Archbishop Averky on what we are now experiencing….

 averky

This is a sermon that I found on an Orthodox E-Zine of Archbishop Averky of Blessed Memory which speaks to exactly what were are experiencing today. Nearly every time I am feeling despondent I can read a sermon of Archbishop Averky since he is very familiar with the times we live in .. (Source: Orthodox E-Zine – Sunday of Orthodoxy sermon )

Sermon on the Triumph of Orthodoxy

by Archbishop Averky (Taushev)

“This is the Apostolic faith, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the Orthodox faith – confirm this universal faith.”

Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, you will hear these solemn and significant words in the Rite of Orthodoxy which the Holy Church has established to be served on this day. The first week of Holy and Great Lent has ended a week of intensified prayer and ascetical repentance. Now the Holy Church, desiring to encourage and console us, has established for us in this first week of Great Lent, on its first Sunday, a spiritual celebration,one most dear and close to our hearts – The Triumph of Orthodoxy.

This celebration was first performed in 842 in Constantinople in the presence of the Blessed Empress Theodora by His Holiness Patriarch Methodius – in memory of the overthrow of the last terrible heresy to shake Christ’s Church, the heresy of iconoclasm. But in this celebration the Holy Church marks the triumph of the holy Orthodox faith in general, her victory over all impious heresies, false teachings and schisms.

Our Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour founded His Church on earth so that all belonging to her could be saved, could elude the nets of the devil and enter into the Heavenly Kingdom prepared for them. The devil exerted all his strength to overthrow and destroy the Church of Christ and, through this, to hinder the salvation of men. At first he raised up terrible persecutions against the Church on the part of the Jews and pagans. For almost three centuries the blood of Christian martyrs flowed without ceasing. But the devil did not succeed in his task.

The blood of the martyrs, according to the apt expression of the Christian apologist Tertullian, became the “seeds of Christians.”

Christianity triumphed over its persecutors.

But the devil did not resist after the defeat he suffered at the hands of the martyrs . When the Church of Christ triumphed in the world he raised up a new, even more dangerous persecution against her: from within the Church, as the Holy Apostle Paul had foretold in his conversation with the Ephesian presbyters, men arose “speaking perverse things.” Paul called such men “grievous wolves.” [Acts 20:29-30].

These were so-called “heretics” who tried to pervert the true teaching of Christ concerning faith and piety in order to make this teaching ineffective for men. When this happened, the Holy Church, in the person of its best servants, took up arms against these heretics in order to defend its true, undistored teaching. There began to be convoked first “local” and then “ecumenical” councils. Bishops came together from all the corners of the earth and through the Holy Spirit they gave voice to the pure and undistorted Truth, following the example of the First Apostolic Council of Jerusalem [Acts 15:6-29].

They also cut off heretics from the Church and anathematized them. This was in according with the clear commandment of Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who said, “If he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” [Matthew 18:17].

And in accordance with the commandment of the Holy Apostle Paul, that great “apostle to the nations” who said, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” [Galatians 1:8].

And in another place he states: If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema. Maranatha [I Cor. 16:22].

Thus our moving, majestic and solemn Rite of Orthodoxy takes its beginning from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and from his great Apostle, called by Him to be the “apostle to the nation”, i.e. of the whole pagan world. From the ninth century on the Holy Church has established that this rite should be served on the first Sunday of Holy Great Lent and that it be name “Orthodox Sunday”.

The rite, brothers and sisters, is particularly important and significant in the evil times we are experiencing, times in which the Orthodox faith is wavering and shaking. This wavering and shaking of the Orthodox faith is due to those very persons who ought to be strengthening and supporting it in the souls of the faithful. Those who should be pillars of Holy Orthodoxy – high-ranking hierarchs including the heads of certain Local Churches – are departing from the Truth of Holy Orthodoxy.

It is terrible to have to say that even the head of the Constantinopolitan Church, which is known as the “Ecumenical” Church, the man considered to be the first hierarch of all Orthodoxy, has set out on this path!

On all of this there undoubtedly lies the print of the Apostasy about which the Holy Apostle Paul foretold [II Thess. 2-3] – the apostasy of Christians from Christ.

We are now face to face with this Apostasy. The major threat to true Christian faith, the Orthodox faith, is the so called “Ecumenical ‘Movement,” headed by what is known as the “World Council of Churches,” a body which denies the doctrine of the unity and infalliblility of the True Church of Christ and attempts to create from all the presently existing and distracted faiths, a new “false-Church” which, from our point of view, will without any doubt be the “Church” of Antichrist, that false-church which the Antichrist, whose coming is now being rapidly prepared in the world, will head.

From the teaching of the Word of God and the Holy Fathers of the Church, we know that the Antichrist will be both the religious and political leader of all humanity: he will stand at the head of the new universal false Church; he will also be the director of one new world government and will attempt to submit all to his absolute power.

The Orthodox faith – this is the “faith of the Apostles,” “the faith of the Fathers” – it is that faith which the Apostlic Fathers, the direct disciples of the Holy Apostles, and the Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church and their lawful successors, established by the Holy Spirit, interpreted for us in their marvellous and inspired writings.

Brothers and sisters, we must hold this faith steadfastly if we desire eternal salvation! Now we shall perform with you this deeply instructive, moving and highly solemn rite which consists of two parts:

  • the first part is the prayer of the Holy Church for all those who have gone astray or fallen away from the true Orthodox faith;
  • in the second part the Holy Church pronounces dread anathema against all false teachers, heretics and schismatics who have grown stubborn in their malice and who do not wish to reunite with the true Church of Christ but instead struggle against her.

Then we shall sing “Eternal Memory” for all departed defenders of Holy Orthodoxy and “Many Years” for those defenders of the Holy Orthodox faith and Church who are still among the living.

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Dangerous Types of Judgement and The Greatest Commandment

Nikola_Mihaylov_Kozi_Dol_Church_St_John_the_Baptist_IconI’m not sure officially how many types of being judgmental there are, perhaps there is an infinite brand of sin for each individual based on each person’s life experiences.  But I am convinced there are at least two dangerous types –

The first is when we judge someone for not seeming to follow the Gospel and/or the commandments of Christ, which is difficult for us to avoid doing completely on our own despite our efforts (the success in this could only come from the Divine Love of the Holy Spirit).  We judge people for what see on the outside, what they do, not knowing the virtues in their hearts, and perhaps there are not many in certain people, or perhaps there are many, but it is for God to judge, not us.  May God help us.

The second is when we judge people who we see trying to follow the Gospel and commandments of Christ.  We judge them in a different way and tell ourselves that they must be doing this out of fear and compulsion.  They must not really love Christ.  Its must be unhealthy, not genuine.   Sometimes we hold a subtle hostility to Christian piety because perhaps we cannot understand why anyone would choose to live this way outside of fear, compulsion and pride, and this can even happen inside the Church – because the world is everywhere, and everywhere we look, and everyone, and everything is fallen except for Christ.

“Do not marvel my brethren, if the world hates you” – 1 John 3:13

Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” – Matthew 18:7

 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” – John 7:7

One person may wear long flowy skirts everyday out of fear, out of a coerced obligation of modesty, out of pride, who knows..whereas another person wears a long skirt everyday to feel like a princess of the Most High, to feel lighter in the spirit while draped in cloth like the Angels and Saints in icons, and because the conscience and soul feels healthier that way and closer to Christ.   There are people who prefer to assume the worse intention when someone is doing something that seems to follow the commandments of Christ, in this case modesty…but this type of judgement seems to happen with every facet of life.   The homeschooling family is paranoid, the family that does not watch much television is weak, afraid and scared and perhaps the family that does not let their children play violent, bloody video games is just afraid of masculinity or has “convertitis.”

The Greatest Commandment

The reality is when people who have tasted death in some form in their soul and body, taste the life of Christ, they will try to do whatever they can to preserve it (according to ability and possibily failing quite a bit). The lame who walks, does not want to be lame again.  The blind who sees, does not want to be blind again.  “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” Proverbs 26:11.  Christ is life, the world is death…may we all have the strength to do what we need to do cast out the death of judgement and pursue Christ with all our our heart, soul and mind and to the naysayers, we have a quote from Christ himself to his beloved Apostle Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  (Matthew 16: 23)

Manifest Disney

Something I am “reblogging”…

The Soul of the East

As we mark another Independence Day in America, it’s worth reflecting on the meaning of our country’s much-trumpeted exceptional status. Our land is indeed beautiful and blessed in many ways, home to millions of kind and generous souls. But to pretend that all is well would be whistling past the graveyard. The United States, we must remember, wasn’t ever conceived as an organic nation, but as a revolutionary construct, the herald of a dawning Novus Ordo Seclorum. And so its progress is always unfulfilled, its nature not being, but becoming, its vastness a continental-scale laboratory for social alchemy. Yet out of all attempts to identify the meaning of the American Dream, no one depicted its essence more aptly than a humble Orthodox monk, Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose:

One might take, as a symbol of our carefree, fun-loving, self-worshipping times, our American ‘Disneyland’; if so, we should not neglect to…

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More on Infertility and Suffering

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For most of my life, I don’t think I have really understood the suffering that Christ endured on the cross. I came to this realization a month or so ago when trying to comes to grips with our infertility situation, and to be frank, the lack of support we’ve received from our community. In trying to come to grips with this, I kept asking myself “why?”. Why are we going through this? And why it is also so lonely? Why are most people unwilling to grieve with us in our loss of control in growing our family? I came to one conclusion that perhaps most people see the end of the story. Perhaps they think that one day we will adopt or eventually get pregnant and our brief suffering will be over, or further on (or perhaps not) we will pass on to have eternal life in heaven where hopefully we are storing our treasures. And also that we should see the end of the story too, accept God’s will, and not be sad at all. After all, we have a great marriage and an amazing child (who, by the way, asked for a sibling a few weeks ago). And perhaps a lot of people are just super awkward around infertility situations, some people have too much of their own suffering, and some are too busy.

Then I realized I have almost always approached Jesus’s suffering on the cross that way. I thought He is God! He knows the end of the story! He knows everything! He even knew this would happen! Even having a better understanding of the incarnation as an Orthodox Christian, and a better understanding of the fact that Christ was both FULLY God and FULLY man, I still didn’t understand why I should feel super bad for him for the crucifixion because he was FULLY God as well and knew what He was getting into and did it willingly. I still don’t understand it completely. But I now know that I was approaching Christ the very same way people might be approaching our situation, only seeing the end of the story and not our current suffering. Somehow this round-a-bout thought process has helped me to better understand that Jesus was also FULLY human, that he suffered incredibly as a HUMAN and that His willingness to go through it was one of the things that made it amazing. I don’t think I would willingly go through this suffering, however minor it is in comparison. So I guess I have more sympathy now for what Jesus went through as a human being and how He really can be there for me in my suffering, and how he is especially there when it feels like no one else is.

At the top of this post I put an icon of St. Cosmas and St. Damian. Two brothers who traveled around helping people without accepting payment because they had the gift of healing. They are sometimes referred to as the Unmercenery Physicians St. Cosmas and Damian.  Because they were both people who healed people and were brothers, I think they would have a special understanding to help heal someone struggling with secondary infertility.  Please pray to God for us St. Cosmas and St. Damian!

Excerpt from My Life in Christ by Saint John of Kronstadt

This below quote by Saint John of Kronstadt has been encouraging and challenging to me as I continue the struggle of secondary infertility and try to take each day as it comes:

“If my life were prolonged only for a few moments – let us say ten – and five of these ten were moments of peace and quietness, and the remaining five moments of pain and torments, even then I ought undoubtedly to say,”Surely the Giver of Life is with me, and He will provide for me”;  likewise, I undoubtedly ought to say, “There is a being in the world who has the power of death, because the five unfavorable moments must proceed from the being that works against God, for the same cause cannot produce opposite actions.  And in me, sinner as I am, at least seventy parts of my spiritual life belong to God, and only thirty parts to the Devil.  How is it possible for me, then, not to see my Benefactor constantly before me, and how can I possibly waiver mentally in my lively faith in Him?” – Saint John of Kronstadt

Secondary Infertility, Pain & Suffering

Somewhere, somewhere, deep down inside I have a sense that God loves me and that what I am going through is for my good. It’s like a small flame inside me that glows while I kick and scream and throw a tantrum as my life goes in a direction that I never intended. For five days, I have been depressed. I have been depressed perhaps five times in my life of a kind called situational depression where as a normally contented and resilient person, external factors become too great to bear and I can’t fight off the dark cloud alone anymore. Another word for it might be difficulty coping with an objectively difficult situation. I imagine myself in a battle where, having thought better of myself than I should have, I went to fight an enemy that I was too weak to fight. I feel that right now this is where Christianity becomes a communal religion, because I feel like I can hardly lift my sword anymore and need the prayers and strength from others to continue. I need reinforcements.

Inside, I oscillate between thinking that what I am going through is “not that bad” and “too great to bear” all at the same time. And what is the issue? We have been trying to have a second child for a calendar year now – that momentous marker where the word “secondary infertility” comes to play and hopes are dashed of ever having a second child. (Not an “Orthodox year” yet, if you know what I mean, but a “calendar year” is still a long time.) I know there are plenty of people who would deal with this situation better than me, with enviable grace and dignity, or wouldn’t even feel like they were having a hardship, especially considering I already have a child. However, for some reason, things like this are hard for me and harder for me than they are for other people. Part of it is because of my intense INFJ personality type  where I experience the world through my emotional feelings and not my rational and objective brain.

I have this irrational thought inside my head that I have had enough suffering in my life and do not need or want more. I realize how insane and irrational that thought is for an Orthodox Christian, but it’s how I “feel” and with what I am struggling. Any struggle with infertility, or not being able to have a child exactly when one wants one, seems like it should be reserved for people who had wonderful childhoods and have intact families and need a good dose of reality. Though, I know this is not actually true. We are all sinners and have intense struggles with ourselves, other sinful people, passions, and health issues – we all just get a different mix and amount of suffering in life.

All that to say, I did have a difficult, painful childhood, and even early adulthood, which I won’t go into detail on, and still struggle deeply with why it happened. And since it did happen, I am struggling with letting go of the idea that I deserve a perfectly happy and large family after the fact, with children coming exactly at my desired intervals. Deep down inside, I believe that the sun shines and the rain pours on everyone and that I don’t actually deserve anything, but like I said, I am still in the mode of kicking and screaming and am working towards letting go.

I am struggling with the idea of never having another child, of having an only child, and what this means for my family. I used to wake up every morning filled with excitement at the coming day, believing this was precious time to spend with my son, before the next baby would inevitably come and change everything. Now, I am struggling with the idea of doing the same thing for sixteen more years (I plan on homeschooling). I am struggling with being the only mom that is never busy and always up for a play date while for my friends with large families, weeks go by, and they hardly notice. Struggling with the idea of my son being lonely and him wondering why God would not give him brothers and sisters. (What will I say to him? I’m sure by then, I might have an answer.) Struggling with why people who hardly want more children get pregnant on accident or at the first try, etc, etc. Struggling with how I have my MBA from a good school and could be earning a high salary and have a “nice worldly life”, but I gave it all up because I love being a mother and discovered how much I love children and that there is nothing else comparable or fulfilling to me – yet another child does not come.

There is one common thing some people say to someone struggling with secondary infertility and that is something to the effect of “at least you have one,” or “you should be grateful for one.” I realize that my life would be infinitely harder if I was completely barren and I am very grateful that through God’s mercy He did not have me endure that. I think my son is amazing. I am very grateful. On most days, I secretly feel like a princess I feel so blessed to have an amazing husband, an amazing son, a great place to live, and the ability to afford healthy food. Sometimes I feel very overwhelmed by how blessed I feel…honestly, I do. However, I am still quite sad. This is still a trial. Trials are hard, and they are sad, or it would not be a trial. And when people imply there is a lack of gratefulness all they are doing is negating the current trial, whether they intend to or not. If I have my left arm, I will still miss my right arm if it gets cut off. If I have ten cookies, I will still be sad when one drops, even if I still have the nine left. Trials are trials. Gratefulness is a tool and a valid coping mechanism, and ungratefulness is a sin, I believe, but being sad because of trials is not because of ungratefulness, it is because life is hard, sad, and full of pain and suffering. Of course my amount of gratefulness can improve, I am of course guilty of sinful discontentment and ungratefulness like anyone else, but that is not WHY I AM SAD and saying those things does not help, at all. It just shuts a door to a further conversation where the root of my pain could be addressed. I am sad because I WANT TO KNOW THAT GOD LOVES ME. I want to know for sure that even though this is so painful and that I am embarrassed of my inability to cope properly, that He will still love me. Because through all this pain and confusion, I am forgetting the theology I used to know. Because book knowledge is not enough when faced with a personal trial. It requires love and strength that is greater, other worldly and derived from heaven or from a heavenly interaction with another human being.

When I interact with my son, sometimes it does help me to have a small insight to how God might be parenting me. (Though, it’s not a perfect parallel since I can explain to my son why I do what I do but God cannot explain to me, at least not directly, or at least I need someone to explain to me how God explains things to us.) At lunch today, I told my son, if you want any of my apple, you need to finish your eggs. My son currently loves apples and they are a good, healthy thing, but somehow my instinct is to make him finish his eggs first, the thing he wants less…so he can learn patience and gratefulness. I realize that I have a huge weakness in that area of patience when it comes to trials that involve love, or perceived deprivation of love, while on earth (waiting to meet a husband, waiting for the first kid, waiting for the second kid if he or she ever comes). I acknowledge that this trial might be good for me. However, I am also honest in saying that I don’t like it, I don’t really want it, and I can’t wait for it to end, and I am struggling to “feel” the love. I am struggling to deal with this trial with peace, grace, and dignity, but somewhere beneath the tears, through enough prayers of others, it can be done or it would not have happened to me. I am struggling to find a coping strategy that is not sinful and that does not include mental exercises such as “Well, I will just have the best one child you ever saw and he will be way better than your ten kids!”

I told a friend today that I needed to process through my sadness and get my “second wind.” A year ago, I told another friend that I thought it would take a year to get pregnant. Well, it’s been a year and now I have to brace myself for trying for another two years or so before we can psychologically close the door on having more. The picture I had in my head of my son playing with his close in age sibling will never happen. I will not hear giggles and glee in my home as two siblings play in the backyard and stumble over each other. I will not have two highchairs and a messy snack time in my kitchen. I am my son’s only constant friend, all day, every day, and if we are lucky enough to have more, he will be old enough to help with diapers. (Which makes it harder to have a bad day, especially when coping with this – I am all he has so I better snap out of it).

Well, that’s all for now. As soon as I got the idea of writing about my feelings, I started to feel the cloud lift a little bit. I have always needed a writing outlet when faced with a hard time.

On Converting to Orthodoxy – Reason One – Facing Suffering

I was baptized into Orthodox Christianity on the Lazarus Saturday before Pascha 2011.  The year or so before that, I was chrismated into the Anglican Church, and before that, I was essentially a non-denominational Protestant  (although I had been sprinkled into the Presbyterian church early in high school.)   I didn’t actually want to be a Presbyterian at the time, or commit to the specific church I was going to, but I could clearly read in The Bible that to follow Christ properly baptism was necessary and so I joined my church.

I remember my last time in the Anglican church vividly.  It was the Ash Wednesday of 2010 and I was taking a break from grad school to attend the midday service.  I’m not sure what happened to me exactly, but during the service the church felt cold and lifeless.  On my way out, I greeted a friend and an acquaintance and received no real acknowledgement in return (one of those embarrassing situations).  My husband had wanted to join the Orthodox Church for some time, but after having visited twice, I still resisted.  Then, that day after leaving the Anglican church, I told him I wanted to try the Orthodox church.  I had the song “You will know they are Christians by Their Love” in my head, which I learned at my Presbyterian youth group, and I wanted to go where that love was.  Perhaps it was at the Orthodox Church I hoped.  It turns out that the Orthodox Church does not  celebrate Ash Wednesday and now I wonder if that is why I sensed a lifeless, empty service?  The Heavenly Saints were likely not celebrating with us at the Anglican church and perhaps, were even let down that we intended to tell all around us that “we were now fasting” by the ash on our foreheads.

But I digress…..This is background.  This is not the first thing that led me to the Church.  When I met my husband, I was already quite confused about Christianity…well, not exactly.  I told him that I believed in the intended meaning of The Bible, but that I wasn’t sure what that was at the time.  I couldn’t really find much in The Bible about “once saved, always saved” or being saved by “faith alone” so I easily accepted the Orthodox doctrine of Salvation but had a harder time grasping the reverence given to the Theotokos and the Saints, not to mention prayers for the departed.

However, it was the treatment of being single in the protestant church that really made me ready for Orthodoxy.  I had an incredibly difficult time being single until I met my husband at age 25 (or 26 if you count the first in-person meeting as we met online).   Based on various situations in my childhood, in error, I felt that God owed me the blessing of meeting my prince charming as soon as I was of age.  My early 20s felt like decades.  (It was so incredibly lonely.  There was really nothing fun about it.  I have no idea why our society puts off marriage and children.  I had always felt that marriage would be wonderful, completing, and fulfilling …and it is.)

The responses I generally received towards my difficulties with being single could be summarized in that I should not worry and enjoy God.  In essence, on a Saturday evening, when I’d rather be on a date with my future husband,  I could sit in my apartment and conjure up specific feelings and emotions that would signify “enjoying God” and would distract me from the desire to be married.  As the churches I attended had some charismatic influences, I now recognize this to be some form of gnosticism and I feel okay about the fact that this seemed strange to me and not helpful.  In my Protestant circles, earthly suffering was not part of our daily vocabulary despite that fact that The Bible is full of references to future trials and sufferings.

I also didn’t hear much confirmation that I was after a good thing.  Marriage is a Sacrament in the Orthodox Church and it is a very blessed thing.  In fact, in college and at prime childbearing age, I was probably biologically and theologically more correct in being more interested in marriage than my studies. (But that’s another blog post altogether.)  Now I understand that the time until I met my husband was a trial and suffering.  My heart hurt immensely during that time and that was okay. (Not that I presume to understand God’s reason or timing, because I do not know).  But I should have rejoiced in my suffering more, A LOT more, and I should have devoted more time to serving others (and finding a career that involved “serving others”) instead of ruminating on my internal angst.

Which leads me to another point, in the Orthodox Church, there is the concept of a prayer rule.   A new catechumen might start with just the Trisaigon Prayer morning and night, before increasing the amount of prayers.  (A prayer rule is the minimum you commit to praying, not the maximum!).   Anyone that really knew me in my early 20s would know that I was not in the place spiritually to spend hours and hours enjoying God.  This kind of advice was not tailored to me or my spiritual walk.  I had absolutely no idea how to “enjoy God.”  Which is why when I learned about the Orthodox Church – the Liturgy, the prayers, the Saints, the candles, the icons, the lectionary, the chants, fasting, feasting, the Twelve Great Feasts, Pascha, Lent, and the list goes on – I was grateful for the guidance on how to go down the path of learning to “enjoy God” and not only enjoy God, but enjoy Him in His objective reality passed down through the centuries, not dependent on my imagination or emotion.  And in writing this blog, I realize, I have a very long way to go.