who reject God do so for exactly this reason – it is a refusal to submit to anyone other than themselves. May He protect us all from this demonic pride. May God give us all the grace to truly seek Him in everything in our lives.

Author Matthew Jackson

Confession – Confessor – Confessing

By Monk Moses of the Holy Mountain

The excerpt below has been taken from the book titled “REPENTANCE AND CONFESSION”, by Monk Moses of the Holy Mountain, “Orthodoxi Kypseli” Publications, Thessaloniki.

Confession is a God-given commandment, and it is one of the Sacraments of our Church. Confession is not a formal, habitual (“to be on the safe side”, or, “in view of upcoming feast-days”), forced and unprepared act, springing from an isolated duty or obligation and for psychological relief only. Confession should always be combined with repentance. A Holy Mountain Elder used to say: “Many confess, but few repent!” (Elder Aemilianos of the Simonopetra Monastery, Holy Mountain).

Repentance is a freely-willed, internally cultivated process of contrition and sorrow for having distanced ourselves from God through sin. True repentance has nothing to do with intolerable pain, excessive sorrow and relentless guilty feelings. That would not be sincere repentance, but a secret egotism, a feeling of our “ego” being trampled on; an anger that is directed at our self, which then wreaks revenge because it is exposing itself and is put to shame – a thing that it cannot tolerate. Repentance means a change in our thoughts, our mentality; it is an about-face; it is a grafting of morality and an abhorrence of sin. Repentance also means a love of virtue, benevolence, and a desire, a willingness and a strong disposition to be re-joined to Christ through the Grace of the almighty Holy Spirit. Repentance begins in the depths of the heart, but it culminates necessarily in the sacrament of divine and sacred Confession.

During confession, one confesses sincerely and humbly before the confessor, as though in the presence of Christ. No scientist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, sociologist, philosopher or theologian can replace the confessor. No icon – not even the most miracle-working one – can provide what the confessor’s stole can: the absolution of sins. The confessor takes the person under his care; he adopts him and ensures he is reborn spiritually, which is why he is called a “spiritual father.” Normally, spiritual paternity is lifelong, sacred and powerful – even more powerful than a family bond. Spiritual birth is a painful process. The confessor must keep track of the confessing soul, with a fear of God (as one who is “accountable to God”), with understanding, humility and love, and guide him with discretion in the ever-upward course of his in-Christ life.

The confessor-priest has been given a special blessing by his bishop for the undertaking of his confessional opus. However, the gift of “binding and un-binding” sins is initially acquired through his ordination as presbyter, when he is rendered a successor to the Apostles. Thus, validity and canonicity in Apostolic succession, through bishops, is of central and great importance. Like all the other holy sacraments of our Church, the sacrament of Confession is performed (and it bestows Grace on the faithful), not in conjunction with the skill, the scientism, the literacy, the eloquence, the energy and the artfulness of the priest – not even with his virtue and holiness – but through the canonicity (validity) of his priesthood and through the “Master of Ceremonies” – the Holy Spirit. The possible sins of the priest do not obstruct divine Grace during the Sacraments. Woe betide, if we were to doubt (on account of the unworthiness of the priest) that the bread and the wine actually become the Body and the Blood of Christ during the Divine Liturgy! This of course does not mean that the priest should not have to constantly concern himself with his own “cleanliness.” Thus, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” confessors. Each and every confessor provides the exact same absolution. However, we do have the right to choose our confessor; and of course we have the right to turn to the one who truly makes us feel at ease with him, spiritually. To constantly change our confessor however, is not a very sober decision; this kind of tendency does not reveal spiritual maturity. But confessors should, respectively, not fret excessively -or even create problems- when a spiritual child of theirs happens to depart from them. This may mean that they were morbidly attached to each other (sentimentally, to the person. and not to Christ, nor to the Church). They may also regard that departure as an insult; one that is demeaning to them and makes them think there is no-one better than them, or, it may give them a feeling that the other “belongs” to them exclusively and they can therefore dominate them and in fact even behave forcibly towards them, as if they are repressed and confined subordinates. We did mention that the confessor is a spiritual father, and that spiritual fatherhood and spiritual childbirth entails labour. Thus, it is only natural for the confessor to feel sorrow upon the departure of his spiritual child. However, it is preferable for him to pray for his child’s spiritual progress and its union to the Church, even despite its disengagement from him. He must wish for, and not against that child.

The confessor’s opus is not just the superficial hearing of a person’s sins and the reciting of the prayer of absolution afterwards. Nor is it restricted to the hour of confession. Like a good father, the confessor continuously cares for his child; he listens to it and observes it carefully, he counsels it appropriately, he guides it along the lines of the Gospel, he highlights its talents, he does not place unnecessary burdens on it, he imposes canons with leniency only when he must, he consoles it when it is disheartened, weighed down, resentful, exhausted, and he heals it accordingly, without ever discouraging it, but constantly pursuing the struggle for the eradication of its passions and the harvesting of virtues; constantly shaping its eternal soul to be Christ-like.

This ever-developing paternal and filial relationship between confessor and spiritual child eventually culminates in a feeling of comfort, trust, respect, sanctity and elation. When confessing, one opens his heart to the confessor and discloses the innermost, the basest and most unclean – in fact, all of his – secrets, his most intimate actions and detrimental desires, even those that he would not want to confess to himself, nor tell his next-of-kin or his closest friend. For this reason, the confessor must have an absolute respect for the unlimited trust that is being shown to him by the person confessing. This trust most assuredly builds up with time, but also by the fact that the confessor is strictly bound (in fact to the death) by the divine and Sacred Canons of the Church, to the confidentiality that confession entails.

In Orthodox confession there are of course no general instructions, because the spiritual guidance that each unique soul requires is entirely personalized. Each person is unprecedented, with a particular psychosynthesis, a different character, differing potentials and abilities, limitations, tendencies, tolerances, knowledge, needs and dispositions. With the Grace of God and with divine enlightenment, the confessor must discern all these characteristics, in order to decide what he can utilize best, so that the person confessing will be helped in the best possible manner. At times, leniency will be required, while at other times, austerity. The same thing does not apply to each and every person. Nor should the confessor ALWAYS be strict, just for the sake of being called strict and respected as such; and he should likewise not ALWAYS be excessively lenient, in order to become the preferred choice and be regarded as a “spiritual father of many.” What is required of him is a fear of God, discernment, honesty, humility, deliberation, understanding and prayer.

“Economy” (Oekonomia: to make allowances for something, exceptionally) is not demanded of the person confessing, nor is it proper for the confessor to make it a rule. “Economy” must remain an exception. “Economy” must also be a temporary measure (Archmandrite George Gregoriates). When the reasons for implementing it no longer exist, it must naturally be retracted. The same sin can be confronted in numerous ways.

A canon is not always necessary. A canon is not intended as a form of punishment. It is educative by nature. A canon is not imposed for the sake of appeasing an offended God and an atonement of the sinner in the face of Divine Justice; that is an entirely heretic teaching. A canon is usually implemented during an immature confession, with the intent to arouse awareness and a consciousness of the magnitude of one’s sin. According to Orthodox teaching, “sin” is not so much the transgression of a law, as it is a lack of love towards God. “Love, and do whatever you want”, the blessed Augustine used to say…

A canon is implemented for the purpose of completing one’s repentance in view of confession, which is why Fr. Athanasios of Meteora rightly says: “just as the confessor is not permitted to make public the sins being confessed to him, so must the person confessing not make public the particular canon that the confessor has imposed in his specific case, as it is the resultant of many parameters.”

A confessor acts as the provider of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. During the hour of the Sacrament of Confession, he does not function as a psychologist and scientist. He functions as a priest, as an experienced doctor, as a caring father. When listening to the sins of the person confessing, he prays to God to give him enlightenment, to advise him what the best “medication” for cure will be, and to gauge the degree and the quality of that confession. The confessor does not place himself opposite a confessing person with curiosity, suspicion, envy, excessive austerity, power and arrogance; but equally not with indifference, thoughtlessly, carelessly and wearily. The humility, love and attention of the confessor will greatly help the person confessing. The confessor should not ask too many, too unnecessary and too indiscreet questions. He must especially interrupt any detailed descriptions of various sins (especially the carnal ones) and even the disclosure of names, to safeguard himself even more. But the person confessing should also not feel afraid, or hesitate and feel embarrassed; he should feel respect, trust, honour and show reverence to the confessor. This climate of sanctity, mutual respect and trust must be mainly nurtured, inspired and developed by the confessor.

Our holy mother the Orthodox Church is the Body of the Resurrected Christ; She is a vast infirmary, for the healing of frail, sinning faithful from the traumas, the wounds and the illnesses of sin; from pathogenic demons and from the venomous demonic traps and the influences of demonically-driven passions.

Our Church is not a branch office of the Ministry of Social Services, nor does She compete against the various societies for social welfare – without this meaning that She does not acknowledge this significant and well-meaning opus, or that She Herself does not offer such services bounteously, admirably and wondrously; it is because the Church is mainly a provider of a meaning to life, of redemption and salvation of the faithful “for the sake of whom Christ died,” through their participation in the sacraments of the Church. “The priest’s stole is a planing instrument” – as the Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain used to say – “that planes and straightens out a person; it is a therapeutic scalpel that excises passions, and not a trowel for workaholics, or a symbol of power. It is a servant’s apron intended for ministering to people, for providing therapy and salvation.”

God uses the priest for the forgiveness of His creature. It is plainly stated in the absolution blessing: “May God forgive you – through me the sinner – everything, both in the present age and in the future one, and may He render you blameless, before His awesome Seat of Judgment; having no longer any worry for the crimes that have been confessed, may you go forth in peace.” Sins that have not been confessed will continue to burden a person, even in the life to come. Confessed sins should not be re-confessed; it would be as though one doesn’t believe in the grace of the Sacrament. God is of course aware of them, but it is for the sake of absolution, humbling and therapy that they need to be outwardly confessed. As for the occasional penance imposed for sins, one must realize that it does not negate the Church’s love for the person, but that it is simply an educative imposition, for a better awareness of one’s offenses.

According to Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, “confession is a willed, verbal revealing of one’s evil deeds and words and thoughts; solemn, accusatory, direct, without shame, decisive, to be executed before a legitimate spiritual father.” This God-bearing saint has succinctly, fully and meaningfully clarified that confession must be willed, free, effortless, without the confessor straining to extract the person’s confession. It should be with solemnity, in other words, with an awareness of the sorrow that he caused God with his sin, and not with sentimental, hypocritical, fainthearted tears.

Genuine “solemnity” implies an inner collapsing, remorse, a hatred towards sin, a love of virtue, and a feeling of gratitude to the Gift-Giver God. “Accusatory” implies a responsible confession, without attempts of justification, subterfuge, chicanery, irresponsibility and scapegoating; with sincere self-reproach and genuine self-humiliation that carries the so-called “happy-sorrow” and the “joyous bereavement” defined by the Church. “Direct” implies a confession with all sincerity, directness and precision, valour and courage, severity and bravery. It often happens that during the hour of confession, one avoids admitting his defeat, his fall and his weakness and by means of eloquent and long-winded descriptions attempts to deflect his share of responsibility, with twists and turns and half-truths – or even by accusing others – all for the sake of preserving (even at that hour) a prim and proper ego. A confession “without shame” implies a portrayal of our true, deplorable self. Shame is a good thing to have, prior to sin and not afterwards, and in the presence of the confessor. The shame felt during confession they say will free us from the sin during the Ultimate Judgment, given that whatever the confessor absolves will not be judged again. A “direct” confession implies that it should be clean, specific, sincere, and accompanied by the decision that the faithful will never repeat the sins he has confessed to. Furthermore, confession should be continuous, so that the “willingly recurring” passions (according to Saint John of the Ladder) are not strengthened, but rather, are cured sooner. Thus, old sins will not be entirely blotted out from memory, there will be a regular self-monitoring, self-observation, self-awareness and self-reproach; Divine Grace will not abandon; demonic entrapment will be averted much more easily, and reminiscence of Death will not seem as horrid and terrible.

Another thing that is all too frequently observed – and we admit this with deep pain and abundant love – is that sermons are not always as Orthodox as they should be; in other words, they only manage to sound like just another commentary on an unimportant news item, thus transforming the sacred pulpit into yet another television “frame” where we can air our own opinion on daily events and occurrences. The Orthodox sermon however is by nature mainly ecclesiological, Christological, salvatory, hagiological and beneficial to the soul. The sermon on repentance as delivered by the Prophets, the holy Baptist, the Saviour Christ and all the Saints remains forever opportune and a necessity. A basic prerequisite for partaking in the holy sacraments and for an upward spiritual course is a purity of heart; a purity that is rid of miscellaneous sins; the spirit of avarice and blissfulness inspired by today’s hyper-consumerist society; the spirit of God-despised pride in a world of narcissism, individualism, non-humility, non-philanthropy, arrogance and the bizarre; the demonic spirit of mischievous thoughts, fantasies and imaginations and unclean and obscure suspicions and envy.

Purity of heart has become a rare ornament – in brotherly and conjugal relations, in obligations towards colleagues, in friendships, in conversations, in thoughts, in desires, in pastoral callings. The so-called Mass Media have lapsed and become mere sources of contamination. Forgotten are neptic awareness. ascetic sobriety, traditional frugality, simplicity and gallantry. This has led to a polluting of the soul’s rationalizing ability, an arousal of its desirous aspect towards avarice, while its willpower has become severely blunted, thus drawing a weakened person towards evil, without any impediments or limitations.

Nowadays prevail self-justification, excuses for our passions, beautification of sin, and its reinforcement through modern psychological supports. The admission of mistakes is regarded as belittlement, weakness and generally improper. The constant justification of our self, and the meticulous transferal of responsibilities elsewhere have created a human being that is confused, divided, disturbed, worn-out, miserable and self-absorbed, taunted by the devil, and captured in his dark meshes.

There is a prevalence of foolish rationalism nowadays, which observes evangelical virtues and Conciliar canons according to its liking, preference and convenience, on important issues such as fasting, abstinence, childbearing, morality, modesty, honesty and precision.

In view of all the above – none of which I believe has been exaggerated – it is our belief that the opus of a confessor is not an easy one. Ordinary coercion to repent and the cultivating of humility are nowadays inadequate; the fold requires catechesis, re-evangelizing, spiritual training, as well as a spiritual about-face, in order to acquire powerful antibodies. Resistance, reaction and the confronting of the powerful current of de-sanctification, of secularization, of demoting heroism, of eudemonism and of amassing wealth are imperative. The young generation is in need of special attention, instruction and love, given that their upbringing has not proven to be of any help in their becoming aware of the meaning and the purpose of life, or of the void and the indecorousness, the lawlessness and the darkness of sin.

Another serious problem – even for our Christians – is the often over-zealous quest for a labour-less, toil-free and grief-free life. We are in search of Cyreneans to carry our crosses. We refuse to lift up our own personal cross. We have no idea of the depth and breadth of our own cross. We bow in reverence before the Cross in church, we cross ourselves, but we do not embrace our personal cross. In the long run, we would like a non-crucified Christianity. But there cannot be an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday.

We honour martyrs and saints, but we ourselves do not want to suffer any hardships, any postponements, any difficulties. Fasting is too difficult a task to accomplish; we feel resentful during an illness; we cannot tolerate any harsh words, not even when we are to blame, therefore how could we possibly tolerate injustice, slander, persecution and exile, the way our saints did? It is an indisputable fact that the contemporary, secular spirit of convenience, leisure and excessive consumerism has greatly affected the measure of spiritual living. Generally speaking, we demand a non-ascetic Christianity… Orthodoxy however has the ascetic Gospel as its basis.

One other serious problem of our time is man’s morbid and undue reliance on logic, intellect, knowledge, and personal judgment – we are referring to the over-fed and ultimately tiring rationalization. Neptic Orthodox theology teaches us to consider our Nous a tool, and to lower it, into the Heart. Our Church does not cultivate and produce intellectuals. To us, rationalization is not a philosophical mentality, but a clearly sin-oriented life view – a form of atheism – since it goes contrary to the commandment of placing our faith, hope, love and trust in God. A rationalist judges everything using the filter of his own mind and only with his finite mind, with himself and his sovereign ego as the epicentre, and does not place any trust in divine Providence, divine Grace and divine Assistance in his life. By often regarding himself as infallible, a rationalist does not allow God to intervene in his life and therefore judge him. That way, he is convinced that he is not in need of confession. Saint Simeon the New Theologian says however that, for one to believe he has not fallen into any sins is the greatest of falls and fallacies, and the greatest sin of all. Certain newer theologians speak of “missing the target” and not of “sinning”, in their desire to blunt the natural protesting of one’s conscience. The self-sufficiency displayed by certain churchgoers and fasting Christians can at times be hiding a latent pharisaic stance, i.e., that “they are not like the others” and therefore are not in need of confession.

According to the holy fathers of our Church, the greatest of evils is Pride; it is the mother of all passions, according to Saint John of the Ladder. It is the mother of many offspring, the first ones being vainglory and self-vindication. Pride is a form of denial of God; it is an invention of wicked demons, the result of too much flattery and praise, which in turn results in a debilitation and exhaustion of man, God-despised censure, anger, rage, hypocrisy, the lack of compassion, misanthropy, and blasphemy. Pride is a passion that is formidable, difficult, powerful and hard to cure. Pride is also strong in many ways, and with many faces. It manifests itself as vainglory, boastfulness, conceit, arrogance, presumptuousness, swell-headedness, insolence, self-importance, megalomania, ambition, self-love, vanity, avarice, flesh-loving, a love for leadership, accusations and arguments. Also as smugness, favouritism, insolence, disrespect, outspokenness, insensitivity, contradiction, obstinacy, disobedience, sarcasm, stubbornness, disregard, indignity, perfectionism and hypersensitivity. Finally, pride can lead to impenitence.

The tongue often becomes the instrument of pride, through unchecked, long-winded, useless talking; gossiping, silliness; vain , insincere, indiscreet, two-tongued, diplomatic, pretended and mocking conversations.

Out of the seven deadly sins many other passions spring forth. Having mentioned the offspring of Pride, we then have Avarice, which gives birth to the love of money, greed, stinginess, lack of charity, hardheartedness, fraud, usury, injustice, deceitfulness, simony, bribery, gambling. Fornication manifests itself in myriads of ways, for example, envy – with its underhanded and evil spite, insatiable gluttony, anger, as well as suspect negligence and lack of care.

Special attention should also be paid to many un-Orthodox elements in family life, which we believe should be examined carefully by confessors and the persons involved. The avoidance of childbearing, the idolizing of one’s children (when regarded as the extension of the parents’ ego); overprotecting them, or constantly watching their moves and savagely oppressing them. Marriage is an arena for exercising humility, mutual leeway and mutual respect, and not the parallel journey of two egotisms despite a lifelong coupling and coexistence. The devil dances for joy whenever there is no forgiveness in human weaknesses and in everyday mistakes. Parents will help their children significantly, not with excessive courtesy outside the home, but with their peaceful, sober and loving example in the home, on a daily basis. The participation of the children together with the parents in the sacrament of confession will fortify them with divine Grace in an experiential life in Christ. When parents ask for forgiveness with sincerity, they simultaneously teach their children humility, which destroys all demonic plots. In a household where love, harmony, understanding, humility and peace bloom, there the blessings of God will be bounteous and the home becomes a castle that is impervious to the malice of the world around. The upbringing of children with the element of forgiveness creates a healthy family hearth, which will inspire them and strengthen them for their own futures.

One other huge matter that constitutes an obstacle for repentance and confession is self-vindication, which plagues many people of the Church also. Its basis is, as we mentioned earlier, demonic Pride. A classic example is the Pharisee of the Gospel parable.

The self-vindicating person has apparently positive elements, which he will over-praise and for which he would like to be honoured and praised. He is happy to be flattered and to demean and humiliate others. He has excessive self-esteem, he vindicates himself to excess and believes that God is necessarily obliged to reward him. In the long run, he is a poor wretch, who, in his wretched state makes others wretched. He is possessed by nervousness and agitation and he is demanding, thus imprisoning himself; these are tendencies that will not allow him to open the door to divine mercy, through his repentance.

An offspring of Pride is censure, which is unfortunately also a habit of many Christians, who tend to concern themselves more with others than themselves. This is a phenomenon of our time and of a society that pushes people into a continuous observation of others, and not of the self. Modern man’s myriad occupations and activities do not want him to ever remain alone to study, to contemplate, to pray, to attain self-awareness, self-critique, self-control and to be reminded of death. The so-called Mass Media are incessantly preoccupied with scandal-seeking, persistently and at length, with human passions, with sins, with others’ misdemeanors. These kinds of things provoke, impress, and, even if they do not scandalize, they nevertheless burden the soul and the mind with filth and ugliness and they actually reassure us, by making us believe that “we are better” than those advertised. Thus, a person becomes accustomed to the mediocrity, the tepidity and the transience of superficial day-to-day life, never comparing himself to saints and heroes. This is how censure prevails in our time – by giving man the impression that he is justly imposing a kind of cleansing, by mud-slinging at others, albeit contaminating himself by generating malice, hatred, hostility, resentfulness, envy and frigidity. Saint Maximus the Confessor in fact states that the one who constantly scrutinizes other’s sins, or judges his brothers based on a suspicion only, has not even begun to repent, nor has he begun any research into discovering his own sins.

Many and various things can be said; but in the end, only one thing is opportune, significant and outstanding: our salvation, which we do not attend to forever. Salvation is not attained, except only through sincere repentance and clean confession. Repentance not only opens the celestial Paradise, but also the terrestrial one, with the foretasting -albeit partial- of the ineffable joy of the endless reign of the heavens and of wonderful peace, in the present time. Those who uphold the practice of confession can be the truly and genuinely happy people; pacifist and peace-bearing; heralds of repentance, of resurrection, of transformation, freedom, grace, and with the blessing of God in their souls and their lives. “God’s bounteous Grace turns the wolf into a lamb,” says Saint John Chrysostom. No sin can surpass God’s love. There is not one sinner who cannot become a saint, if he desires to. It has been proven, by the innumerable names that are recorded in the Book of Saints.

The confessor listens to confessions and absolves those confessing, under his blessed stole. He cannot however confess himself and place the stole over his own head to obtain forgiveness in the same manner. He must necessarily kneel underneath another stole to confess and be absolved. That is the way the spiritual law functions; that is the way God’s Wisdom and Mercy have ordained. We cannot confess others, but not submit ourselves to confession; to not practice what we preach; to talk about repentance, but not to repent; to talk about confession, but not confess ourselves regularly. None of us can dethrone himself, and none can absolve himself. The unadvised, the disobedient, the unconfessed are a serious problem for the Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, the confessor’s stole can be a miraculous scalpel for the removal of malignant tumors; it can raise the dead, renew and transform the indecorous world, and bring joy to earth and heaven. Our Church has entrusted this grand ministry, this sacred service, to our priests and not to the angels, so that we might be able to approach them with ease and without fear, as fellow-sufferers and corporeal counterparts.

All the above have been deposited with sincerity and not at all pretentiously, by a co-sinner, who did not aspire to play the teacher, but a co-struggling, co-student, together with you. It was merely his desire to remind you with simple and inartistic words the Tradition of our holy mother, the Church, on the ever-opportune matter of divinely-spun and divinely-blessed Repentance and the divinely-delivered and God-favoured, blessed sacrament of Confession.

Our Father in Christ, Archbishop Dmitri

August 28, 2012 is the one year anniversary of the repose of this man who was so dear to so many. He was formative in my life both as an Orthodox Christian and as a priest. This is the commemorative article I wrote for the 2012 Tikhonaire about Vladyka Dmitri. It can be found also HERE.

“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15)

After many fruitful years of ministry in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Eminence Dmitri, Archbishop of Dallas and the South, reposed in the Lord on August 28, 2011. The founding Bishop of the Diocese of the South, Vladyka Dmitri worked tirelessly to share the fullness of the Christian faith with the people of his “native lands.” The Synod of the OCA gathered in Dallas, at St Seraphim Cathedral, which he had founded, for his funeral services from August 29 – September 1 of last year.

Vladyka was born Robert Royster on November 2, 1923. He grew up Teague, Texas, raised by faithful Baptist parents. His Eminence often credited his mother for providing a solid Christian foundation for he and his sister, and a particular focus on Christ – a focus that was to be his central tenant as a pastor. It has often been said that he preached only one homily – “who is Christ?” He also made it a conscious point to mention Christ in practically every conversation, calling constantly to mind the Founder and Author of our Faith.

Vladyka and his sister converted to Orthodoxy in their late teens, in 1941 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas. Their conversion was blessed by his mother, since he could honestly say that the center of the Church is Christ. He was drafted into the Army in 1943, and was trained to work with linguistics, in particular, Japanese. He even worked as a Japanese translator on the staff of General Douglas MacArthur’s Pacific campaign theatre during World War II.

After his military service, Vladyka Dmitri went to university. He received a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of North Texas in Denton, and a Master’s Degree in Spanish in 1949 from Southern Methodist University. He also completed two years of post-graduate studies at Tulane University in New Orleans. After that he returned to his home in Dallas.

In 1954, as a subdeacon with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Eminence petition for a blessing to found an English-language parish in Dallas. He was ordained deacon and priest later that year, and assigned to the newly created St. Seraphim Orthodox Church. In 1958, St. Seraphim parish was received into the OCA (Metropolia at the time). As priest at the new English-language parish, Fr. Dmitri also worked with the Spanish speaking populations around Dallas, translating the services into Spanish and preaching the Gospel. He also worked tirelessly to spread the faith among his “hometown” Texans, looking for every opportunity to share with them the fullness of the faith of Jesus Christ, once and for all delivered to the Saints. Vladyka also taught Spanish at SMU during this time, to guarantee a stable income and to ensure he could continue his work with the Church.

During this time in Dallas, Fr Dmitri found time to help his sister operate her own restaurant, and he published many articles on Orthodox faith and life in St Seraphim’s weekly bulletins. Orthodox works in English were rare in those days, and the new priest did what he could to address it. He was a gifted preacher and teacher, able to relate to many people on many different levels of life. The parish of St Seraphim grew steadily, by the grace of God and the struggles of His Eminence.

In 1966 and 1967, Fr Dmitri attended St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and in 1969 he was elected to the episcopate and consecrated (on June 22, 1969) as the Bishop of Berkley, assistant to Archbishop John [Shahovskoy] of San Francisco. It was virtually unheard of for a convert to be consecrated bishop in the Americas, so Vladyka’s election was a sort of milestone in the history of the OCA. In 1970, he was reassigned as Bishop of Washington and Auxiliary to His Beatitude, Metropolitan Ireney. He would later recall the helpful training he received as an Auxiliary under both Archbishop John and Metropolitan Ireney, especially his many hours of instruction in Church Slavonic.

On October 19, 1971, Bishop Dmitri was elected Bishop of Hartford and New England, and when parishes in Mexico were received into the OCA in 1972, he also became the Exarch of Mexico (given his knowledge of Spanish, and fondness for Mexican culture). In 1977, at the 5th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America in Montreal, Bishop Dmitri received a majority of popular votes in the election for a new Metropolitan. The Holy Synod of Bishops chose to consecrate as Metropolitan then Bishop Theodosius of Pittsburg instead, feeling that the time was not yet right to have a convert as the Metropolitan of the OCA.

In 1978, the Synod of Bishops took the important step of creating the Diocese of Dallas and the South. The Diocese was essentially comprised of all of the states not yet within another Diocese – it stretched from New Mexico to Florida, and as far north as North Carolina. Bishop Dmitri became its first ruling hierarch, taking Saint Seraphim Church as his Episcopal See. Archpriest George Gladky was named chancellor, and his parish of Christ the Saviour in Miami became a second Cathedral for the expansive new Diocese. Fr. George and Vladyka Dmitri travelled constantly around the new Diocese, planting new missions and encouraging the faithful in their Christian lives. Vladyka had always had a strong constitution, and how he had a chance to use it – crisscrossing the Diocese (from Dallas to Miami) at least 6 times each year by car, in addition to all of the other trips he made to various communities under his care.

The people of the Diocese of the South took to the preaching of the Gospel, and parishes began popping up everywhere. When the Diocese was founded, there were about 6 parishes and missions – by the time of Vladyka’s repose that number had grown to nearly 70. Pastors were encouraged to a very simple life of loving their people and preaching Christ. There was no secret recipe for the success of the Diocese of the South; Christ was preached, and the people came. Many people fondly remember the times they spent with Vladyka – full of joy, full of life, full of love – his very presence changed the room. People listened to him, they followed his suggestions, not because he was the Bishop and therefore in charge, rather, people followed him because he was a true shepherd to them. He fed his flock, and in return, the flock loved him.

From the creation of the Diocese of the South in 1978, Vladyka was elevated to the rank of Archbishop in 1993, and he even served as Locum Tenens of the OCA for the few months between the retirement of Metropolitan Herman and the election of Metropolitan Jonah. But as he put little stock in titles or positions, and never sought out such things for himself, these are the few things to mention of his “career” as a hierarch. He cared for the things of Christ, and not for the trappings of the world. After many years of tireless work for the Gospel in his Diocese, Vladyka requested, and was granted, retirement in March 2009.

He spent his few years of retirement peacefully, filling his time with writing commentaries on the Scriptures, prayer, services, and receiving guests as his strength allowed. The people of his cathedral, and his Diocese, loved him, and many came to help him as his strength was waning. When it was announced that his earthly life had come to its end, the people of the Diocese of the South (and others as well) mourned the loss of their father. By his love and his example he had given birth to the Diocese, he was our father in Christ, and now his intercessions for us continue in the Kingdom without end.

How can we sum up the life and ministry of such a great man of God? His guiding light in all things was Christ – if Vladyka were to have us remember one thing, that would be it. He measured his steps and his decisions by Christ, and called on us all to do the same. He was a strong and capable pastor, loving and truly concerned about his flock, and always holding up Christ as the ultimate goal in all things.

May his memory be eternal!

Author Matthew Jackson

Genuine and false experiences of the Grace of God

Recorded speech of Abbot, Archimandrite George of our Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory of the Holy Mountain at Stratoni of Halkidiki, on 14/27 January 1989, at the invitation of the Most Reverend Nicodemus, Metropolitan of Hierissou, of the Holy Mountain and Ardameri

Source: Magazine, “Saint Gregory” of the Holy Monastery of Saint Gregory, of the Holy Mountain. Found online at: http://www.impantokratoros.gr/2D843221.en.aspx [with slight language and punctuation corrections made by me]

I am very pleased seeing at this evening’s meeting, a holy and blessed gathering, the honourable presbytery led by the preacher of the Holy Metropolis, but also yourselves, a pious crowd, who through the blessing and invitation of your Most Reverend Metropolitan and Head Shepherd, you are gathered here this evening so that all of us confess our true faith to our God-Man Lord. Your presence this evening is not only the attendance for a lecture but also the testimony of the Orthodox faith, which my humility will profess by mouth while you profess it with your presence. And as the Lord said in the Holy Bible: “Whoever confesses Me in front of men, I shall confess him in front of My Father in Heaven.”

The purpose of our life, as you know, is our union with God. As the Holy Bible says, man was created “in His image and likeness,” namely to unite with Him. The likeness of man with God, our holy Fathers call it “theosis.” Can you see how great is the purpose of man’s life? Not simply to become better, more virtuous, more courteous by God, by grace. And what is the difference between Holy God and the deified man? That our Maker and Creator is God by nature according to His nature, while we become gods by grace, for although by nature we remain men, with His grace we are deified.

When man unites with God by grace, he receives also the experience of God, feels God. For otherwise how could we unite with God without feeling His grace?

The first ones created in Paradise, before they sinned, could converse with God, could feel the divine grace. God created man to be priest, prophet, and king. Priest to accept His existence and the world as gifts of God, and to offer in return himself and the world to God eucharisticly and doxologically. Prophet to understand the mysteries of God. King to reign in the material creation and in himself. To use nature not as a tyrant, but as a ruler. Not to abuse creation but to use thankfully. Today man does not use nature logically but acts self-centredly and foolishly, with the result of destroying his natural surrounding and within it destroying himself.

If man had not sinned and replaced his love and obedience to God with his selfishness, he would not have separated from God; he would have been king, priest and prophet. However, Holy God who hurts for His creature, wishes to return man back to the state where he again can become true priest, prophet and king. To be able to again receive the experience of God and to unite with Him. For this, in the history of the Old Testament we see God preparing slowly the salvation of man with the coming of His Only Son. He thus gives graces like those that man had before his fall, like the grace of prophesy. In the Old Testament there were men, like prophet Elijah, prophet Essiah, prophet Moses, who received the prophetic grace and saw the glory of God. Except this grace was not generally given to all, nor was it for the full period of their lives, but was partial grace that God gave them for a specific purpose and for defined occasions. Namely, whenever God wished these just men to declare the coming of Christ to the world or to declare His Will, they were given the capacity to receive some experiences and revelations.

However, prophet Joel prophesied that a time will come when God will give the grace of the Holy Spirit not only to select men and for a specific purpose, but to all the people. Here is what the prophesy of Joel says: “…I shall pour My Spirit upon all flesh”, I shall give My Spirit to every person, “and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). Namely, my people will see spiritual visions, will see the mysteries of God. This pouring of the Holy Spirit happened during Pentecost. Then, the grace of the Holy Spirit was given to the whole Church. This grace was not given during the period of the Old Testament because Christ was not yet incarnate. The communion of man with God had to first be restored, for God to give the grace of the Holy Spirit to all the people. This communion our Saviour Christ achieved through His incarnation.

The first union that God had with man in Paradise was not hypostatic and for this it failed. The second union is hypostatic, namely, personal. In the hypostatic face of Christ, human nature was united undisturbed, properly, indivisibly, inseparably, with the divine nature for ever. No matter how much men sin, it is no more possible for human nature to separate from God, because in Jesus Christ, the God-man, it is united for ever with the divine nature.

For man, therefore, to be able to receive the Holy Spirit, to become priest, king and prophet, to know the mysteries of God and to feel God, he must become member of the Body of Christ, of the Church. Jesus Christ is the only one, true and perfect priest, king and prophet. What Adam and Eve were created to do, failed due to sin and selfishness, was done by Christ. Now all of us, united with Christ, can partake in the three offices of Christ: the royal, the prophetic and the priesthood. At this juncture we must clarify that with the holy baptism and Chrismation, the Christian receives the priesthood but not the special priesthood that is obtained through tonsuring and through which the liturgists of the Church receive the grace to perform in the Church and to shepherd the laity.

Laity, again, is not only the non-priestly but those who through holy baptism and Chrismation receive the right to be members of the people of God and the Body of Christ, to participate in the three offices of Christ. In fact the more healthy, conscious, and active member of the people of God and of the Body of Christ is the Christian, that much more closely he participates in the hierarchal, prophetic and royal right of Christ, and that much greater experience and feeling of His grace he receives as we see in the lives of the Saints of our Faith.

Forms of experience of the grace of God

What are the experiences of grace that a Christian can receive so that his faith and Christian life not be for him something mental and external, but true spiritual feeling of God, a communion with God, a habitation of God in which the complete man participates?

It is foremost an internal information that through faith in God he finds the true meaning of his life. He feels that his faith in Christ is a faith that comforts him internally, that gives meaning to his life, and guides him, that it is a strong light that illumines him. When he perceives the Christian faith within himself this way, he begins to live the grace of God. God is not something external to him.

Another experience of the grace of God man receives when he hears in his heart the invitation of God to repent for his dark and sinful deeds, to return to the Christian life, to confess, to enter on the road of God. This voice of God he hears inside him is an early experience of the grace of God. All those years he lived away from God he could not understand anything.

He starts to repent: he confesses to the Confessor for the first time in his life. After confession he feels a great peace and joy that he never felt before. And then he says: “I have been comforted”. This comfort is the visit of the divine grace in a soul that has repented and God wishes to comfort it.

The tears of a repenting Christian when he prays and asks to be forgiven by God or when he confesses are tears of repentance. Those tears are very comforting. They bring lots of peace to the soul of man. Then man feels that these are the gift and experience of divine grace.

The deeper man repents and comes to a greater love of God and prays with godly eros, that much those tears of repentance become tears of joy, tears of love and divine eros. Those tears that are higher than the tears of repentance, are also a higher visitation and experience of the grace of God.

We approach to commune the Body and Blood of Christ having repented, confessed, with fasting and spiritual preparation. After the Holy Communion what do we feel? Deep peace in our soul, spiritual joy. This too is a visitation of Divine grace and experience of God.

There are however other higher experiences of God. The higher experience of God is the vision of the Uncreated Light. This Light the disciples of the Lord saw on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw Christ shine like the sun with heavenly and divine light, which is not material, created light, like the sun and the other created lights. It was the Uncreated Light, namely the Light of God, the Light of the Holy Trinity. Those who are completely cleansed from their passions and sin, and pray with true and clean prayer, they are found worthy of this great experience to see the Light of God in this life. This Light is what would be shining in the eternal life. Not only to see it from now but they are also seen from now in this Light. For this Light envelops the Saints. We do not see it, but the clean of heart and saints see it. The bright crown that is painted around the faces of the Saints is the Light of the Holy Trinity that has illumined and sanctified them.

In the life of the Great Basil we read that Great Basil, when he was praying in his cell, they could see him shine wholly as well as his cell was illumined by the uncreated Light. We see the same in the lives of many saints.

So therefore for someone to be found worthy to see the uncreated Light is one of the highest experience of God, which is not given to every one but to very few, those who have progressed in spiritual life. According to Abba Isaac in every generation almost one man manages to see lucidly the uncreated Light. There are however even to day Christians who are worthy to have this unique experience of God.

Of course we should also say that everyone that sees the light does not mean that he sees the uncreated Light. The devil deceives and shows them other lights, demonic or psychological, to believe that it is the uncreated Light, when it is not. For this every Christian that hears something or has a certain experience, must not accept it as if from God, because he could be deceived by the devil. He must however confess it to his Confessor who will then tell him whether it is from God or if it is a deceit of demons. A lot of caution is needed in such cases.

Determination of a pure experience of the grace of God

Let us now look at the conditions which ensure whether different experiences we have are genuine and not false.

The first condition is that we should be men of repentance. If we do not repent of our sins and cleanse ourselves of our passions we cannot see God. As the Lord says in His beatitudes, “Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God.” The more man cleanses himself from his passions, repents and returns to God, that much better he could feel and see God.

To attempt to receive experiences of God with artificial ways and methods as is done in the heresies of Hinduism, in Yoga, is false. Those experiences are not from God. Those are experiences that are derived from psychological ways.

The Holy Fathers tell us: “Give blood and receive spirit”. In other words, if you do not give the blood of your heart with your repentance, prayer, fasting, asceticism, you cannot receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. True spiritual experiences are given to those who through humility do not ask for spiritual experiences but ask God for repentance and salvation. To those who are humble and say, “My God, I am not worthy to receive a visitation of your grace and divine and heavenly solace and spiritual pleasures.” To those, however, who through pride ask God to give them experiences, He will not give them true and genuine experiences due to their pride. So, therefore, the second condition is humility.

The third condition to receive true spiritual experience is to be in the Church, not outside the Church. For outside the Church the devil will deceive us. When a sheep becomes separated from the flock, it will be destroyed by the wolf. Within the flock there is security. The Christian inside the Church is secure. However, when he leaves the Church, he is exposed to his deceits, of other people and of demons. We have many examples of many people who did not obey the Church and in their Spiritual state they fell into deceits. And they believed that they see God or that they are visited by God when in reality the experiences they had were demonic and destructive to them. Also it helps greatly to have a pure and warm prayer. The truth is that at the time of prayer God gives most of the spiritual experiences to man, for this, those who pray with longing, zeal and patience, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and feeling of the grace of God.

As you may know, there is a prayer we say at the Holy Mountain and which you may also be saying: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me the sinner.” This prayer, which is characterized as noetic, heartfelt and unremitting when it is said with humility, with longing and persistence, brings in the heart of man the feeling of the grace of God.

False experiences of the grace of God

People have false experiences of God when they believe that by themselves, with their own powers, in heresies, in groups, in religious gatherings, outside the Church, they can receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. They gather and some new “prophet” acts the leader and they believe they are receiving the grace of God.

It happened that I was present at a gathering of Pentecostals in the States in 1966 while I was there. Their “church” was a hall of a school. First, someone started to play some music with soft and gentle sounds which as it went on it was becoming progressively more intensive, deafening and frantic so that it caused excitement. The music finished and the preacher started. He too started gently and as he continued he would scream louder. At the end he too created an excited atmosphere. And then when all the people suffered from auto suggestion and hysteria, they started to scream and move their hands and give out unintelligible shouts. I felt that the Spirit of God was not there, which is a Spirit of peace and not of disturbance and excitement. The Spirit of God does not come with artificial and psychological ways. Instead I felt sorry for the children that were there with their parents for they could suffer the consequences of this mass neurosis.

A young man who became a monk at the Holy Mountain and who first went through the Hindu yoga (you should know that there are approximately 500 Hindu heresies in Greece) described to me what experiences they try to have there. When they wished to see light they would rub their eyes so that they could see little stars. When they again wished to hear unusual sounds they performed some sort of pressuring of the ears so that they would create sounds.

Similar psychological experiences that are produced artificially, some heretics attribute them to the Holy Spirit.

Other experiences in heretic gatherings are not only psychological. They could be demonic. The devil manipulates the seeking of such experiences by some people and presents them different signs which are not of God but theirs, diabolical. They cannot understand that they are victims of the devil.

They believe these signs are heavenly and from the Holy Spirit. The devil also can give them some prophetic capability as he gives to the “mediums.” The Lord has, however, fore-warned us, “There will rise false christs and false prophets and will give you great signs and wonders, insomuch that if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt 24:24). They won’t simply do miracles and wonders, scary signs. Like the Antichrist when he will come he will not do bad things. He would do benefactions, healing of the sick and other impressive things to deceive the people, if possible even the elect, to believe him as saviour and follow him.

That is why we must be careful. Every one who can do signs and prophesies is not always from God. Again as the Lord says: “Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in Your name? And in Your name cast out devils? And in Your name done many wonderful works? And then will I say unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me you that work iniquity” (Matt 7:22-23).

I knew a young man who was led astray by occult and Pentecostal heresies who confessed that the different experiences they had when they were members of these heresies, were diabolical.

A previous Pentecostal man for example confessed that at the Pentecostal gatherings when some “prophetess” would prophesy he felt a demonic disturbance and that when he tried to say the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me the sinner”, the speaking in tongues would start and drown him, impeding him from saying the prayer.

Because the devil transforms to an angel of light, we must be careful with experiences. The Apostle John advises us “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). Not all the spirits are from God. Those who have the Apostle’s Paul gift of discernment of spirits (1 Cor. 12:10) can discern the spirits, if they are from God or if from the devil. The Confessors of the Church have this gift. That is why when we have such problems we must seek our Confessor and he will determine the source of every experience.

Even the monastics can be deceived. We have cases at the Holy Mountain where monks were deceived by such experiences. For example, an angel appeared to a monk – while it was the devil- and told him “Come to the peak of Athos to show you great miracles”. He guided him there and he almost fell over a cliff, had he not invoked the divine help. He made the mistake to believe the vision as if of God when he shouldn’t have. The monastics know when they have a vision they must tell it to their Elder and he will tell them if it is from God or from the demons. Where there is pride, therefore, deceit is very possible.

About Pentecostals
[*Pentecostal groups have missionary efforts among the already Christian Greeks, and they also emphasize “experiences” of God – this is why the Abbot chooses to speak about them in this talk]

The experiences of the Pentecostals are not from God. For this, not only they are not helped to come to Church but instead they are driven away from the Church. For only the devil is interested in driving people out of the Church.

Also their divisions in many heresies and groups is proof they do not comprise the true Church of God. Protestantism consists of thousands of heresies. One of the protestant heresies is Pentecostalism. Only in the USA there are over 39 different Pentecostals. Many of the Pentecostal heresies have no relationship between them. Here are some titles of some of the Pentecostal groups: “Congregation of the Church of God of the Mountain”, “Integrated Congregation of the Church of God”, “Theater Gar”, “Sleepless Mission”, “Church of Mother Horn”, “Church of Mother Robertson”, “Jesus and Sleepless Mission”, “Remainder of the Church of God”, “Fire born Church of God’s sanctity of America”, “Church of Mogara Cook”, “National Spiritual Davidic Union Temple Church of God”, “Church of the Square Bible”.

If the Spirit of God existed in these groups, there would have been a union, there would have been one Church and not so many different and opposing groups.

Also, some of the demonstrations that take place at their gatherings, such as trembling, dropping to the ground as if dead, screaming unrecognizable sounds, are not from the peaceful Spirit of God. Similar phenomena we find in idolatric religions. There are also many similarities with the spiritualist phenomena.

They also cultivate a spirit of pride believing that the whole Church of two thousand years is deceived, while they discovered the truth in 1900. The first one who created the group of Pentecostals is an American. The first Pentecostal in Greece, Michael Gounas, preached, “After so many centuries in the land of Greece the outset of the visitation of God happened like the day of the Pentecost”. According to him, the visit of Christ started in Greece by him like in the day of the Pentecost! All these years there was nothing. Do you see the satanic egoism and pride?

What happens now with the sought after gift by them of “speaking in tongues?” In truth, in the New Testament there is reference to “speaking in tongues”. The holy Apostles on the day of the Pentecost spoke the tongues of the people who had come for pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to teach them the Good News. The gift of the speaking in tongues is a grace given by God to the Apostles for a specific purpose: To proselytize the non-Christians to the Christian faith. The holy Apostles, when speaking in tongues, did not speak meaningless sounds like demoniacs. They spoke tongues, not any tongues, but the tongues of those who were in Jerusalem and could not speak the Jewish language, so that they could hear of the greatness of God and believe. So the meaningless cries have no relation to the gift of “speaking in tongues” which the Pentecostals maintain.

The Orthodox Church is the place of the genuine experience of the Grace of God

The Church of Pentecost is our Orthodox Church. And why is she? Because she is the Church of the incarnation and humanism of Christ, of His crucifixional death, His Resurrection and of the Pentecost. When from the complete work of Christ we isolate only one part, we over emphasize it and falsely explain it, this becomes one-sided and a heresy. Only the Church that accepts and lives the whole work of Christ, including Pentecost, is the true Church of Pentecost. Can there be Resurrection without a Cross? Unless man crucifies himself with fasting, prayer, repentance, humility, asceticism, could he see God? The Cross precedes in the life of Christ and of the Christian, and the Resurrection and Pentecost follows. While they want Resurrection and spiritual gifts, without crossing themselves through repentance, asceticism, fast and obedience to the Church. That is why they do not comprise the Church of the Pentecost.

At every Divine Liturgy of our Church we have Pentecost. How does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ? Don’t they become through the descent of the Holy Spirit? There is Pentecost! Every Holy Altar of the Orthodox Church is the Altar of Pentecost. At every baptism we have Pentecost. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, man becomes a Christian and becomes one with the Body of Christ. Every tonsuring of a Deacon, priest and of course a hierarch is a new Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descends and makes a man an operative of God.

Every confession of a Christian is again Pentecost. The moment the Christian kneels to his Confessor and with humility tells him his sins with repentance and the Confessor reads him the blessing of forgiveness, he is forgiven by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

At every gathering and at every mystery of the Church it is a continuation of Pentecost, because they are performed in the presence of the Holy Spirit. For this almost all activities, the prayers and the mysteries of the Church begin with a prayer: “Heavenly King, the Paraklete (Comforter), the Spirit of truth…… come and dwell in us……” We ask the Paraklete to come, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. And He comes. Wherever the Orthodox Church meets, the true Church of Christ, there also is the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Every Saint of our Church is a spirit-bearing man, full of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, a man of Pentecost.

The Sunday prayer requests: “Thy Kingdom come” meaning: “May the grace of Thy Holy Spirit come”. The kingdom of God is a grace of the Holy Spirit. So with the “Our Father”, we seek the Holy Spirit.

The prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner,” this too is done through the grace of the Holy Spirit. For as the Apostle Paul says: “no on can say Lord Jesus, if not from the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). No one can invoke Jesus Christ but only through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, only the holy water of the Orthodox remains unspoiled. Those who have holy water at your home, you know that no matter how old it is, it never spoils.

This is our faith, the true and Orthodox one.

To depart from this faith and follow some American recent “saviours” who believe that the Church starts with them? Just imagine what demonic conceit they have! The Church exists for two thousand years and they say that from them, the Pentecostals and other heretics begins the true faith.

When in the 14th century the western monk Varlaam fought the Orthodox teaching on the divine energies and the uncreated Light, as they lived it at the Holy Mountain, God brought forth the agiorite [of the Holy Mountain] hieromonk Gregory Palamas a great theologian and teacher of the Orthodox Faith. As now, if the Pentecostal heresy did not exist we would not have gathered here. We would not have made our faith more profound. We would not have confessed our faith. Thus in the end it goes against the heresies and the devil what they set out to achieve against the Church. The Apostle Paul says: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be manifest among you” (1Cor 11:19). There must also exist heresies for the faith to appear in the persevering ones. Now that our holy Church is attacked by atheism, carnal pleasures, the heresies through the radio, television, newspapers and other means, this is the time that the faithful and true Orthodox Christians and fighters and witnesses of the Orthodox faith will appear.

In these very critical times, any Orthodox Christian who keeps his Orthodox faith in Christ, will receive great blessing and great reward from Holy God. And this because in this evil and corrupt time he was not led astray by the contemporary idolatry, and the false gods, he did not bent a knee to them but remained steadfast and immovable in our Orthodox Faith.

We wish therefore that no Greek Orthodox become a traitor, a Judas and apostate of our holy Orthodox faith. May all those that were led astray by the evil one due to their ignorance, into deceits and heresies be illumined by God and return to our holy Orthodox faith that they may have the hope of salvation.

We may all be sinners but when we are within our holy Orthodox Church we have the hope of salvation. On the contrary even if we were “righteous” outside the Church we have no hope of salvation. All of us who are within the Church, we shall repent, we shall confess, we shall be forgiven and God shall have mercy on us. Outside the Church who will save us? What Holy Spirit will forgive our sins and which Church will intercede after our death for our souls? Therefore, any Orthodox who dies Orthodox should know he/she has a hope of salvation. However, anyone who departs from the Church, even if he believes he has done good works, has no hope of salvation.

For this, our brothers, let us remain in our Orthodox Church faithful and immovable with a holy stubbornness to our end so that we may all have, with the grace of God and the blessing of the Theotokos hope for our salvation.

No Idolatry (St. Maximos the Confessor)

“Since the soul is more noble than the body and God incomparably more noble than the world created by Him, he who values the body more than the soul and the world created by God more than the Creator Himself is simply a worshipper of idols.“ -St. Maximos the Confessor

This is such a beautiful quote, but can very easily be misunderstood. Take note that St. Maximos says nothing about the body being bad, or the world that God made being bad. When God created the world, He said, “It is good.” He then proceeds to make man in His own image and likeness, obviously creating another which is good. The phrases St. Maximos uses here, especially ‘body’ and ‘world,’ must be properly understood in order to take away from this quote the real point that the saint is trying to make.

When he says that “the soul is more noble than the body,” he is referring to the fact that we are fallen, we are sinners. The Church and the Scriptures clearly teach us that man’s soul can be entirely healed in this world, but the body, which is made of clay, will only be completely restored in the Resurrection at the last day. This is not a sort of heretical dualism (thinking that spiritual things are important the the body is an evil burden on the soul). In fact, we often sing in our hymns to the saints that they cared more for the soul because it is immortal. Our soul naturally longs for God – this is why so many people feel an emptiness in their lives, regardless of material success. I’ve heard it said that our lives have within them a “God-shaped hole,” a space that only God can fill and complete. After the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, our bodies, which are material, no longer primarily long for God, but they long for things that make them happy in the moment. So, as St. Maximos says near the end of the quote, we have a real choice – using his language we would say that we can choose the things of the soul, which means to choose the will and the way of God, or we can choose the way of the body, which is following our own will, which ultimately leads us to estrangement from God and death.

St. Maximos saying that “God [is] incomparably more noble than the world created by Him” seems obvious. But again, a misreading of this phrase could lead one to thinking that the world is evil. Primarily, when we read of ‘the world’ in the New Testament or in the writings of the Fathers, they are referring not to the creation, but to the fallen ways of the world. When Christ says “the world hates Me,” He speaks not of the creation but rather of the ways of fallen man. The things that fallen man wants are the exact opposite of what God has called us to, and therefore the world is hostile to the will of God. God is greater in infinite degrees than anything we can attain on our own in this world. Nothing compares to Him in any way. So our choice is clear – to choose to seek out the things that this world says are important (wants, desires, fads, popularity, power, money, possessions, etc), or we can choose to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”

Idolatry – putting something in the place of God; putting something above God in our lives. So the point of St. Maximos is important, beautiful, and one that we all need to keep in mind. It’s very easy to get caught up with what we want in this world, or what we want to keep ourselves ‘happy,’ and in doing this we can easily forget God. What does this actually look like? When our only measure of success is our own desires. When every decision is based on what do I want. When the measure of how we live is determined by what is popular or fashionable and not on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we allow our view on issues of right and wrong to be swayed by what our friends, neighbors, and “media personalities” think on the issues. One great measure of the place God hold in our lives is in our checkbook – do we tithe and help the poor, or does all our money go for conveniences and desires.

God’s purpose in His creation of man is love. God loves us, and He wants to share Himself and everything He is and everything He has with us. We could get no more! God wants to share everything with us! This is far more than we can attain by our own selfish pursuits. Our choice is plain – idolatry (putting our own will over God) or proper orientation and worship of the One True God. It’s really not much of a choice, is it?

Author Matthew Jackson