Another “halloween” post

Candle_stump_on_holderIt seems that not all people, even Orthodox Christians, agree on what to do about halloween, but I am convinced that it is something I don’t want to celebrate or have my son celebrate.  I’ve read people debate on blogs about the origins of halloween and whether they should celebrate it, but I just use my eyes.  I see what I see….halloween is ghosts, witches, spookiness, zombies, haunted houses, jack o’lanterns, horror films etc.  (Yes, some people do celebrate wearing princess costumes and things too, but I’m going for the overarching societal theme here.)  If Eastern Orthodox icons are windows to heaven, and technically everything is an icon or image of some sort…where are these images windows to?  Where do they lead?  I know evil doesn’t have that kind of power over us (as long as God prevents it)…but its worth thinking about.  Many catechumens struggling with the idea of icons will asks “well, is a tree an icon?…is a person an icon?”  We are taught, generally, that everything is an icon…since humans are made in the image of God, and trees reflect God’s beauty and His creation.  Everything points to something whether God, man, or the devil (forgive me, if my theology is off here)…and for that reason, I can’t celebrate a secular holiday that has an overarching theme of glorifying evil…however trivial, innocent, or harmless it is portrayed.  God came to earth incarnate as Jesus Christ and suffered on the cross and rose again so that we would not be subject to death and evil any longer if we follow Him.   How can I say, “for one day, Lord, let me just lighten up a little…after all they don’t really mean to dress up as ghosts and zombies and what not, they are my nice neighbors, and we have so much fun. I’m sure You will understand right.?”

But what also convinces me are these verses….

 “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12: 9)

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  (Phillipians 4:18)

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) – This verse says once of the masters is money, but I’m extrapolating here…

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. – (Matthew 10:34)

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” – (Romans 6:15-19)

Lord, have mercy!


Archbishop Averky, The Last Days, and halloween

One reason I like reading about the “end times” and “last days” is not because I am “afraid” of them in a lack of faith sense, but because it helps me feel hopeful and less alone.  It helps to know that there have been multiple, if not dozens, of Archbishops, Bishops, and Priests that have written about how they have seen the “end times” coming within the last 100 years or so.  There is a lot going on in the news, but what really made me sad a few days ago was this recent article about the Scholastic book publisher.  (See article for book topic to avoid keyword in my post). One article said Scholastic was planning to use the same marketing strategy as they used for The Hunger Games series to promote their new book.  Regarding Hunger Games, the article said, “‘Its kind of crazy to remember now, but that book was initially seen as a potentially difficult sell. After all, it’s about kids killing each other” (article).    One reason these marketing tactics concern me is because I can remember times in my childhood when I was “indoctrinated” and confused by things taught to me in public school. (Primarily, I don’t think I would have had as many identity issues being half-Hispanic and half-white if race wasn’t talked about SO MUCH in the name of “diversity”…its been awhile since my public schooling and I’ve refigured out that I am an “American”, but firstly a Christian. But anyway…thats a whole other story.)  My point is this indoctrination seems to work pretty well unless someone is actively de-programming you.

All that to say, I don’t personally read these religious essays about the end times because I’m a conspiracy theory junkie or anything (although maybe there was a time…okay..there was.), but because they encourage me and help me from being discouraged.  Which I sometimes get around the time of “halloween” because even many Orthodox Christians that I have met just take it as a “harmless holiday” that is “fun for kids.” (For a more traditional view on halloween is Archbishop Kyrill’s article.  Last year, I also did a post on halloween. )

So when I get discouraged and feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t celebrate halloween, or the only person who thinks Harry Potter and the Twilight series is creepy, or the only person who believes it when St. Paisios says kids have a spiritual television, I like to read these essays.  (I know there are other people who think this way also…but in this world one can “feel” alone..)

Most recently I discovered the writing of Archishop Averky who was “friends” with Father Seraphim Rose.  Father Seraphim Rose translated his book “The Apocalypse” from Russian to English which I haven’t read yet, but plan to.  And now to the point of my post: edifying quotes from his articles!  I’m not sure when these were written, but his repose was in 1976 so it was sometime before then.

“On the Modern World – Archbishop Averky of Syracuse

We are living in a strange time, when all the true and healthy Christian concepts are being replaced by false and deceitful concepts, discovered often with an evil intention with the undoubted intention, naturally, of drawing people away from the right path of a truly Christian life. In all of this there can be discerned some kind of rationally acting black hand which is working to bind people as tightly as possible to this temporary, earthly life by forcing them to forget the future life, the eternal life assuredly awaiting us all.

We must be clearly aware of the kind of time in which we live. Indeed, only a spiritually blind roan, or one who had already sold his soul to the enemies of our holy faith and Church, could fail to sense the spirit of the approaching Antichrist in everything which is now happening in the world. Of what sort of genuine union of all Christians in the spirit of Christian love can one speak now when the Truth is denied by almost everyone, when deceit is in control almost everywhere, when a genuinely spiritual life among people who call themselves Christians has dried up and been replaced by a carnal life, …..

As salt preserves food from decay and makes it healthful and pleasant to the taste, so too true Christians preserve the world from moral decay and facilitate its return to health. But if the salt “loses its savor,” as the Gospel says, i.e. “loses its strength” (in the East there actually is a kind of salt which can lose its taste), then it becomes good for nothing except to be “thrown out to be trodden under foot of men” (cf. the Gospel reading for the third day of the feast of Pentecost, Matt. 5:31-3).

How terrible this is! And we find ourselves living in such times when the tendency dominating the world is directed toward making all Christians such “salt which has lost its savor,” once it has abolished the true Church of Christ derived from the Holy Apostles and thus has deprived Christians of the grace of the Holy Spirit….

This is the so very fashionable, so-called “ecumenical movement,” which is based on the position that supposedly the true Church of Christ does not presently exist on earth and it is necessary to create it anew…through the unification of all Christians belonging to various “churches” and confessional associations and organizations; this will be done by various mutual concessions in matters of doctrine and the development of a new, common system of doctrine acceptable to all and, along with it, of course, a new world view.

And the opinion, extremely popular in our times, that “it’s all the same which church you go to; after all, God is one” is in agreement with this tendency….But there is in our days an even more terrible phenomenon, encountered more and more often: a more or less conscious decision, for the sake of earthly goods and advantages, to serve the coming Antichrist…This is the most extreme degree of falling away, from which it is very difficult to arise.

The fundamental task of the servants of the coming Antichrist is to destroy the old world with all its former concepts and “prejudices” in order to built in its place a new world suitable for receiving its approaching “new owner” who will take the place of Christ for people and give them on earth that which Christ did not give them …One must be completely blind spiritually, completely alien to true Christianity not to understand all this!….

In our times, when there are such strong doubts about even the existence of Truth, when every “truth” is considered relative and it is considered proper for each person to hold to “his own truth,” the struggle for the Truth acquires a particularly important meaning. And the person who does not sympathize with this struggle, who sees in it only a manifestation of “phariseeism” and suggests “humbling oneself” before Falsehood by falling away from the Truth, should naturally be recognized as a betrayer of the Truth, whoever he might be, whatever he might call or consider himself….

Where the Truth of God is lacking there cannot be genuine peace.

While struggling resolutely against the most minute manifestations of evil and sin in our own souls, let us not fear to uncover and point out evil everywhere where it is to be found in modern life-not from pride and self-love, but only out of love for the truth. Our chief task in this evil time of lying shamelessness is to remain totally faithful and devoted to the genuine truth of the Gospel and to the author of our salvation, Christ, the Giver of life Who rose on the third day from the tomb, the Conqueror of hell and death.

One must know well and remember that Tolstoy’s harmful doctrine of “non-resistance to evil” is completely foreign to true Christianity (by the way, this doctrine destroyed our unfortunate homeland, Russia, and plunged it into the terrible, bloody horrors of Bolshevism): no true Christian can be reconciled to evil, wherever and in whomever he might encounter it.

All true Christians throughout the whole history of the Church have followed the example of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and His Holy Apostles and have always condemned evil and struggled against it, even though this might cause them all sorts of severe deprivations and even cost them life itself.

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On the Situation of the Orthodox Christian in the Contemporary World

by Archbishop Averky of Syracuse (bold emphasis my own)
The situation of the Orthodox Christian in the contemporary world is, one can say decisively and without exaggeration, extremely grievous.  The whole of contemporary life, in all its manifestations, is, in one way or another, directed against him.  Everything in it is, in essence, a complete denial of true Christianity.  And if in apostolic times the beloved disciple of Christ St. John the Theologian could write that “the whole world lieth in evil” (I John 5:19), then with far greater justice can we say this of our time.
 To be a true Orthodox Christian, ready to be faithful to death to Christ the Savior, is much more difficult in our days than in the first centuries of Christianity.  Then, the persecutors of the Christians were irrational enemies who did not know the Faith of Christ, having wrong, often absurd ideas about it.  And these persecutions had in general the character of external persecutions.  Not damaging souls, they delivered the bodies of the first Christians to torment and death.  And the Christians of that time, well remembering the command of Christ: “Fear not those who kill the body, but who are not able to kill the soul” (Matt 10:28), and being strengthened by the Grace of God, went with joy to the torments and gave their life for Christ.  These persecutions did not only not dampen the spirit, but on the contrary inspired and inflamed it, and the blood of the martyrs, according to the apt expression of one of the apologists of those times, truly became the seed of Christianity.
Not now.
The contemporary world, with a few exceptions (we have in mind the bloody persecutions against the Faith taking place in Soviet Russia), does not make clear and open threats of bodily torments and bodily death for those who bear the name of Christ.  A significant part of it even continues to bear the name of “Christian”, builds churches, calls on the Name of Christ, and swears on the Holy Bible.

But this is all just appearance.
Under the cover of this deceptive, fair-seeming exterior, which is leading many into delusion, there is actually everywhere now taking place a most powerful hidden persecution against Christianity, appearing in the most various forms.  This persecution is far more dangerous and terrible than the former open persecution, for it threatens a complete devastation of souls – spiritual death.  What is now happening is precisely that which Christ the Savior foretold and of which He most of all warned His followers, telling them not to fear bodily torments, insofar as they do not threaten the soul: “Fear rather,” He said, “him who is able to cast both soul and body into gehenna” (Matt 10:28).
What is this that is happening in the world; and how can the contemporary world, which has been living, it would seem, for so many centuries in Christianity, persecute Christianity? In all this there is nothing unexpected: for we have been warned about all this long ago by the word of God.  But woe to him who stubbornly closes his eyes to this, not wishing to see that for which the Word of God calls us to be prepared.
In the world, according to the holy Apostle Paul, “the mystery of iniquity doth work” (II Thess 2:7) – the ever-strengthening process of the “apostasy” of Christians from Christ takes place, the process which in its final phase must lead to the revealing of “the man of sin, the son of perdition – the Antichrist” (2:3).  This terrible process of “apostasy” in the last time manifests itself so clearly and evidently in all aspects of life that only a blind man cannot see to what it is leading: everything that is taking place in the world now is nothing other than the careful preparation of the kingdom of the Antichrist, in which there take the most active part those who openly defy Christ and those who continue to bear ostensibly the name of “Christians”…
In one word, the world – terrible to say, the Christian world – now presents a terrible, dismal picture of the deepest religio-moral fall.
And at the same time a sharp contrast with all this terrible actuality is provided by the ever more frequent, ever more insistent appeals for peace and unity.
Can one believe, in such circumstances, seeing all that is taking place, in the sincerity and goodness of these appeals?…
How is the Orthodox Christian to relate to all this?  Must he strive for every kind of peace and unity?  Must every kind of peace and unity be precious in his eyes, dear and close to his Orthodox soul?

Absolutely not! decisively answers this important question – a question of Christian conscience – the great ecumenical teacher and hierarch, and pillar of our Faith, St. Gregory the Theologian. “One must not value every kind of peace,” he says, “for there is a good difference of opinion and the most destructive unanimity.  But one must love only the good peace, which has a good intent and unites with God” (Sermon 6).

The dearest thing of all for the Christian is the Truth, for the sake of witnessing to which the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, as He Himself said to Pilate (Jn 18:37).  And for the true Christian there can be only one desirable unity – unity in the Truth of Christ – the pure, undistorted, uncorrupted Truth, without any admixture of diabolic falsehood, not envenomed by any compromise with it. …
Now is the time of confession – of firm standing, if necessary even to death, for our Orthodox Faith, which is being subjected everywhere to open and concealed attacks and oppression on the part of the servants of the coming Antichrist.  And in our holy Faith there is nothing of little significance – everything in it, to the smallest detail, has its meaning, its significance, its value.  For that reason nothing is to be neglected and we must make concessions and compromises in nothing.  Every concession or compromise in questions of the Faith and Church decrees leads to a greater and greater shaking of the age-old foundations of our holy Orthodoxy, to a gradual falling away from it and to the passing into the camp of the servants of the coming Antichrist…
Finally, the most important thing is decisively to leave the majority of contemporary people with their carnal sinful life, light-minded and careless, and as often as possible, cleansing one’s soul by sincere repentance, to strive with all one’s soul towards union with Christ in the greatest Christian Mystery of Communion.
Only an Orthodox Christian living in this way can avoid the nets cunningly laid in all directions by the servants of the coming Antichrist.  Only such a Christian will have the strength to struggle for his soul and for the souls of those near to him with the steadily advancing kingdom of darkness, which is ready to engulf the whole of mankind.  In this struggle the most dangerous thing is indecisiveness, wavering and compromise.  The most insignificant compromise can complicate and make this struggle more difficult, can even lead to destruction.  This is a struggle not to life, but to death.
“Watch…. Be ready” (Matt 24:42-44).  Be like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding….  Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing”(Lk 12:36, 43).
And on the other hand: a bitter lot awaits him who lulls himself, saying: “My lord delayeth his coming”(Lk 12:45).
The spirit of constant waiting for the Second Coming of the Christ is that spirit of the first Christianity, which prayerfully called on the Lord: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).  And the opposite of that spirit is undoubtedly the spirit of the Antichrist, who strives by all means to draw Christians away from the thought of the Second Coming of Christ and the recompense that follows it.  Those who submit to this spirit are courting danger – the danger of not recognizing the Antichrist when he comes, and the danger of falling into his nets.  It is precisely this which is most terrible in the contemporary world, filled as it is with all manner of deceptions and ruses.  The servants of the Antichrist, as the Lord warned, will try “to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24).
This thought, however, should by no means subdue and depress us, but on the contrary – “Look up,” says the Lord Himself about it, “and raise your heads, for your deliverance draweth nigh” (Lk 21:28).

On Not Celebrating Halloween…

Not celebrating Halloween seems to be a good way to boycott the increasing secularization of modern society.  This is the first year my son at almost 16 months is old enough to somewhat participate in the “festivities” of Halloween…but we’ve decided to opt out.  I celebrated the “holiday” growing up (sometimes by going to Protestant church “harvest festivals”), but now being Orthodox Christian I just can’t wrap my head around why I would want to celebrate it.

I’m not going to go in to the history of Halloween as most already know it has ties to a pagan Celtic festival and the western celebration of All Saints Day.  Many arguments about whether or not to celebrate Halloween focus on the historical ties to paganism.  (Even this is enough to convince me, but the exact historical facts are somewhat debatable according to several sources I read.  Father Josiah’s sermon in 2011 stated the Celtic festival was originally in April.)   So, I would say, let’s just start with what Halloween is and has become TODAY and is it something I want myself and family exposed to in TODAY’s society?

Over the last few weeks while walking around my tiny neighborhood, I have to shield my sons eyes from not one, but THREE homes covered with scary skulls, graves, witches, and other scary imagery.  (And several others covered with simple ghosts, etc.) As his parent, it is my responsibility to protect his nous, not to mention my own nous, from these scary images.  The nous in Eastern Orthodox theology is the eye of the soul.  The Bible says in Phillippians 4:7-9: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” One reason we have icons is to focus our nous on beautiful and holy images.  Why would I want to go somewhere, whether trick-or-treating or to a party, with a heavy concentration of “scary” icons?  What is their purpose – since obviously not to lift my nous or my son’s nous to dwell on heavenly things?   To quote OrthodoxWiki: “It is from a healed and corrected nous and intelligence that man knows and experiences God.”   Matthew 6:22 says “The eye is the lamp of the body, so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.”  Given the definition of nous and Christ’s very words in Matthew 6, it would seem that the scary images associated with Halloween are a direct attack on our clear eye and connection with God.

Halloween in today’s society is generally a celebration of the scary, and sometimes grotesque, and sometimes provocative.  Since, many consider it a civic holiday, then logically we can look to the stores for the holiday’s definition, right?  And look to the culture? Candy galore, ghosts, witches, goblins, skulls, gravestones etc. are the civic holiday’s images.  October is a difficult month to “window shop” during the day because I have to maneuver my stroller around these aisles!

Is it bad to play “dress up” for fun on any day? No..I don’t think so.  But, if you truly are able to avoid the inappropriate imagery of Halloween, it doesn’t seem that you are really celebrating or endorsing Halloween, according to what it is culturally, you are just having a fun time that could be had on any other day in the fall season.

It is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s culture/world/society to be a Christian with traditional values.  At some point in their lives, children with traditional values are going to feel “left out.”  There will be movies, videos games, tv shows, music that they will not be able to watch or listen to, toys they can’t have, parties they won’t be able to go to etc., friends they won’t be able to have, and children that might not want to be friends with them.  Not celebrating Halloween is one of the first things we can do to prepare our son for the inevitable struggles that lie ahead in our culture as we struggle to lead holy, set apart, lives for Christ.  If we can handle saying no to Halloween party invitations when my son is one, it will be that much easier for both of us when we want to protect his nous when he is older from various imagery and influences.  I think Halloween is a good time to put down compromises, take courage, and take a stand against secular culture…it’s not going to get any easier…and it might even be a good conversation starter.

So, this is my personal explanation on why my family has decided not to celebrate the secular “Halloween.”  When my son is older, if not this year, we will certainly take him to a pumpkin patch, possibly a hayride, and celebrate the beauty of the fall season.  A pumpkin patch is definitely a great way to lead into a discussion about how in generations before us, people were directly dependent on their land for survival (and couldn’t go to a grocery store!).

I end this blog post with the lyrics to the song “Cleareyed” by Glen Phillips where he is reflecting on his childhood, wishing he had been more sheltered from the world.

(Sidenote: I do realize that there is a general onslaught of bad imagery on a daily basis (magazine covers, commercials, etc.) and that we have to live and breathe in society, but not celebrating Halloween and avoiding these scary images is something I can do to lessen the impact.)

“Cleareyed” by Glen Phillips

“Ever since I was a kid I’ve been
Clear eyed, clear eyed
I can’t forget but I forgive,
Did you notice? Are you all right?

On the edge of memory where shapes
Take form and call to me

Some things I wish I’d never seen
Had never been, but so it is, so it is
If all I know is what I see, then certainty
Is what you are to me
Clear eyed, clear eyed

Someone came and changed the words
Left me tongue tied, tongue tied
It’s not a sky without a cloud
There is no blue sky, blue sky

Beyond the past, beyond the fear
The simple act of being here

Some things I wish I’d never seen
Had never been, but so it is, so it is
If all I know is what I see
Then certainty is what you are to me
Clear eyed, clear eyed

Blind me with love, make me blind
Blind me with love, make me blind
‘Cause I’ve seen too much, too much of this life
I have seen too much, too much of this life
I have seen too much, too much of this life
I have seen too much, too much of this life
Now I only see you, only see you
Clear eyed, clear eyed
Clear eyed, clear eyed”