26 December 2007

have I finally learned?

Today I was on my way to volunteer at church when I suddenly had the urge for a plain soy steamer. I thought twice about stopping to get one since it is the fast and it is a good time to practice NOT giving into every urge for excess...but I decided to go ahead and get one. It's been a while, I told myself. So I stopped at the drive-thru Starbucks and got into the middle of a long-ish line that was going to make me late to relieve the lady before me at church. Already I felt bad about it. Then I ordered and was told that it'd be $2.70 for a tall soy steamed milk, no flavor. That's almost $3 for 12 oz of plain soy milk! I would've questioned it, but the guy had already double checked the price. From the moment I ordered it until after drinking the last drop, I was bummed I actually paid for it. My 12 oz was more than enough to buy a whole box of soy milk at any store--what a profit margin! I don't know why it hit me today; it's not like it's the first time (!) I've been to Starbucks and that's what I usually order. I like the convenience and something about buying the drink makes it taste better...but man, what a waste of money! I won't say that I won't go there any more, but I will think twice and then once more before I hand over the cash!

24 December 2007

Christmas memories

Here I sit at my computer on the 24th of December. I just came back from exercising in our very empty little gym, and now my husband is taking his turn while our darling girl sleeps. Earlier we realized that we were almost completely out of food so we made a run to the local Sunflower Market, only to find that we had less than 30 minutes to do our shopping since they were closing early today...oh yeah, it's the 24th. I kind of felt guilty for bringing a loaded cart to the check out. The poor lady was obviously anxious to get out of there and get on with Christmas. On our drive home I imagined the people in the many churches we passed singing Christmas carols with candles in their hands...

I always liked Christmas eve. It was a quiet, gentle build up to bright Christmas day. Our usual custom, and my favorite, was to attend a church service in the evening. The church for this special night was not always our usual church; we'd often find a different one that was offering some kind of special Christmas eve service, particularly one with more music than talking (at least that's what I preferred). Once or twice (or more?) we did mix it up a bit. I remember one year we went to the foothills to look at a frozen Seven Falls (waterfall) lit up with green and red lights.

Once we got home from our outing, we'd make sure to turn down the house lights and plug in the tree lights. Then mom and dad would give us each one gift to open before bed...new matching pajamas. That was a fun idea because new pajamas are always nice and then we'd all match in the morning for pictures :) After that we were supposed to head to bed. When I was quite a bit younger, I loved to lay next to the lit tree after everyone else was in bed. Sometimes I'd think, sometimes I'd just rest, and sometimes I'd softly sing Christmas carols. Christmas was always an enchanting holiday for me.

In the morning my parents almost always managed to be awake before my brother and myself...although, I can remember a time or two when they had not yet hung the stockings. "Go back downstairs or something! Don't come up until we call you!" Usually though, we'd come up to very full stockings, hot egg nog or cider, a plate of fruit and something special like pastries. Mom would start the instrumental Christmas music, and we (younger brother and myself) would wait a few minutes for the older siblings to get up, namely our sister :) Did I mention that this was at 5 or 6 in the morning? I don't have to tell you, I'm sure, that if she didn't hop to it, we'd hop onto her!

The rest of the morning was stockings then the present exchange. Our tree was always loaded with presents. Lots and lots of presents! We'd each draw a name for one big present and then give a little something to everyone else (we all scaled back as we got older), but "Santa" and mom and dad would give us each several great presents. Eventually we'd all get dressed and then, in the earlier years, we'd go visit Grandpa and Grandma at their house. (Am I remembering this right?) One thing that sticks out to me is that after the explosion of presents, the rest of the day looked a bit boring and I always wished that the mall was open so that I could go redeem my gift certificates.

As for Santa, I cannot remember having any sort of belief in him. I think the reason is that my parents never really enforced the idea, although some presents were from "Santa" (in dad's distinctive hand-writing) and the stockings were supposed to be full when we got up. I can remember going to the malls and asking how would it be possible for Santa to be in different malls all over town and look different himself in each place. My parents assured me that these guys weren't the real Santa, just fill-ins. Later on in elementary school the kids were debating about some video one girl's parents caught of the real Santa Clause in their house. I knew it was a big piece of bologne...mostly. When I asked my parents to clarify, they finally made it clear to me that he in fact did not exist and that I didn't have to second-guess myself any longer. Whew!

The most important, and most fun, tradition, though, was being together as a family. Sitting together for a significant amount of time, reconnecting, laughing a lot, and generally enjoying one another. As we got older there were fewer (b/c more expensive!) presents, but the charm was still there because we were all together.

Then we hit a hard year where 3 of the 4 kids were out of the house and our parents divorced. It was a lot of change and a lot of emotion. That year we managed to have a Christmas that resembled what we had shared all those years, but it was not the same. From what I can remember that was the last one of its kind. Particularly due to the dramatic break in our family, the other traditions crumbled in my mind and I lost almost all interest in Christmas.
I am going to go off on a 'bunny trail' for a moment. What I've just realized as I've been writing is that in my mind I keep thinking "Christmas is about being together as a family." When the core family element wasn't there, Christmas lost all its meaning and purpose for me. I have felt: now that I have my own little family, I have a chance to begin anew and perhaps Christmas will again find a special place. This is an interesting self-discovery, if I do say so myself, because Christmas is NOT about family. It is not even about traditions. It is about the Nativity of Christ, the Son of God born to die in order to defeat death by death. Family and community of any kind is always very important, and it is particularly special to celebrate together. However, no matter who is (or is not) around, my heart should be focused on the anticipation of the Christ child. I should 'despise' anything else that distracts me from Him and the amazing act of Christ's incarnation.
All in all, the happy memories of childhood Christmases will always be with me, and I am grateful to even have had any! Each year I look forward to seeing my family, whether mostly all together or here and there, and I am happy for the special times my daughter will share (Lord willing) with her cousins during the happy festivities.

Now I am Orthodox, a new person emotionally and spiritually, and I see with a completely new set of eyes (now I have 3!--lol). I am learning a completely new approach to, well, everything! including holidays. I prepare for them in a different way, celebrate on a different day and in a different way. Family is still very important. Tradition is still very important. I will be pleased if there are similarities in what we do in the future to what I remember from my childhood. But the most important thing is that everything together points to God's work in the incarnation, the cross and resurrection and brings glory and praises of thanksgiving to God.

As for the Feast of the Nativity in particular, I am excited to establish family traditions that will help my daughter understand and experience the profundity, beauty and simplicity of the feast. If I try to see things through her eyes in this way, maybe I'll have a chance at grasping the true meaning of Christ's nativity.

23 December 2007

St Nikolai Velimirovic of Zicha

21 December 2007

Icons Will Save the World

Icons Will Save the World by Susan Cushman

Standing before the icon of Christ in the front of St. John Orthodox Church, I prepare to offer my confession at the Sacrament of Forgiveness. The Holy image of the One Who Forgives comes forth to meet me, as the father comes forth to welcome home the prodigal son in the familiar gospel passage (Luke 15:11–32). The love of Jesus pours forth from his prototype (the icon), sees the offering of my broken heart, and raises it to the heavenly realm.

This is a very beautiful, well-written article on icons. Please, please read it.

I'm sorry I haven't been original in a while. I will write something myself soon, I promise. But please read this article and tell me your thoughts/reactions.

Thanks to Fr Stephen for pointing to this article on his blog.

18 December 2007

St Nicholas, pray to God for us!

Commemorated on December 6 (Dec 19, old style)

Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia is famed as a great saint pleasing unto God. He was born in the city of Patara in the region of Lycia (on the south coast of the Asia Minor peninsula), and was the only son of pious parents Theophanes and Nonna, who had vowed to dedicate him to God.

As the fruit of the prayer of his childless parents, the infant Nicholas from the very day of his birth revealed to people the light of his future glory as a wonderworker. His mother, Nonna, after giving birth was immediately healed from illness. The newborn infant, while still in the baptismal font, stood on his feet three hours, without support from anyone, thereby honoring the Most Holy Trinity. St Nicholas from his infancy began a life of fasting, and on Wednesdays and Fridays he would not accept milk from his mother until after his parents had finished their evening prayers.

From his childhood Nicholas thrived on the study of Divine Scripture; by day he would not leave church, and by night he prayed and read books, making himself a worthy dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Bishop Nicholas of Patara rejoiced at the spiritual success and deep piety of his nephew. He ordained him a reader, and then elevated Nicholas to the priesthood, making him his assistant and entrusting him to instruct the flock.

In serving the Lord the youth was fervent of spirit, and in his proficiency with questions of faith he was like an Elder, who aroused the wonder and deep respect of believers. Constantly at work and vivacious, in unceasing prayer, the priest Nicholas displayed great kind-heartedness towards the flock, and towards the afflicted who came to him for help, and he distributed all his inheritance to the poor.

There was a certain formerly rich inhabitant of Patara, whom St Nicholas saved from great sin. The man had three grown daughters, and in desparation he planned to sell their bodies so they would have money for food. The saint, learning of the man's poverty and of his wicked intention, secretly visited him one night and threw a sack of gold through the window. With the money the man arranged an honorable marriage for his daughter. St Nicholas also provided gold for the other daughters, thereby saving the family from falling into spiritual destruction. In bestowing charity, St Nicholas always strove to do this secretly and to conceal his good deeds.

The Bishop of Patara decided to go on pilgrimage to the holy places at Jerusalem, and entrusted the guidance of his flock to St Nicholas, who fulfilled this obedience carefully and with love. When the bishop returned, Nicholas asked his blessing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Along the way the saint predicted a storm would arise and threaten the ship. St Nicholas saw the devil get on the ship, intending to sink it and kill all the passengers. At the entreaty of the despairing pilgrims, he calmed the waves of the sea by his prayers. Through his prayer a certain sailor of the ship, who had fallen from the mast and was mortally injured was also restored to health.

When he reached the ancient city of Jerusalem and came to Golgotha, St Nicholas gave thanks to the Savior. He went to all the holy places, worshiping at each one. One night on Mount Sion, the closed doors of the church opened by themselves for the great pilgrim. Going round the holy places connected with the earthly service of the Son of God, St Nicholas decided to withdraw into the desert, but he was stopped by a divine voice urging him to return to his native country. He returned to Lycia, and yearning for a life of quietude, the saint entered into the brotherhood of a monastery named Holy Sion, which had been founded by his uncle. But the Lord again indicated another path for him, "Nicholas, this is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for Me. Return to the world, and glorify My Name there." So he left Patara and went to Myra in Lycia.

Upon the death of Archbishop John, Nicholas was chosen as Bishop of Myra after one of the bishops of the Council said that a new archbishop should be revealed by God, not chosen by men. One of the elder bishops had a vision of a radiant Man, Who told him that the one who came to the church that night and was first to enter should be made archbishop. He would be named Nicholas. The bishop went to the church at night to await Nicholas. The saint, always the first to arrive at church, was stopped by the bishop. "What is your name, child?" he asked. God's chosen one replied, "My name is Nicholas, Master, and I am your servant."

After his consecration as archbishop, St Nicholas remained a great ascetic, appearing to his flock as an image of gentleness, kindness and love for people. This was particularly precious for the Lycian Church during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian (284-305). Bishop Nicholas, locked up in prison together with other Christians for refusing to worship idols, sustained them and exhorted them to endure the fetters, punishment and torture. The Lord preserved him unharmed. Upon the accession of St Constantine (May 21) as emperor, St Nicholas was restored to his flock, which joyfully received their guide and intercessor.

Despite his great gentleness of spirit and purity of heart, St Nicholas was a zealous and ardent warrior of the Church of Christ. Fighting evil spirits, the saint made the rounds of the pagan temples and shrines in the city of Myra and its surroundings, shattering the idols and turning the temples to dust.

In the year 325 St Nicholas was a participant in the First Ecumenical Council. This Council proclaimed the Nicean Symbol of Faith, and he stood up against the heretic Arius with the likes of Sts Sylvester the Bishop of Rome (January 2), Alexander of Alexandria (May 29), Spyridon of Trimythontos (December 12) and other Fathers of the Council.

St Nicholas, fired with zeal for the Lord, assailed the heretic Arius with his words, and also struck him upon the face. For this reason, he was deprived of the emblems of his episcopal rank and placed under guard. But several of the holy Fathers had the same vision, seeing the Lord Himself and the Mother of God returning to him the Gospel and omophorion. The Fathers of the Council agreed that the audacity of the saint was pleasing to God, and restored the saint to the office of bishop.

Having returned to his own diocese, the saint brought it peace and blessings, sowing the word of Truth, uprooting heresy, nourishing his flock with sound doctrine, and also providing food for their bodies.

He worked many miracles, and struggled many long years at his labor. Through the prayers of the saint, the city of Myra was rescued from a terrible famine. He appeared to a certain Italian merchant and left him three gold pieces as a pledge of payment. He requested him to sail to Myra and deliver grain there. More than once, the saint saved those drowning in the sea, and provided release from captivity and imprisonment.

Having reached old age, St Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord. His venerable relics were preserved incorrupt in the local cathedral church and flowed with curative myrrh, from which many received healing. In the year 1087, his relics were transferred to the Italian city of Bari, where they rest even now (See May 9).

St Nicholas is also commemorated on May 9 (The transfer of his relics) and on July 29 (his nativity).

(taken from the OCA site)

12 December 2007

the face of Santa

I had a laugh with this one over on the Orthodixie blog. Funny and true :)

07 December 2007

Interview with Father Jonah

A while back I heard a great interview on Our Life in Christ with Father Jonah, abbot of the Monastery of St. John of San Fransisco in which Father Jonah spoke about the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." I still find myself contemplating all that he said. So much was made (more) clear to me.

One thing I specifically found enlightening was when he clarified that in this prayer we are asking more than for clemency--we are asking for God to re-affirm his activity and presence in the world and in me, a sinner. Another way to say it is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, anoint me, a sinner, with your Presence." Here we humbly call upon Christ's self-offering of love.

Also, one of the most important things to realize, he mentioned, is that the purest prayer is free of images, concepts, sounds, emotions...anything that comes from our imagination. "Orthodoxy is stone-cold sober." He said that our emotions actually are not the same thing as our heart. Deep in our heart is the perception of God and it is here where noetic prayer dwells. Our emotions, on the other hand, are products of our rational consciousness which is where data processing and perception of our senses occurs.

But since we often equate our emotions with our heart, and since most of us are tainted with delusional ego-centrism, we tend to mistake thoughts, images and emotions for the will of God. This really struck me...it explains why the emotional praise songs, pentecostal-type gatherings, 'God literally spoke to me' bits feel more and more unreal or just off to me. The next thing he said I have quoted before: "Thoughts are a self-constructed reality that we function within; we mistake our thoughts for reality." This goes even deeper and into my every day life. "Return to the humility of God." In other words, return to humility. A humble heart can see things for what they are, can love purely, and can pray without an agenda.

This review is sorely lacking the depth and breadth of all Father Jonah offered in the interview. You can listen to it in the archives at ourlifeinchrist.com. Look for April 2007, Father Jonah, and The Jesus Prayer and the Healing of the Human Person.

04 December 2007

Some call him a dreamer...

Actually lots of people do, from what I've read. A lot of those same people like him but consider his chances low, and therefore he is dreaming if he thinks he has a chance. Honestly, this perspective is very troubling to me. If people don't vote for who they like and instead vote for who they think will win (aka, those with the money to sway media)...what kind of democracy are we living in (Patriot Act aside)? We have some even darker days ahead in this nation if this is how we continue to vote.

Please watch some of Kucinich's responses at the democratic debate on 11/15/07. It gives a slight overview of his stance on different issues.

30 November 2007

take another look at Putin

Kucinich hopes America will take a new direction

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Kucinich hopes America will take a new direction
New Hampshire Union Leader Staff

MANCHESTER – The United States' role in the world is the key question facing Americans as they prepare to vote for the next President, says Democratic presidential contender Dennis Kucinich.

"The new model for the paradigm is cooperation, not aggression," the Ohio congressman said. "I want to start calling America home over a period of time in cooperation with other nations."

Although he declined to say what overseas bases he would close first, Kucinich, 61, said the closure plan would be done in consultation with military leaders and discussions with the countries where the bases are located.

With technology today, he said, there is no reason to have military bases in far-flung corners of the world. "I want to see America take a different role," he said.

He would like to see the U.S. work with Russian president Vladimir Putin to dismantle nuclear arsenals and to help the Russians destroy their chemical and other weapons instead of encouraging revolts by the countries along Russia's southern border.

"America works best when it works from (a platform) of moral credibility," Kucinich said. "When we act like 'do as I say, not as I do,' we undermine our credibility."

He said he would not be a pushover with other countries. "I'm a street kid out of Cleveland, but I don't mistake strength as just having weapons," he said.

Kucinich, who is making his second run for the Democratic presidential nomination, has consistently opposed the Iraq War and has made that opposition the centerpiece of his campaign, whose theme is "strength through peace."

In meeting with editors at the New Hampshire Union Leader this week, Kucinich, who is serving his sixth term in the U.S. House, emphasized his proposal for universal health care with a single-payer system. He says his plan is "Medicare for everyone."

"Health care I see as a basic right, not as a privilege based on ability to pay," he said. The costs of premiums, co-pays and deductibles have put health care out of reach for millions of Americans, not just the uninsured, he said.

The country currently pays $2.3 trillion for health care and that should be enough to provide health care to all Americans, just as other industrialized countries do for their citizens, Kucinich said.

He wants to eliminate the profits and administrative costs insurance companies add to the health cost picture. He said administrative costs should be in line with Medicare, 3 percent.

Kucinich also wants to be able to negotiate with the drug companies to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals, which the Veterans Administration does not, but he notes negotiations were forbidden under the Medicare Part D subscription drug program.

"I want to revitalized American industry and if we can't change health then it can't be done," Kucinich said.

People are more receptive to his message about universal health care this time, he said, because people are in "real financial trouble." He said New Hampshire and its grass roots tradition is the place for him to make his case.

All the other Democratic candidates for President are capitulating to the insurance industry, he said. He admitted his proposal would never make it through the current Congress and said that is why he would take his plan directly to the American people.

He said he is truly the only Democratic presidential candidate not indebted to the special interests. "There is a real choice (among candidates) if voters decide health care is essential in their lives," Kucinich said.

Asked if government should also guarantee citizens food, clothes, shelter and a job, Kucinich said no one should starve today in this country. He said government should ensure there is full employment, which is not the case now.

"Government has the responsibility of being the employer of last resort, particularly when the private sector keeps cutting jobs," Kucinich said. Government can make sure the mechanisms are there, he said.

But he noted, "Government can't do everything in society, I understand that. ... I don't look at government as Big Daddy, and I certainly don't want government to be Big Brother, either."

Kucinich garnered attention for introducing an impeachment resolution against Vice President Dick Cheney. Recently he said he will expand another resolution to include the impeachment of President Bush.

He maintains the administration has lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq and has trampled on the constitutional rights and civil liberties of the American people.

22 November 2007

church and state: marriage etc

Over turkey and wine tonight the men had a discussion about same-sex marriage and legislation on ethical issues. I really don't want to try to recreate the conversation here, but in the course of the discussion it was said that one cannot legislate morality (or something to that effect)--we cannot build the kingdom of God through government, which I completely agree with. I later made a remark concerning whether it is harmful/wrong from a Christian perspective for society to recognize homosexual unions/marriages; I said that many Orthodox believe that since marriage outside of the Church is not recognized by God anyway, perhaps it is not such a big issue. I have been thinking about what I said and feel a bit uncomfortable with it. I definitely delved into a more controversial waters, so I decided to find some official statements from the Orthodox Church about it (this means a long post with lots of quotes...but they're pretty good, I think!) I am still learning a lot and don't want to make false or misleading statements.

So the first thing I found was this article on the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad's (ROCOR) stance on same-sex marriage, in which they clearly define marriage.

On Same Sex Unions (Epistle of the ROCOR W. Diocese 2004):

Holy Matrimony consists of the union of two persons into one, through the union of their souls and bodies, through mutual submission and obedience, and, most importantly, through the action of God's grace. It is a holy mystery, a sacrament, an avenue of the Grace of God given to us not for the indulgence of our passions, but for the working out of our salvation. For this reason, it cannot be merely a social or civil contract entered into by two persons. Marriage is the God-ordained union of a man and a woman, for the purpose of creating a home, a "little Church," in which the couple, and the children which are their progeny (being the product of the physical affection for one another), are able to work out their salvation. Marriage is a sacrament that is not created by the husband and wife out of their love for one another, or by their pledge of loyalty and mutual submission to one another; marriage is a mystery bestowed by God through the action of the Church upon those who are made one thereby. The estate of marriage cannot be established by human action alone: it must be bestowed by God alone. Nor can this (or any) grace be bestowed by the state, for it is the gift of God given within the confines of, and subject to the discipline of, the Holy Mother Church. Although the state chooses to recognize this union as beneficial to the stability of society, and so bestows certain benefits under law through licensure of this action, marriage is not now, nor has it ever been, an action of the state. The sacrament of Marriage is a divine action subject only to the grace and will of God, which is expressed in the unbroken and pure tradition of the Orthodox Church.

...The decision by a state to extend the provisions of law covering civil marriage to include same-sex unions is irrelevant in God's eyes. Within the Church, the mystery of Holy Matrimony is not a right; it is a calling, intended by God for a specific purpose, and not merely the fulfilling of earthly lusts, or the comfort of a life shared together.

...We affirm that the sacrament of marriage is only obtained from God and within the confines of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We affirm that this marriage is limited to the union of one man and one woman and that the conception, bearing and rearing of children is a normal and desired part of the marital union. We affirm that any other "marital" relationship, even though it may bear the sanction of the state or the society at large, cannot be considered marriage and that it is sinful and creates a barrier between God and man and frustrates the purpose of man to enter into union with God.

I also found a fantastic reference guide for the Russian Orthodox Church's role within society and her interactions with the government. This is taken from the section "Personal, Family and Public Morality" where I found a little more on marriage. In particular, I had in mind the idea of the marriage needing to be within (the blessing) of the Church. This is where I show my nerdy side. Hang in there.

Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church

In the period of the Christianization of the Roman Empire, marriage continued to be validated by civil registration. Consecrating matrimonial unions by prayer and blessing, the Church still recognized a common-law marriage as valid in cases where the church marriage was impossible and did not subject the spouses thus married to canonical prohibitions. Today the Russian Orthodox Church upholds the same practice. In doing so, she cannot approve and bless the matrimonial unions which, while being concluded in accordance with the existing law, violate the canonical prescriptions, such as a fourth and subsequent marriages, marriages in the inadmissible degrees of blood or spiritual affinity.

In accordance with ancient canonical prescriptions, today, too, the Church does not sanctify marriages contracted between the Orthodox and non-Christians, while recognizing them as lawful and not regarding those who live in such a marriage as living in sinful co-habitation. Proceeding from considerations of pastoral oikonomia, the Russian Orthodox Church has deemed it possible, both in the past and present, to celebrate marriages between Orthodox Christians and Catholics, members of the Oriental Churches and Protestants who confess the faith in the Triune God, provided the marriage is blessed in the Orthodox Church and the children are raised in the Orthodox faith. Most of the Orthodox Churches have followed the same practice for the past centuries.

From the same source I found the following quote to be helpful as I try to solidify the Church's stance in situations such as the legalization of same-sex unions or marriages in our secular society. Of course the Orthodox strongly believe that homosexuality is not natural to human nature and, to say the least, should not be encouraged. But what is the Church's role?

The religio-ideological neutrality of the state does not contradict the Christian idea of the Church's calling in society. The Church, however, should point out to the state that it is inadmissible to propagate such convictions or actions which may result in total control over a person's life, convictions and relations with other people, as well as erosion in personal, family or public morality, insult of religious feelings, damage to the cultural and spiritual identity of the people and threats to the sacred gift of life...

III. 7. The form and methods of government is conditioned in many ways by the spiritual and moral condition of society. Aware of this, the Church accepts the people's choice or does not resist it at least.

...Any change in the form of government to that more religiously rooted, introduced without spiritualising society itself, will inevitably degenerate into falsehood and hypocrisy and make this form weak and valueless in the eyes of the people. However, one cannot altogether exclude the possibility of such a spiritual revival of society as to make natural a religiously higher form of government. But under slavery one should follow St. Paul advice: «if thou mayest be free, use it rather» (1 Cor. 7:21). At the same time, the Church should give more attention not to the system of the outer organization of state, but to the inner condition of her members' hearts. Therefore, the Church does not believe it possible for her to become an initiator of any change in the form of government. Along the same line, the 1994 Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church stressed the soundness of the attitude whereby «the Church does not give preference to any social system or any of the existing political doctrines».

It seems to me that the Church's role, as one in the world but not of it, is to act as society's conscience. My conscience speaks to me regularly; sometimes I listen and avoid moral catastrophe, but I also often ignore my conscience and suffer the consequences (spiritual if nothing else). The more I listen, the more a holy attitude develops...and that leads to me accepting more and more of the Holy Spirit's proddings which leads to an even holier life. And then the opposite also happens, and I walk myself toward perdition--my conscience (Holy Spirit) never strong-arms me and MAKES me listen and obey. As for the same-sex marriage issue, now I think that the Church would never just say "Ach, not in the Church so it doesn't matter!"(in fact, the above article is just the opposite). If for no one else, engaging in homosexual lifestyle is destructive for the two souls involved, and God wishes all to be healed and made whole. For the Church to remain aloof and silent would imply consent, or worse, a lack of love. I do understand that it is a complicated matter on some fronts which is why some Christians are supportive of "unions" (not necessarily "marriage")--like in matters of the person's will (the document) and so forth. My assumption until I ask my priest more details is that the Church will not officially support any such measures.

Now, if you are interested, here are a couple more quotes that I found interesting even though I don't have anything in particular to say about them at the moment:

IV. 2. The law is called to manifest the one divine law of the universe in social and political realms. At the same time, any legal system developed by the human community, being as it is a fruit of historical development, carries a seal of limitation and imperfection. Law is a special realm, different from the related ethical realm, as it does not qualify the inner conditions of the human heart, since God alone is its Reader.

Yet it is human behaviour and actions that is the subject of the legal regulation, which is the essence of legislation. The law also provides for coercive measures for making people obey it. The legislative sanctions to restore the trampled law and order make law a reliable clamp of society unless, as it has often happened in history, the whole system of the enforced law capsizes. However, as no human community can exist without law, a new legislative system always emerges in place of the destroyed law and order.

The law contains a certain minimum of moral standards compulsory for all members of society. The secular law has as its task not to turn the world lying in evil into the Kingdom of God, but to prevent it from turning into hell. The fundamental principle of law is: «do not do to others what you would not want to be done to yourself». If a person has committed a sinful action against another, the damage inflicted on the integrity of the divine law and order can be made up by the suffering of the offender or pardon whereby the moral consequences of a sinful action is assumed by the person (ruler, spiritual father, community, etc.) who issues pardon. Suffering heals the soul affected by sin, while the voluntary suffering of the innocent for the sins of a criminal represents the highest form of redemption the ultimate of which is the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Who took upon Himself the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).

Thanks for reading. Happy Thanksgiving!

16 November 2007

my life is pretty darn good

My husband and I periodically talk about how things on earth will progressively get worse, especially for those trying to live out the true Christian faith, as time marches on toward the Christ's return and the Final Judgment. And with members of my husband's (living) family having had experienced Stalin's Siberian work camps, the reality of tragedy and hardship is not as far off as it once seemed. A tragic turn in life isn't that unlikely. One can never be prepared for those times, but I also don't want to be completely surprised when/if my life doesn't turn out as dandy as I expected. For some reason I have been particularly aware of that lately. It is such a gift because I am beginning to find more joy in living and more thankfulness.

Today I was sitting on the grass under a beautiful blue sky, watching my daughter quietly and very attentively pile the fallen leaves first between her little legs, then to the side, only to be flattened and scattered as she crawled over it. I suddenly felt completely content with the moment and with my life in general. Glory to God! So many people in the world have never experienced such a nice moment, and likely never will. In no way do I deserve a nice, comfortable life...it is not a basic human right, and one cannot earn it from being good or spiritual or smart. For some reason, so far, God has granted me and my family a beautiful, easy life. I certainly am glad for that! But these days I am also trying to keep in mind that it can all change in a second, and that makes me more thankful for what I have now.

When/If things change and I experience a tragedy or major difficulty, I hope that I will keep in mind that I deserve nothing and will be thankful in everything. Probably one of the most important things I have learned from Orthodoxy is that everything in life happens at God's command/allowance and that the whole purpose of life is to move into unity with Him, which is to become holy, which is ultimately salvation. He structures my life to lead me on the "easiest" path (for me) to salvation. To God it doesn't particularly matter if I am rich or poor, sick or healthy, die tragically or gently. All that matters is that in the end He can say to me, "I know you, and you know Me". As I wrote in a previous post: I am thankful for my very comfortable life, but I need to learn to hold in my heart the understanding that it would be better for Him to take everything away than for me to perish with my earthly treasure. Absolutely everything that happens to me is salvific and chance to develop new virtues.

All to say, I am so thankful to God for my wonderful life, and I can only hope to learn real trust in God and develop an attitude of thankfulness and humility in all situations.

Glory to God for all things. His mercy endures forever!

31 October 2007

Christ's descent into Hades

Ok, bear with me people. I have a lot I want to share, but not exactly sure how I'm going to put it. Forgive me if I am all over the place with it.

This is the first I have learned about the Orthodox (and Western, for that matter) beliefs on what it meant when Christ conquered hell--more precisely it is the first I have thought about it as an actual event rather than a concept.

This is taken from a lecture of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev entitled Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent of Christ into Hades in Eastern and Western Theological Traditions

In his ‘Festive Letters’, Cyril of Alexandria elaborates on the theme of the preaching of Christ in Hades...

Cyril emphasizes the universality of the salvation given by Christ to humanity, perceiving the descent of Christ into Hades as salvific for the entire human race. He is not inclined to limit salvation to a particular part of humanity, such as the Old Testament righteous. Salvation is likened to rain sent by God on both the just and the unjust[23]....The descent of Christ into Hades, according to Cyril’s teaching, signified victory over that which previously appeared unconquerable and ensured the salvation of all humanity:

Death unwilling to be defeated is defeated; corruption is transformed; unconquerable passion is destroyed. While hell, diseased with excessive insatiability and never satisfied with the dead, is taught, even if against its will, that which it could not learn previously. For it not only ceases to claim those who are still to fall [in the future], but also lets free those already captured, being subjected to splendid devastation by the power of our Saviour... Having preached to the spirits in hell, once disobedient, He came out as conqueror by resurrecting His temple like a beginning of our hope and by showing to [our] nature the manner of the raising from the dead, and giving us along with it other blessings as well[25].

In John Damascene we find lines which sum up the development of the theme of the descent of Christ into Hades in Eastern patristic writings of the 2nd¾8th centuries:

The soul [of Christ] when it is deified descended into Hades, in order that, just as the Sun of Righteousness rose for those upon the earth, so likewise He might bring light[28] to those who sit under the earth in darkness and the shadow of death: in order that just as he brought the message of peace to those upon the earth, and of release to the prisoners, and of sight to the blind[29], and became to those who believed the Author of everlasting salvation and to those who did not believe, a denunciation of their unbelief, so He might become the same to those in Hades: That every knee should bow to Him, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth[30]. And thus after He had freed those who has been bound for ages, straightway He rose again from the dead, showing us the way of resurrection[31].

According to John Damascene, Christ preached to all those who were in hell, but His preaching did not prove salutary for all, as not all were capable of responding to it. For some it could become only ‘a denunciation of their disbelief’, not the cause of salvation. In this judgement, Damascene actually repeats the teaching on salvation articulated not long before him by Maximus the Confessor. According to Maximus, human history will be accomplished when all without exception will unite with God and God will become ‘all in all’[32]. For some, however, this unity will mean eternal bliss, while for others it will become the source of suffering and torment, as each will be united with God ‘according to the quality of his disposition’ towards God[33]. In other words, all will be united with God, but each will have his own, subjective, feeling of this unity, according to the measure of the closeness to God he has achieved. Along a similar line, John Damascene understands also the teaching on the descent to Hades: Christ opens the way to paradise to all and calls all to salvation, but the response to Christ’s call may lie in either consent to follow Him or voluntary rejection of salvation. Ultimately it depends on a person, on his free choice. God does not save anybody by force, but calls everybody to salvation: ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him’[34]. God knocks at the door of the human heart rather than breaks into it.

A couple days after reading the above, I listened to Matthew Gallatin's The Sacraments. My mind was still mulling over the above text, and in the middle of the podcast I had an "Ah hah!" moment (but not as cheesy as Oprah's). In his concise, slow manner, Gallatin helped me grasp the basics of what I had just read.

He starts the podcast off with explaining that sacraments do not make us acceptable to God nor do they reconcile us to Him. Rather, it is in the sacraments that we run to God. From there he takes a moment to clarify: "We do not require reconciliation with God because He is angry with us and can have nothing to do with us until He is appeased for the sins we have committed against Him. God is not anger. God is love." Rather, reconciliation is required because we, through Adam and Eve, have plunged into death and separation from God.

God so longs to be united with us that He followed us into death by taking on our humanity. But death could not withstand His presence and it was destroyed. Now our humanity has been united with the divine. "So now we are no longer creatures who by nature die...Now we stand completely reconciled before God," says Gallatin. Furthermore, as I read in the Bishop's lecture and heard from Gallatin, God has reconciled the whole world to Himself--not just a select few or just those who have faith. We are all standing before God right now; we are either reaching out to embrace Him or we are turning our backs to Him, either in direct rejection of Him or simply because we are distracted by the world. I remember those tracts I was supposed to hand out to my middle school friends: they had a picture of a little kid standing on one cliff, the word GOD on the other cliff, and a cross spanning the abyss between them. Usually there were words or something to represent "Heaven" and "Hell" as well: "Which side do you think you're on right now?" "Where do you think you will be after death?" (I did this routine once. I was so shy and embarrassed about it, but I did it to be a good Christian. Although I knew she had no religious background whatsoever, the girl pointed to the side with God/Heaven/Happiness. "No, really, which side?" So much for that!) This is a false portrayal of where she stands before God. Although visual representations of stuff like this are usually avoided in Orthodoxy, I would put her, me and God on the same side. We both have the choice to either embrace God or turn around and walk off the cliff. We are reconciled and must now decide if we will run to Him and show love to Him, or if we will "spend endless ages trying to hide from Him" as Gallatin puts it. We have all already received Jesus' sacrificial gift, and only a few will see it for what it is, take advantage of His mercy and embrace God.

The hardest part about this is that it points out how self-destructive and prideful we are (what a combo). With death having been conquered and especially for those who have received the Holy Spirit through baptism, we can not longer blame our nature for our falling short, or as is more frequent for me anyway, outright ugliness. But how much lower can we get than to be given the gift of faith, the Holy Spirit and the sacraments and still sin!

I have heard people talk like: "Now that so-and-so has heard the Gospel and rejected it, they will be held accountable and can't claim ignorance at the the Great Judgment;" meanwhile the unbeliever's life could have more semblance of holiness than the believer's. My faith in God does not by itself make me more holy than my unbelieving sister. What separates me from her is my sacramental life: my movement with God and the direction of my gaze. When I cease to "dance" with God, as Gallatin would put it, I again look no different from the world. Thus it is the demon's job to distract me from God--to get me to turn around for only a moment. If I die in that moment, my back to God, what defense will I have? Jesus redeemed me and brought me before His Father, but like Lot's wife I looked back as if there was something I wasn't quite ready to leave behind.

God graciously grants us time in life to make our decision of where our treasure lies. He knows that we falter and have a terrible time with humility, so in His great mercy He gives us chance after chance to take two steps forward for every one step back. Here I realize more deeply the importance of continual prayer. Every time I pray (if I can call it that...I am so unworthy), I turn to God--that's one step forward. May God put a prayer of repentance on my lips at my death! Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

For a more complete, clearer picture of what I'm attempting to share, I highly, highly recommend taking the 15 mins or so to listen to Gallatin's podcast on Ancient Faith Radio (link at right). He has a way of speaking clearly and concisely and it helps me tremendously. Also the lecture by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev was very interesting for me and didn't take too terribly long to read. He talks first about the Eastern views of Christ's decent to Hades and the following additions/changes to those views adopted by the Western Church.

30 October 2007

little 'tude

My dear sweet baby girl is developing quite the attitude. Her antics last night in particular took me by surprise. It's no mystery that she doesn't like falling asleep, especially at night. No matter how early or late or how much or little we did during the day, if she doesn't manage to fall asleep nursing she will then cry hard for about 5 minutes prior to conking out. When she starts nodding off, she realizes it and starts crying to wake up (so it seems). For a little while now, we've stopped bouncing/rocking her to sleep--she's too heavy and takes too long to fall asleep that way now. We just sit or lay next to her and give her a hug when she crawls to us, but we don't pick her up. For the most part it's been working well and has helped as we cut out her 10p feeding.

Last night all seemed well until she woke up at 9:30p. Too soon to nurse, so my husband went in to help her back to sleep with our new method. She screamed bloody murder for the next 3 hours. Half-way through he moved her into our bed since it was his bedtime. The only difference was that now she was able to cry right in his ear. We tried teething tabs with no luck. I began to wonder if her tummy hurt from the little bit of milk and wheat she had the day before. I eventually nursed her and rocked her, hoping to calm her down at least a little bit; you can imagine how worked up she was by then. Well she nursed quietly and took a few quiet sighs while I rocked her, and with renewed strength began crying again. It's the first time she's been pretty much inconsolable, so I was a little worried. Finally I got up with her to try a little Russian custom my mother-in-law recommended to help her sleep: say the Lord's Prayer over a little water, wash her face in it, then wipe it off with the inside of my shirt. As soon as I got off the bed with her and walked out, she started talking, smiling, and even laughing. Upset stomach...yeah right! So the little stinker got her way because Mama is a softy. Papa knew all along, but good luck reasoning with a mom whose baby has been crying (screaming!) for 3 hours :) As soon as we reentered the room she began her scream fest again. We tried having her lay with us for a while to see if she was worn out enough to fall asleep. After a while Papa took her to her mattress (next to our bed) and let her cry there while he sat nearby. That did the trick and sooner than I expected she fell over and slept. She did wake up again soon after, but she fell back asleep more easily.

To be fair, we did get her off schedule this weekend on our mini-vacation in the mountains. It will be interesting (that's one way to put it) to see what she does the rest of the week.

Besides the bedtime issue, she is also beginning to laugh and crawl really fast toward the place she is NOT supposed to be. Often she does listen, but just as often she tests the water. What a funny girl. Parenting a growing child sure is an adventure!

22 October 2007

cash cow

Just came across this in my journal concerning the many awful, manipulative, truth-bending, money-hungry tele-evangelists: They are simply men of corrupt mind "who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain" (1 Timothy 6:5).

It drives me nuts to hear the idea that health and wealth are signs that someone is particularly holy and God-pleasing. "Sow a seed of money so God can reward you ten-fold!" Disgusting.

In the story of the rich man who approached Jesus and asked "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" it's easy to see how worldly possessions can more hinder our salvation than help.

"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

"Which ones?" the man inquired.

Jesus replied, "'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor you father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give them to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, if is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:16-24).

Every good thing comes from God (define "good"), and I should give thanks in everything. I am thankful for my very comfortable life, but I need to learn to hold in my heart the understanding that it would be better for Him to take everything away than for me to perish with my earthly treasure.

The last thing I need to get into my head is the idea to "sow" my money so that I can get a whole bunch more!

16 October 2007

Fr John Krestiankin

M.O., found this little treasure and wanted to just post it here for you to see.

12 October 2007

more thoughts on Halloween

After sharing our newly determined thoughts/beliefs concerning Halloween, we (husband and I) have received some predictable responses. I must say, though, that the gravity with which people tell us the consequences of not celebrating it surprises me a little; maybe it's one of those situations where people feel like our choice is silently accusing them...but, honestly, we're not interested in judging anyone and are only interested in the choices that affect our family. Mostly people are concerned that our daughter will be emotionally scarred if she is singled out by being the only one not allowed to participate in Halloween festivities at school and such. Kids so desperately need to fit in, and their peers can be cruel--that sure is true. Our reaction to this is that although she may suffer somewhat at the time, in the end she has two parents who love her and, Lord-willing, her needs will be met with abundance. We can't let her do things just because the rest of the school is doing it. Plus there is the option to miss school that day, and God has blessed us with a true Orthodox holiday on October 31, the feast day of St John of Kronstadt.

I never really celebrated Halloween (minus the giving candy at the door routine). At an early age I remember being taught the origin of Halloween and that it is not actually a holy day. When we were young we were not allowed to trick or treat (either for safety reasons or ethical reasons, I don't know--maybe both), and we often went to "Harvest Festivals". But I do remember the one year where my younger brother wanted to go trick or treating and my parents let him. I couldn't believe it and was staunchly opposed to the whole idea. I never changed my thinking. I remember one particular year in middle school where the whole school was supposed to dress up. The night before I was very upset and completely petrified because I knew I would be the ONLY person not in a costume and everyone would ask why. This is hard on any kid, and I was always particularly shy. I remember my parents telling me that it would be okay to wear a costume or even just stay home from school. Tearfully, I made my decision: there was no way I'd dress up and I didn't want to be a wimp and just stay home, so off to school I went to meet my fate (yes, it felt very dramatic at the time). It wasn't as horrible as I expected, but it was hard and embarrassing and I got way too much attention. If anyone didn't already know, they knew then that I was a Christian and didn't celebrate Halloween like them because I thought it was evil. Just what every 7th grader wants everyone to know. But I became a stronger person from it. I had the sense that my ethics and beliefs were more important than fitting in (I give my mom the credit there).

Do I want my baby to have to go through the same thing just because I did? Yes and no. No parent wants to see her child feel bad in any way, for any reason. Yet, to struggle/suffer for one's beliefs is the holiest of callings. As Bishop Kyrill mentions, there have been countless saints martyred for simple expressions of faith, such as refusing to remove the cross from around their neck, not to mention those killed for not celebrating pagan holidays! I do not see this as an extreme parallel. If there is anything I want her to learn, it is to despise all worldly things and love only God. I am completely unworthy and unable to teach her this, but I hope in the work of the Holy Spirit. Lord, have mercy on us sinners.

I guess that's it. No Halloween for this family! :)

16 September 2007

on Halloween

I am ever grateful to my parents for teaching me at a young age that Halloween was not a Christian holiday, and since then I have been extremely opposed to Halloween. I am relieved, honestly, that Orthodoxy takes such a strong stance against any practice that is the least bit associated with Halloween...including receiving candy in the spirit of Halloween, dressing up, carving pumpkins, etc. Here is Bishop Kyrill's homily on the subject. I encourage you to take the time to read it--it is interesting and very important.

by Bishop Kyrill of Seattle,
reprinted from "Parish Life" of the St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Washington, DC.

It is that time of the year when the secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Because most of us are either newly Orthodox or newly aware of our Orthodoxy, it is absolutely necessary that we carefully examine every aspect of our involvement in the world - it's activities, festivals, associations and societies - in order to discern whether or not these involvements are compatible or incompatible with our holy Orthodox Faith.

This is a difficult task which leads to some pain when we realize that there are popular organizations and activities in which we are unable to participate.

Though our schools, our local community organizations, and all forms of entertainment in television, radio, and the press will share in and capitalize upon the festival of Halloween, it is impossible for Orthodox Christians to participate in this event at any level. The issue involved is simple faithfulness to God and the holy Orthodox Christian Faith. Halloween has its roots in paganism and continues to be a form of idolatry in which Satan, the angel of death is worshipped. As we know, the very foundation of our holy Church is built upon the blood of martyrs who refused under the painful penalties of cruel torture and death to worship, venerate, or pay obeisance in any way to the idols who are Satan's angels. Because of the faithfulness through obedience and self-sacrifice of the holy martyrs, God poured out upon His holy Church abundant Grace and its numbers were increased daily, precisely at a time when one would have expected the threat of persecution to extinguish the flame of faith. But, contrary to the world's understanding, humble faithfulness and obedience to God are the very lifelines of our life in Christ, through Whom we are given true spiritual peace, love, and joy, and participation in the miraculous workings of His Holy Spirit. Therefore the holy Church calls us to faithfulness by our turning away from falsehood toward truth and eternal life.

With regard to our non-participation in the pagan festival of Halloween, we will be strengthened by an understanding of the spiritual danger and history of this anti-Christian feast. The feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the Celtic peoples of Great Britain, Ireland and northern France. These pagan peoples believed that physical life was born from death. Therefore, they celebrated the beginning of the "new year" in the fall (on the eve of October 31 and into the day of November 1), when, as they believed, the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. A certain deity, whom they called Samhain, was believed by the Celts to be the lord of Death, and it was he whom they honored at their New Year's festival.

There were, from an Orthodox Christian point of view, many dia bolical beliefs and practices associated with this feast which, it will be clear, have endured to our time. On the eve of the New Year's festival, the Druids who were the priests of the Celtic cult, instructed their people to extinguish all hearth fires and lights. On the evening of the festival a huge bonfire built of oak branches, which they believed to be sacred, was ignited. Upon this fire sacrifices of crops, animals, and even human beings, were burned as an offering in order to appease and cajole Samhain, the lord of Death. It was also believed that Samhain, being pleased by their faithful offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to homes for a festal visit on this day. It is from this belief that the practice of wandering about in the dark dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons grew up. For the living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead by what was, and still is, a ritual act of imitation, through costume and activity of wandering around in the dark of night, even as the souls of the dead were believed to wander.

The dialogue of "trick or treat" is also an integral part of this system of beliefs and practices. It was believed that the souls of the dead who had entered into the world of darkness, decay, and death, and therefore into total communion with and submission to Samhain the lord of Death, bore the affliction of great hunger on their festal visit. Out of this grew the practice of begging, which was a further ritual enactment and imita tion of what the Celts believed to be the activities of the souls of the dead on their festal visit. Associated with this is the still further implication that if the souls of the dead and their imitators were not appeased with "treats," i.e., offerings, then the wrath and anger of Samhain, whose angels and servants the souls and their imitators had become, would be unleashed through a system of "tricks," or curses.

From an Orthodox Christian point of view, participation in these practices at any level is impossible and idolatrous, a genuine betrayal of our God and our holy Faith. For if we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead by dressing up in their attire or by wandering about in the dark, or by begging with them, then we have willfully sought fel lowship with the dead, whose lord is not Samhain as the Celts believed but Satan, the Evil One who stands against God. Further, if we submit to the dialogue of "trick or treat," we make our offering not to innocent children, but rather to Samhain, the lord of Death whom they have come to serve as imitators of the dead, wandering in the dark of night.

There are other practices associated with Halloween which we must stay away from. As was mentioned above, on the eve of the Celtic New Year festival, Druid priests instructed their faithful to extinguish their hearth fires and lights and to gather around the fire of sacrifice to make their offerings to pay homage to the lord of Death. Because this was a sacred fire, it was from this that the fire of the new year was to be taken and the lights and hearth fire rekindled. Out of this arose the practice of the jack o'lantern (in the USA, a pumpkin; in older days other vegetables were used) which was carved in imitation of the dead and used to convey the new light and fire to the home where the lantern was left burning throughout the night. Even the use and display of the jack o'lantern involves celebration of and participation in the pagan festival of death honoring the Celtic god Samhain. Orthodox Christians must in no way share in this Celtic activity, but rather we should counter our inclinations and habits by burning candles to the Saviour and the Most Holy Mother of God and to all the holy saints.

In the ancient Celtic rite divination was also associated with this fes tival. After the fire had died out the Druids examined the remains of the sacrifices in order to foretell, as they believed was possible, the events of the coming year. Since this time the Halloween festival has been the night for participation in all kinds of sorcery, fortune telling, divination, games of chance, and in latter medieval times, Satan worship and witchcraft.

In the days of the early Celtic Church, which was strictly Orthodox, the holy Fathers attempted to counteract this pagan New Year Festival which honored the lord of Death, by establishing the Feast of All Saints on the same day (in the East, the Feast of All Saints is celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost). As was the custom of the Church, the faith ful Christians attended a Vigil Service in the evening and in the morning a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is from this that the term Halloween developed. The word Halloween has its roots in the Old English of "All Hallow's Even," i.e., the eve commemorating all those who were hallowed (sanctified), i.e., Halloween. The people who had remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian and whose paganism had become deeply intertwined with the occult, Satanism, and magic, reacted to the Church's attempt to supplant their festival by increased fervor on this evening. In the early middle ages, Halloween became the supreme and central feast of the occult, a night and day upon which acts of witch craft, demonism, sorcery, and Satanism of all kinds were practiced.

Many of these practices involved desecration and mockery of Christian practices and beliefs. Costumes of skeletons developed as a mockery of the Church's reverence for holy relics; holy things were stolen, such as crosses and the Reserved Sacrament, and used in perverse and sacrile gious ways. The practice of begging became a system of persecution designed to harass Christians who were, by their beliefs, unable to participate by making offerings to those who served the lord of Death. The Western Church's attempt to supplant this pagan festival with the Feast of All Saints failed.

The analogy of Halloween in ancient Russia was Navy Dien (old Slavonic for "the dead" was "nav") which was also called Radunitsa and celebrated in the spring. To supplant it the Eastern Church connected this feast with Pascha and appointed it to be celebrated on Tuesday of the Saint Thomas' week (the second week after Pascha). The Church also changed the name of the feast into Radonitsa, from Russian "radost" joy. Joy of Pascha and of the resurrection from the dead of all of mankind after Jesus Christ. Gradually Radonitsa yielded to Pascha its importance and became less popular in general, but many dark and pagan practices and habits of some old feasts of Russian paganism (Semik, Kupalo, Rusalia and some aspects of the Maslennitsa) survived till the beginning of our century. Now they are gone forever, but the atheist authorities used to try to revive them. We can also recall the example of another "harmless" feast - May 1, proclaimed "the international worker's day." That was a simple renaming of a very old satanic feast of Walpurgis Night (night of April 30 into the day of May 1) - the great yearly demonic Sabbath during which all the participants united in "a fellowship of Satan."

These contemporary Halloween practices have their roots in paganism, idolatry, and Satan worship. How then did something that is so obviously contradictory to the holy Orthodox Faith gain acceptance among Christian people?

The answer to this question is: spiritual apathy and listlessness, which are the spiritual roots of atheism and the turning away from God. In today's society one is continually urged to disregard the spiritual roots and origins of secular practices under the guise that the outward customs, practices and forms are cute, fun, entertaining, and harmless. Behind this attitude lies the dogma of atheism, which denies the existence of both God and Satan and can therefore conclude that these activities, despite their obvious pagan and idolatrous origin, are harmless and of no consequence.

The holy Church must stand against this because we are taught by Christ that God stands in judgment over everything we do and believe, and that our actions are either for God or against God. Therefore, the customs of Halloween are not innocent practices with no relationship to the spiritual world. But rather they are demonic practices, precisely as an examination of their origins proves.

Evil spirits do exist. The demons do exist. Christ came into the world so that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Heb. 2:12). It is imperative for us to realize as Christians that our greatest foe is the Evil One who inspires nations and individuals to sin against mankind, and who prevents them from coming to a knowledge of the truth. Unless we realize that Satan is our real enemy, we can never hope for spiritual progress for our lives. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph.6:12).

Today we witness a revival of satanistic cults; we hear of a satanic service conducted on Halloween night; everywhere Satan reaches out to ensnare as many innocent people as possible. The newsstands are filled with material on spiritualism, supernatural phenomena, seances, prophecies, and all sorts of demonically inspired works.

It is undoubtedly an act of Divine Providence that Saint John of Kronstadt, that saintly physician of souls and bodies, should have his feast day on the very day of Halloween, a day which the world dedicated to the destroyer, corrupter, and deceiver of humanity. God has provided us with this powerful counterpoise and weapon against the snares of Satan, and we should take full advantage of this gift, for truly "Wondrous is God in His saints."

11 September 2007

become a dead man

From the life of Saint Macarius of Egypt, as written in The Lives of the Saints, Vol. 5 (January):

A brother came to visit Saint Macarius and pleaded, "Abba, give me a word, that I will be saved."

The elder said, "Go to a cemetery and insult the dead."

The brother insulted the dead, threw rocks at their graves, and returned to the old man. "Did they say anything to you?" the venerable one asked.

"Nothing," replied the monk.

"Now go, praise them," enjoined the elder. The brother praised the dead as saints and apostles, then reported back to the saint. Macarius asked, "Did they respond?"

"No," answered the monk.

"You heaped contempt on them, and they said nothing; you praised them, but they remained silent," said Macarius. "If you wish to be saved, become a dead man. If, like the dead, you take no account either of the scorn of men or their acclaim, you can be saved."


Dweller of the desert and angel in the body
you were shown to be a wonder-worker, our God-bearing Father Macarius.
You received heavenly gifts through fasting, vigil, and prayer:
Healing the sick and the souls of those drawn to you by faith.
Glory to Him who gave you strength!
Glory to Him who granted you a crown!
Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!


The Lord truly placed you in the house of abstinence,
As a star enlightening the ends of the earth,
Venerable Macarius, Father of Fathers.

08 September 2007

Battle of the Ice

This month we remember and celebrate the Russian Saint Alexander Nevsky and his victories. I remember being surprised the first time I learned that the Crusaders (Western/Roman Catholic) were not only against Muslims but also against the the Eastern Orthodox Church. Actually, earlier I never even knew there was a different church (Eastern). It makes sense, though...I mean about the Crusaders. Many do not realize how deep the gulf was between the East and West, and it only continues to deepen and widen. Many hope for the unification of the Roman Catholics with the Eastern Orthodox, but there have been 10 centuries of change on one end and 10 centuries of unchanging Tradition on the other. The Eastern Orthodox church is not about to compromise her Tradition now (talking big T, not the little t's), and I'm not sure how far the Roman Catholic church would be willing to back track. Only God knows. His will be done.

Anyway, on to the battle and Alexander Nevsky (taken from Wikipedia):

The Battle of the Ice, also known as the Battle of Lake Peipus, was a battle between Novgorod and the Teutonic Knights on April 5, 1242 at Lake Peipus.

The battle was one of the most significant defeats sustained by Roman Catholic crusaders during the Northern Crusades, which were directed against pagans and Eastern Orthodox Christians rather than Muslims in the Holy Land. The crusaders' defeat in the battle effectively marked the end of significant campaigns against the Orthodox Novgorod Republic and other Russian territories in the aftermath of the conquest of Estonia.


Hoping to exploit the Russians' weakness in the wake of the Mongol and Swedish invasions, the Teutonic Knights attacked the neighboring Novgorod Republic and occupied Pskov, Izborsk, and Koporye in the autumn of 1240. When they approached Novgorod itself, the local citizens recalled to the city 20-year-old Prince Alexander Yaroslavich, whom they had banished to Pereslavl earlier that year. During the campaign of 1241, Alexander managed to retake Pskov and Koporye from the crusaders.

The battle

In the spring of 1242, the Teutonic Knights defeated a reconnaissance detachment of Novgorodians about 20 km south of the fortress of Dorpat (Tartu). Led by Prince-Bishop Hermann of Buxhoeveden of the Bishopric of Dorpat, the knights and their auxiliary troops of local Ugaunian Estonians then met with Alexander's forces by the narrow strait that connects the northern and southern parts of Lake Peipus (Lake Peipus proper with Lake Pskovskoe) on April 5, 1242. Alexander, intending to fight in a place of his own choosing, retreated in efforts to draw the often over-confident Crusaders to the frozen lake.

The crusader forces likely numbered somewhere in the area of 500 to 1000 [citation needed]. Most of them were Germans, including knights of the Teutonic Order and their squires, although there were large numbers of Danes and Swedish and Estonian mercenaries. The Russian force in contrast numbered around 5,000 soldiers: Alexander and his brother Andrew's bodyguards (druzhina), who numbered around 1,000, plus the militia of Novgorod (not at full force, because of the absence of a direct threat to Novgorod).

According to contemporary Russian chronicles, after hours of hand-to-hand fighting, Alexander ordered the left and right wings of his archers to enter the battle. The knights by this time were exhausted from the constant fighting and struggling with the slippery surface of the frozen lake. The Crusaders started to retreat in disarray deeper onto the ice, and the appearance of the fresh Russian cavalry made them run for their lives. When the knights attempted to rally themselves at the far side of the lake the thin ice started to collapse, under the weight of their heavy armour, and many knights drowned.

According to the First Novgorod Chronicle,

Prince Alexander and all the men of Novgorod drew up their forces by the lake, at Uzmen, by the Rave's Rock; and the Germans and the Estonians rode at them, driving themselves like a wedge throughout their army. And there was a great slaughter of Germans and Estonians... they fought with them during the pursuit on the ice seven versts short of the Subol [north-western] shore. And there fell a countless number of Estonians, and 400 of the Germans, and they took fifty with their hands and they took them to Novgorod.[1]

According to the Livonian Order's Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, written years later,

The [Russians] had many archers, and the battle began with their bold assault on the king's men [Danes]. The brothers' banners were soon flying in the midst of the archers, and swords were heard cutting helmets apart. Many from both sides fell dead on the grass. Then the Brothers' army was completely surrounded, for the Russians had so many troops that there were easily sixty men for every one German knight. The Brothers fought well enough, but they were nonetheless cut down. Some of those from Dorpat escaped from the battle, and it was their salvation that they fled. Twenty brothers lay dead and six were captured.[2]

The Battle of the Ice has been described as an event of major significance, especially by Russian historians. The knights' defeat at the hands of Alexander's forces prevented the crusaders from retaking Pskov, the linchpin of their eastern crusade. The Novgorodians succeeded in defending Russian territory, and the German crusaders never mounted another serious challenge eastward. After the battle Alexander was canonised as a saint in Russian Orthodox church. Later, during World War 2, the image Alexander Nevsky became the great national symbol of fighting against the Western occupation. Today, in Russia, there exists an "Order of Holy Alexander Nevsky", a medal given for outstanding bravery and excellent sevice to the homeland.

Sergei Eisenstein's historical drama film Alexander Nevsky features the Battle of the Ice. The film has elements of propaganda and makes changes to the historical background, however, and should not be viewed as being accurate.

31 August 2007

brain pollution

Tonight for the first time in a while, I was surfing radio channels looking for a fun song to blast while I was alone in the car (no little ears to nurture). All I got was a weird RHCP remix of 'Rollercoaster of Love', then cheesy 'Born in the USA' and unfortunately I even heard a bit of some sappy church song sung in bad soprano. To top if off I caught the tail-end of a commercial--all I heard was "Better sex is just a discreet phone call away..." ?!? Our culture is going down the crapper, no denying it after that ad.

This reminds me of my last tv experience. We don't have our tv plugged in (though we're still forced to pay for cable!), so I am totally out of the loop as far as shows go. But a while back I went to the gym (like, one time) and the tv was on--I felt so...naughty!--and the season premier of "The Bachelor' started. The twist this time was that the women were all beautiful, successful 40-somethings, and the bachelor looked a bit younger than all of them. OOH. Then the real twist was revealed when a group of beautiful 20-somethings walked in, like, move over old ladies! OOOH AAAHH. I couldn't stop laughing! It was the most ridiculous thing I'd seen in ages. I think that since I hadn't watched any tv in so long, I had long recovered from being desensitized by all this kind of junk. Before, I'm sure I would have watched it every week and talked about the candidates--"Can you believe how fake she is?!" I was a reality show junkie for a while there, I'm embarassed to admit. That time in the gym really made me realize how good it is to ban the tv from our home completely. Honestly, it was my husband's idea, and at first I only half-heartedly agreed. But it didn't take long to realize the benefit of not having it even available. Good job, honey.

Well, that's all the ranting for now.

19 August 2007

a recent thought on prayer to the Saints

Prayer to the Saints. I'm having trouble verbalizing what's in my head on this topic, so bear with me. If it's too bad, just stop reading and forget about it :) I'll understand.

As I lay next to Taisia, kissing her head, I asked the Theotokos to raise her up in the ways of God and to be ever near to her, praying for her. As I prayed, trusting she hears me and is offering her intercessions to her Son, I still felt a tug of doubt--doubt about why I am praying to her. I don't have any emotional connection with Mother Mary as of yet, but that is okay because neither do I always have some feeling about God; yet I know He is here and that His existence is independent of my feelings, obviously. Despite all that I have come to understand about the Saints and their mighty intercessions for us, and despite my own prayers to the Saints, I still feel like something is blocking me from really embracing the heavenly Church. I think the doubt continues to creep in over the issue of who is this between me and God? I cannot get the catch-phrase "It's just me and Jesus" out of my head.

What I realized as I lay there with Taisia is that I am used to attributing my virtues and good actions to, well, me. Yes, all good things come from God, but I have free choice and nothing good will come if I do not choose it first. Therefore, I have a piece in the pie of praise (pie of praise...nice!), though most of it belongs to God, of course. I think that this has been my general mindset, if mostly unconscious, over the years.

This mindset plagues me as I try to venerate God's Saints and ask for their intercessions. I imagine that, like me, they accept praise (or the Church gives them praise) for their holy prayers, miracles and so forth. Even more, it even sounds like in this place of elevation they have been placed between me and God.

The truth is that the Orthodox mindset is to give glory to God in ALL things. If I manage to develop a virtue, it is God who has given me the desire, strength and opportunities to do so (this goes back to my previous post on wealth, poverty and praise). The power of the Saints is nothing more (or less) than the power of Almighty God, with Whom they have been united. What have they that they have not received? (1 Cor. 4:7) In akathists we extol their virtues, and in so doing the whole Church glorifies God, for He is the embodiment of the virtues.

As for their place, I must consider them to be like the prophets of the Old Testament who pleaded with God to have mercy on the sinful cities, rather than delivering His terrible justice. Would God had heard the cities' own pleas for mercy? Of course, but they were too prideful and ignorant to ask. I am the same as the cities, and what I do pray is littered with self-love and worldly cares.

Anyway, I guess the main thing I'm trying to say is that if I'd stop projecting my own sin of pride on the Church and her Saints, there would be a lot less hindering me from stepping further into the circle of love within the Church (angels, Saints, and her earthly congregation).

18 August 2007

on wealth, poverty and praise

Some reading I've been doing during the fast. It is from the book "How to Live a Holy Life" by Met. Gregory Postnikov. I read these parts just yesterday, and already I have had some situations and conversations through which I have been able to experience some of these lessons, praise God. I feel like I am peering through a tiny crack in a door which leads to a place far beyond my understanding and even beyond my dreams: it is so bright and new. If I keep looking, praying and pushing forward, perhaps God will open it a little further for me. "Thy Kingdom come!"

on wealth:

"Never think, as many foolish people among the rich do, that you owe your wealth to your intelligence, your cleverness, or your energy. Although you, perhaps, really are intelligent, clever, and energetic, never attribute the acquisition of your wealth only to these attributes; for consider, who gave you your intelligence? Who gave and gives you health and strength, so that you can work? Who blesses your labors with the success you desire, while many other people no less intelligent and hardworking than you are hardly able to get their daily piece of bread? And who looks after your wealth, which you could lose at any moment from any number of circumstances? Is is not God, your Creator, Who does this? Remember the word of the Spirit of God, The Lord...maketh rich (1 Kings 2:7) and so do not take pride in your wealth, but be humble when you are rich, consider it a gift from God, and fervently thank the Lord God for it.

"When you pray, never in your prayer ask the Lord God for permanent continuation of your earthly plenty, and especially do not ask for increase of wealth, because, although the Lord God does give wealth to some people, nowhere is it commanded for us to ask for wealth, but it is said that even when, so to speak, it "flows in" to us by itself, we should set not [our] hearts thereon (Psalm 61:11).

"If you become attached to wealth, it will immediately draw you towards countless vices and put you in an extremely dangerous state of soul. Jesus Christ says that wealth can be very perilous for the soul: a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:23), and they that will be rich fall into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition, as the holy Apostle says (1 Tim 6:9)."

on poverty:

"If you are poor, that is, if you are hardworking and in spite of all your labors you barely get enough to provide daily bread for you and your children, then bear your poverty with equanimity...until the time that it is pleasing to the Lord God to take it from you; bear it to death itself, if it is pleasing to Him. Always be cheerful, do not grieve, do not grumble, and especially do not become despondent, no matter how your poverty deepens and how long it lasts.

"Continuously remember the words of the Holy Spirit, The Lord maketh poor (1 Sam. 2:7). But when the Lord God places any of us in some condition, He places him in that condition because that person can always be saved much more easily in the condition appointed to him. Because the Lord God has no other desire concerning us except that we be saved (1 Tim 2:4), whatever He may do with us He does to facilitate our salvation.

"As often as possible, remember the earthly poverty of our Savior. He is God; everything is His: both what is in the heavens, and what is on earth, in the earth, and beneath the earth, but He lived on earth in complete poverty, as He Himself said, foxes have holes, and birds have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head (Luke 9:58). For what purpose did He live so poorly? Of course, not for any other purpose than to incline all of us to accept poverty with equanimity and to be satisfied with what is most necessary for sustaining life; for poverty, as St John Chrysostom says, leads to piety more easily than wealth."

on praise:

"When people praise you, be very circumspect, because then you are in a dangerous situation.

"Many people do not know the true virtue of things and of actions, and therefore they value and praise things that in the sight of the Lord God and of sensible people are worth nothing. And because praise is pleasing to our self-esteem and vainglory, and self-esteem and vainglory are gullible, we eagerly accept another's false praise as true praise, put a halt to seeking perfection, become more imperfect, die unreformed, and perish. Therefore, consider as impartially as possible whether what others praise in you deserves praise from the Lord and from prudent people, because only that which is worthy of praise from the Lord God and from people devoted to Him should be important for us. What does praise from people matter, when we are unworthy of praise from the Lord God?

"That you may not fall into pride, vainglory, carelessness, or other ruinous delusion in the face either of deserved or, especially, undeserved praise, as unfortunately so often happens: ...Remember well that what is worthy of praise in you is not yours, but God's. It was, indeed, something we acquired because we tried to acquire it, but who gave us the disposition, ability, strength, desire, and opportunity to obtain it, if not God? What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? the Holy Apostle Paul tells the man with self-esteem (1 Cor. 4:7). So, when you perceive in yourself something worthy of praise, immediately ascribe it not to yourself, but to the Lord God, saying with the Psalmist, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory (Ps 113:9)."

(How to Live a Holy Life by Metropolitan Gregory Postnikov, published by Holy Trinity Monastery)

While you're here... I know that praying is the most important thing I can do at any given moment, and yet I choose to do everything but. So I ask you all to please pray for me, for God's mercy and for the strength and desire to be more diligent in my prayers.

Love you all!

12 August 2007

podcast junkie

Recently, in order to keep me sane, my husband has been encouraging me to go on a walk as soon as Taisia is in bed. So I download the latest podcasts from AFR and head out in the perfect 7pm weather. I get teased that podcasts on religion are my favorite workout 'tunes'; but this way my body gets a workout and so does my mind. I love it. What can I say, I'm just a podcast junkie.

The most recent podcast I listened to was great. It is part 9 of a series entitled "Imputed Righteousness", by Matthew Gallatin on his Pilgrims from Paradise podcast. It may seem a bit out of context to quote one of my favorite parts, but if it leaves you wondering I guess you can listen to it yourself :) I recommend it if you want the Orthodox perspective on the "dance" of faith and works in our relationship with God. So here is a quick look into what I've been listening to:

"Everything starts with faith. By faith we enter into the waters of baptism. By faith we receive the Holy Spirit. But once we've received the Holy Spirit, God expects it to make a difference in how we act. It must. If we want to be saved, if we want to live in perfect, loving union with God, we actually have to be what God wants us to be. It's not enough just to imagine ourselves as what He wants us to be, or hope that He sees us the way He wants us to be. No, we must dance the divine dance. No longer can we live the sinful life of those who dance without God. Putting to death our sinfulness through the power of the Indwelling Spirit is not easy...Thankfully our compassionate God is thoroughly, lovingly, divinely and eternally committed to the success of our relationship with Him. He is always by our side to forgive us, teach us, encourage us. Yes, real life with God, real love with God is a lot of work. But it is the only existence to which we are called..."

I particularly like the end "real life with God, real love with God is a lot of work," or as Fr Boris wisely said, "Welcome to the struggle" (see sidebar).

11 August 2007

banana robot

Me and our awesome banana tree robot. This is our new painting from Anya Lincoln. Please take a look at her artwork by clicking the link in the sidebar; she is a wonderful artist.

02 August 2007


Adventures in New Testament Greek: Mysterion
by Scott Cairns

What our habit has obtained for us appears
a somewhat meager view of mystery.
And Latinate equivalents have fared
no better tendering the palpable
proximity of dense noetic pressure.

More familiar, glib, and gnostic bullshit
aside, the loss the body suffers when
sacrament is pared into a tidy
picture postcard of absent circumstance
starves the matter to a moot result, no?

Mysterion is of a piece, enormous
enough to span the reach of what we see
and what we don't. The problem at the heart
of metaphor is how neatly it breaks down
to this and that. Imagine one that held

entirely across the play of image
and its likenesses. Mysterion is
never elsewhere, ever looms, indivisible
and here, and compasses a journey one
assumes as it is tendered on a spoon.

Receiving it, you apprehend how near
the Holy bides. You cannot know how far.

From his book Philokalia: New and Selected Poems. Reprinted with permission.
(So I guess this book is out of print, but he has a new one entitled Compass of Affection. Can't wait to read it!)

30 July 2007

the next step

So I have read and done a lot of thinking about a woman's role and the obedience of covering my head in church. But I have this lingering question...what about when I am not literally in the church building? I read Paul in 1 Cor. very literally, and while I'm at it I should note, to myself, that it is also very clear that a woman is meant to cover her head all of the time: I am always in the presence of God, His angels and the saints; and I should be developing a life of constant prayer (not praying just in church).

With this conviction I began covering my head while at home all day. Then I realized that like with any spiritual practice/discipline, you cannot just jump in with both feet and think that you're good to go. Immediately I noticed what a powerful effect action (covering) added to intention (humble submission to God and husband) has.

I would stand at prayer in the mornings with my head covered but wearing an old ill-fitting, revealing tank top and pajama pants. (I always have been the type to stay in my PJs all day unless I have to go somewhere.) What's wrong with this picture? In his little book How to Live a Holy Life, Metropolitan Gregory Postnikov writes:

"Having risen from bed, wash immediately, and having washed, dress immediately in a way that befits a respectable person. It is necessary to get dressed like this in the morning, although there may be no one with us, because:
First, we never are completely alone; always and everywhere our Guardian Angel and the Lord God are with us...Second, after having woken and washed, we should immediately stand before the Lord God with our morning prayers. And we would never dare to appear before even any of our lower-ranking earthly bosses without having dressed properly."

Also I began to feel a little uncomfortable with wearing the cover and dressing as usual in my pants and t-shirts. Shouldn't I be dressed a bit more feminine? Isn't that half the point?

I'm telling you, try to start a discipline and you will see anew all sorts of things about yourself and the way you live your life! This process reminds me of fasting. The first things encountered are related to the physical and the next are deeper, more spiritual. In this case, the bandanna on my head symbolizing my place of submission provided a stark contrast to the reality of my pride and lack of submission...painfully so. I felt like a big hypocrite. Not wanting to put on a show for my husband, the angels and God, I stopped wearing the head-covering at home for now, except during my prayer time. It is too easy for this sort of thing to become a vehicle for my pride. That's why, in this case in particular, I have decided to first ask my spiritual father for his blessing and get his advice on how to proceed so that I am being obedient to Scriptures as well as staying within my limits--I do not feel confident in my discernment at this point. As St John Cassian said: "We should try our best to acquire that gift of discernment that is able to keep us from excess in any direction. For, as the fathers have said, all extremes are equally harmful. It is as dangerous to fast too much as it is to overfill the stomach. I myself have known monks who were not defeated by gluttony, but were undermined by immoderate fasting." So we will see what Batushka recommends.

I will give an update once I have spoken with him...or you'll see me and it will be obvious :) Pray for me, that God will have mercy on me and my meager attempts at humility and obedience.