31 August 2008

Francis of Assisi and stigmata

I know little about Francis of Assisi (of the Roman Catholic Church) and have recently been curious to read more about him since he is such a well-known figure. Coincidentally I just came across an essay entitled: "A Comparison of the Mysticism of Francis of Assisi With That of St. Seraphim of Sarov". I have only breezed through it so far, and it sounds interesting. Here is a snippet:

"The experience (stigmatisation) of Francis of Assisi is remarkable and of singular interest to Orthodox Christians, since as mentioned above, nothing similar is encountered in the experience of the Orthodox Church with a long line of ascetics, and equally long history of mystical experiences. As a matter of fact, all of the things Francis experienced in the process of his stigmatisation are the very beguilements the Church Fathers repeatedly warned against!"

I was surprised to learn that he experienced stigmatisation (was he the first?). I guess I was surprised just because I kind of forgot that it exists not only in movies, plus I have never given stigmata much of a thought since it is not something that occurs in Orthodoxy.

The first thing that came to mind when I read that Francis wanted to experience Christ's earthly sufferings was the story of an Orthodox saint who prayed that God would find him worthy to suffer as a martyr throughout his life--oxymoron?--yes and no because he was tortured *almost to death regularly for something like 60 yrs of his life. They would literally rip apart of his body one day, and overnight he would be completely healed. The next day the cycle would begin again until that leader would grow frustrated/embarrassed and pass him off to a new court where they devised new ways of trying to kill him. Through witnessing his faith and sufferings, many were saved. He suffered for the sake of Christ and His Church.

Anyway, I look forward to reading the whole thing very soon.

27 August 2008

the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos

Congratulations with the Feast!

Tonight's service touched me, and I found the following songs especially beautiful, the words and the tunes (too bad you can't hear it--next time you should join me!)

O ye Apostles, having gathered here from the ends of the earth,
bury my body in Gethsemane.
And do Thou, O my Son and God,
receive my spirit. (Extapastilarion)

When the Translation of thy most pure tabernacle was being prepared,
the apostles surrounded thy deathbed and looked upon thee with dread,
and as they gazed at thy body, they were filled with awe.
In tears Peter cried aloud to thee:
'O undefiled Virgin
I see thee who art the life of all mankind lying here outstreched,
and I am struck with wonder:
for He who is the delight of the future life
made His dwelling in thee.
Pray, then, fervently to thy Son and God
to save thy flock from harm.' (Tone 6--)

18 August 2008

congratulations with the feast!

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!


"Thou wast transfigured on the mountain O Christ our God
showing to Thy disciples Thy glory as each one could endure;
shine forth Thou on us, who are sinners all, Thy light ever-unending
through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Light-giver, glory to Thee"

08 August 2008

prayers for the departed

It seems that every forty days someone in my family's extended circle passes away. For forty days after someone's passing, our family says this prayer every evening before bedtime:

"Have mercy, O Lord, on the soul of Thy departed servant ______ and grant them eternal rest in Thy Kingdom, where sickness and sorrow are no more, neither sighing, but life ever-lasting. Amen"

For the last year, we've said a new name almost every forty days (or somewhat close to it). I am actually considering putting together a "wall of the departed" with their pictures in our room under the cross. It would both serve as a reminder to pray for them all and as a reality check for our lives.

I just read the article Prayers for the Dead: Pannikhida by Bishop Alexander (Mileant). It is a short explanation of the Orthodox belief of our fate after death and the importance of prayers for the dead.

The more I understand and take in these Orthodox understandings, the more hope and peace I have for my own passing through death. Heaven for me is becoming less and less like an 'empty white room' and more like a community of people lovingly praying and helping each other to the glory of God. I am also more aware of the fact that the spiritual realm I will encounter after the death of my body is not supposed to be unfamiliar and that the goal of this life is to learn how to live in unison with the Holy Spirit, His saints (here and departed) and angels--life as it was meant to be lived in the garden, a perfect mystical union of the physical and of the spiritual.

From the article, here are some reality checks for me:

"Man is given life in order to learn how to believe, to do good, and to develop his talents. All of these things make up his spiritual riches, or, in the words of the Saviour, his "treasure in heaven." Death sums up the life of a person, and his soul must then come before God for an accounting, to receive its reward or punishment."

"While a person lives, God gives him the chance to repent and correct his shortcomings. After death, the possibility of repentance is removed. Still, if a person dies and is not deserving of paradise, this does not mean that he is doomed to eternal torment. Until the Last Judgment, the torments of sinners in hell are temporary and can be relieved or even removed by the prayers of believing people and the Church."

About the judgment the soul receives just after "falling asleep":

"But the judgment which follows soon after death is not yet the final judgment, because only the soul is being judged, without the body. About the existence of this preliminary judgment the Apostle Paul wrote: "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). At the end of the world, after the universal resurrection of the dead, there will be the universal Last Judgment, at which God will judge all people simultaneously. Then each person will receive either eternal reward or eternal punishment with his or her resurrected body.

"Thus, there exist two states after death: one for the souls of the righteous, in paradise; the other for the souls of sinners, in hell. (The Orthodox Church does not accept the Roman Catholic teaching about an intermediate state in Purgatory. The church fathers usually attribute the word "Gehenna" to the state after the Last Judgment, when both death and hell will be cast into a fiery lake, cf. Rev. 20:15)."

Physical death is no longer the end for us nor for our relationships with one another:

"In order to appreciate the power of prayers for the dead, it must be understood that death interrupts only the physical contact among people; spiritual contact continues. This contact is realized through prayer....Thus, prayer joins our world with another world, where the angels, the saints and our departed relatives and friends dwell. Since the moment of the resurrection of Christ death has lost its former fatality; instead, it has become the beginning of a new life....Christians who have departed from this world do not sever their ties to the Church to which they belonged during their life."

"Prayers for the dead always benefit them. If they were not deemed worthy of heaven, these prayers alleviate their fate beyond the grave, and if they are in paradise, these prayers give them joy and an increase of light."

(I have posted a lot from the article here. You may just want to go read the whole thing if you're interested. Father Alexander's website is such a great resource for such articles.)

06 August 2008

back into it

Hey everyone. I have been missing for a while, I know. I've been busy with a bunch of different things, and nothing in particular has come to mind to write. I've had a lot to think about, but picking one thought and then translating it into something readable can be an issue sometimes. Anyway, I'm hoping to get back into writing now and then. I like to write because it usually means that I've been reading and thinking and been more conscious of my experiences.

I've been reading Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition by the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos. It is a great book, and I'd be interested in seeing if he has published any others. I'm also reading The Way of a Pilgrim, a classic gem about the Prayer of the Heart which I plan to reread. Both have been very edifying and I have a million little tabbies marking my favorite pages :)

Something new--I have joined a discussion group for the book Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard. It is outside my normal type of reading, but it should be interesting to see some of the new (or not) ideas forming within in the Protestant circle. So far the book seems fairly rationalistic/scientific, but I am only into the second chapter. Maybe a better description would be "thorough"--he is careful to clarify everything, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I could barely stand the first chapter, but the second chapter was more palatable, I guess you could say. Glancing ahead there were a few topics I do look forward to reading. My ultimate measuring stick for the book is whether or not there is an emphasis on repentance and prayer as the main things we can do to change the course of our spiritual formation. In any case, in the group there have been a few great comments, and I look forward to hearing more of people's thoughts as we go through the book.

I guess that's it for now. I'll keep you posted :)