Are We Ready for Christmas?

lessons from a monastery

Fr. John translated the below homily by Bishop Augoustinos Kantiotes last year. It is so good I just had to share it again this year.

Beloved in Christ, I would like to ask you a question; I ask it of myself and I ask it of you. Are we prepared to celebrate the great feast of Christmas?

There are two kinds of preparation; material and spiritual. Our material preparation is more or less finished. Housewives have cleaned their houses, husbands have finished – or have almost finished – their shopping, and children await their presents. Everyone has written their Christmas cards, signing them with the customary, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’. This is worldly preparation; I am not interested in this. What I am interested in is spiritual preparation, the kind of preparation which makes us ready to celebrate the great event of the Incarnation of the Divine Word as…

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Orthodoxy, Conversion and Ecumenism

This post is taken from an article I found on one of my favorite websites OrthodoxInfo.   Since ecumenism is a great heresy facing the Orthodox Church today, I find this article very helpful, edifying and calming to my soul.  Link to original article is here.

Contours of Conversion and the Ecumenical Movement, Some Personal Reflections

by Hieromonk Alexios Karakallinos

A talk presented at the September, 2004 conference “Ecumenism: Origins, Expectations, Disenchantment”, sponsored by the School of Pastoral Theology, The Aristotelian University, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Christ is “the true light that enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world,” and as Saint John Chrysostom notes, “grace is shed forth upon all, turning itself back neither from Jew, nor Greek, nor Barbarian, nor Scythian, nor free, nor bond, nor male, nor female, nor old, nor young, but admitting all alike, and inviting with an equal regard.”[1] In other words, Christ calls all “to come to the knowledge of the truth.”[2] Although some of the nations have different names today, Christ still continues His same work drawing many who were born into heterodox communities to the Orthodox Church. Their accounts of how they have come to Orthodoxy are like unto a tapestry woven from the wonderful workings of grace and the mystery of the human heart. There are many reasons why someone in a heterodox confession may come to Orthodoxy, but the most important factor is always the presence and influence of divine grace that acts in various ways and at various times, touching the soul of someone who is receptive to illumination and leading him to seek the Truth and then sell all that he has in order to acquire that pearl of great price, the Orthodox faith.

I believe that I have been asked to speak on this topic, because, by the mercy of God, divine grace has also touched my own heart, initially leading me to the Orthodox Church and eventually to the Holy Mountain of Athos, even though I was lovingly raised in a small Protestant household in a small town in America where I neither encountered a single Orthodox parish nor had any contact with a single Orthodox Christian. In my youth, I was taught that all Christian denominations were basically the same and that the divisions between them were unimportant. Nevertheless, experience, common sense, and illumination from God made me question that teaching central to the ecumenical movement. When I was fourteen years old and attending Methodist Sunday school at the church where my grandfather was formerly the pastor, I asked my Sunday school teacher, why should I be a Methodist and not a Roman Catholic, or a Presbyterian, or a Baptist? How do I know that Methodism is true? My teacher had no good answer for me, and that is when my own long search began. I see my path and search reflected in the many accounts of others who have also turned from heterodoxy to Orthodoxy and from those accounts and my own personal experience I would like first to sketch the general contours of how someone converts to Orthodoxy and then to suggest some of the implications this has for Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical movement.

One Church and the Action of Grace

Before proceeding, I should mention that most protestants, like most Christian ecumenists, do not identify the article of the Creed, “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” with any particular community of Christians, much less with the Orthodox Church. They envision the Church as encompassing everyone irrespective of dogmatic differences. From my own experience, I can say that it is difficult for protestants to grasp the idea that Christ founded only one Church, which historically continues to exist today as the Orthodox Church, the only Church that has preserved both historical apostolic succession in its episcopacy and the apostolic, ascetic, and patristic traditions that encompass the sacramental and ascetic life of the believer.[3] Protestants recognize that Christ is their Savior, the Noah of the New Covenant, as Saint Cyril of Alexandria refers to our Lord, but they do not realize that the Church is the ark, as real and concrete as an ark of wood and as essential for salvation from the floods of this world as a ship is for those drowning at sea.[4]

Similarly, it is not easy for those outside of the ark of the Church to realize how Divine Grace is uniquely present in the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church. Just as the blazing sun shines without regard on all people, good and bad alike, so God loves, illumines, and touches with His grace also the souls outside of the Church, inviting them in many different ways, comforting them, and even working miracles when they call upon Him in faith. Notwithstanding, these other confessions do not have the means to purify, illumine, and deify the believer through the sacramental and ascetic life.

I recall weeping as a child when my mother would read to me about Christ’s crucifixion and afterwards feeling Christ’s nearness. I also recall being healed of a crippling childhood disease as a direct miraculous answer to prayer.[5] I attribute both of those experiences to the initial action of external grace upon the soul. Notwithstanding, the grace present in the Orthodox Church involves more than the granting of physical health or proper emotional feelings towards the Savior. The grace of and in the Church is the grace that after Baptism works within the soul purifying us of the passions in conjunction with our own ascetic endeavor, cleansing the image of God within, and thus enabling us to have continuous union with Christ in the heart. This grace, that can produce Saints, is available only in the Orthodox Church to the Orthodox Christian who struggles lawfully to be purified and sanctified and partakes of the life-giving mysteries of the Church. Those who have known a Christian way of life before becoming Orthodox and then after becoming Orthodox struggle lawfully to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit through the immaculate mysteries and the ascetic life humbly lived can offer empirical proof for these statements by comparing their lives before and after entering the Orthodox Church.

It should be clear from what we have just said that in our relations with those outside of the Church, it is imperative that we do not act in a way that hinders the initial workings of the grace of illumination in their lives. Of course, our own struggle to attract divine grace can give us the sensitivity and knowledge, which will prepare us to discern how to provide the appropriate conditions for this initial grace to act. Being able to recognize the characteristics of the activity of grace that are observed in many who are turning from heterodoxy to Orthodoxy will also enable us to recognize when we should speak and when we should keep silent. In most people who turn to Orthodoxy, myself included, we find the very characteristics that are present in those who have received the gift of repentance. We already know these characteristics from our own personal repentance. They include: the pain of a broken and humble heart, a determination to find the Truth regardless of the costs, a humble mindset that makes it possible to consider another perspective and hear another voice apart from the voice of one’s own self-centeredness, a willingness to make comparisons between what one has known and what is being revealed, and a determination to make a change in one’s life.

Unfavorable Conditions: Those Who Do not Convert

Of course, as the ecumenical movement and involvement in the World Council of Churches clearly show, not everyone who is exposed to Orthodoxy necessarily converts, even if many admire certain aspects of the Orthodox faith. In fact, Frank Schaeffer asks the question, “How many converts have the ecumenists made amongst the heterodox in the last sixty years? How many evangelistic efforts have they mounted to reach Protestants, Roman Catholics, and others with Orthodoxy? The answer to both questions is ‘none.’”[6] Outside of the universal failure of ecumenism to bring people to the faith, human factors like thorns can choke the seed, deluded notions like birds can take the seed away, and an improper approach like shallow soil can prevent the seed from ever putting down roots.

We can all empathize with the human factors that choke the seed making a conversion to Orthodoxy difficult. For many heterodox, their ties to their confession are emotionally powerful with associations that span a lifetime. A former American protestant admitted, “Whenever I visit an old Episcopalian Church I am flooded with nostalgia. I think of my mother.”[7] Someone else struggling to decide wrote, “My father, I thought, would have been deeply hurt by what he would have seen as my rejection of the Church of my upbringing.”[8] Things seemingly wise, such as the writings of Thomas Acquinas,[9] things beautiful, such a Gothic Cathedral, and things familiar such as friends in one’s community are hard to walk away from.[10] My own mother wept when she saw me rejecting the religion of my childhood, but now by the grace of God, she too is an Orthodox Christian. For those in the clergy, practical considerations such as a promising career and a high salary make the choice seem exceedingly difficult.[11] Of course, such considerations stem from a worldly mindset that must be discarded for a healthy entry into the Orthodox Church. We need to humbly encourage these people to acquire a strong enough faith to truly believe that “there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life.”[12] Of course, this means that we must show these people that we are their brethren and that heterodox confessions are houses to be left behind. Naturally, ecumenism would tell them to remain in their own houses.

Another set of stumbling blocks that resemble birds that remove the seed arise from misconceptions and deluded notions about the heresy with which one is associated and about the nature of Orthodoxy; many of these notions are intentionally promulgated by ecumenists themselves. Many sincere heterodox Christians, if not the majority of them, continue in their confession on the basis of false assumptions about their confession. One former Anglican priest felt for years that “the Church of England taught the full Orthodox faith.”[13] Another would ignore the heresy clearly present in his confession.[14] Another still would even harbor false hopes that ecumenism would unite Anglicans with the Orthodox.[15] To such people, we are obliged to reveal the Truth with discretion, even though it will be painful for them and again in opposition to the approach of ecumenism that shies away from painful subjects.

Perhaps, the most difficult problem involves those who approach Orthodoxy with a level of complacency with respect to their heterodox confession that does not permit them to put down roots and probe Orthodoxy, but only to judge Orthodoxy according to appearance. If such was not the case of the respected historian Sir Steven Runciman, it certainly is the case of the protestant theologian, Daniel Clendenin. Both men have written books in admiration of much in Orthodoxy, but never taken the step to become Orthodox. In particular, Clendenin’s pitfall involves the acceptance of the false and superficial ecumenical view that the Orthodox and evangelicals hold the ecumenical councils in common and his distant investigation of Orthodoxy without a personal commitment.[16] His position of admiration without commitment is common to those in the ecumenical movement who seek unity, but not salvation.[17] It’s not enough, however, to admire the Truth. It must be embraced. And in fact those who simply admire the Truth don’t really believe it is the Truth, but simply one truth among many others also worthy of admiration.

The Possibility for Conversion: a Broken and Contrite Heart

Those who do convert to Orthodoxy, like all of us whom God leads to genuine repentance, can overcome human factors such as personal and family ties, break through false conceptions about the Truth, and approach the Truth properly, because of what David the Prophet king calls “a broken and contrite heart,”[18] leading to what Saint Gregory the Theologian calls “the beautiful conversion” in which “the more blissful comes out of the painful.”[19] It is “pain of heart” that enables those in heterodoxy to no longer trust their own reasoning, views and emotions,[20] so that they can take the claims of Orthodoxy seriously, critique their own beliefs, and ask themselves what matters most in life.[21] In fact, Saint Barsanuphios the Great says, “without pain of heart no one receives the gift of discerning thoughts.”[22] And this applies to the entire spectrum of discernment. The trials, the tribulations, the sorrows, the crises that bring about this pain of heart are among the greatest blessings from God, for they bring about that due season in which views can be reexamined and a turning towards Orthodoxy can take place.[23]

For many, the first steps towards Orthodoxy are made by recourse to God on account of physical and emotional pain. An American black woman describes her life in the inner city in terms of drinking, fighting, and broken marriages. In the midst of terrible back pain, she turned to Christ and earnest prayer that eventually led her to Orthodoxy.[24] Father Moses Berry’s journey to Orthodoxy began when he was alone in his prison cell facing a ten-year sentence. With great pain of heart, he called for Christ’s help promising to serve Him, and on that very day he was released.[25] For a feminist and practicing witch named Catherine, the pain of broken marriages and being haunted by evil humbled her to the point of seeking Baptism into the Orthodox Church.[26]

For those more deeply involved in their heterodox confession, pain of heart is often generated by a personal crisis in response to the failure of that confession to reflect the Christianity of the gospels. A goodly number of Episcopalian laymen and clergy began looking outside of Anglicanism in response to the crises over the ordination of women to the priesthood[27] and the proclamation of clearly heretical teachings by their bishops.[28] Protestant pastors from other confessions likewise came “to the conclusion that the mainline Protestant denominations were theologically bankrupt,”[29] a conclusion that led them to Orthodoxy. Other protestant pastors would become “tremendously” disillusioned by serving a mainline Protestant denomination[30] if they were not already disillusioned with Protestantism by their exposure to it in seminary, as was the case with the now Orthodox writer Clark Carlton.[31] For former evangelicals such as Peter Gilquist involved in the missionary organization, Campus Crusade, their failure to bring about lasting conversions to Christ made them question the value and effectiveness of their missionary organization, leading them on a search for the New Testament Church, a search that ended in 1987 with their reception into Holy Orthodoxy.[32] In my case, I recall being in graduate school in religious studies, and yet I didn’t feel as though being a protestant Christian changed my entire way of life. I felt guilt and sorrow over my failure to live as Christ would desire, without the alleviation or the hope found in the mystery of confession, and I began to question if I could find real help anywhere. Some of my professors only aggravated my condition, since some of them would even make the most blasphemous remarks about Christ. Our merciful Lord, however, used all of this to push me to seek out and to read about other “types” of Christianity, including the genuine Christianity of the Orthodox Church. What struck me particularly and encouraged me was the unashamed confession of the Truth in the works of certain Orthodox writers I read.

For others, the very encounter with Orthodoxy brings about a crisis that makes them question their own beliefs. There have been a number of converts to Orthodoxy that started out by attempting to prove Orthodoxy wrong, such as Father Thomas Avramis who was raised in a Greek Orthodox home, but became involved with Protestant groups in high school and college. In order to be able to “convert the Orthodox” and be convinced that Orthodoxy was false, he began to read about Orthodoxy until he instead became convinced that Orthodoxy was in fact true.[33] Another convert to Orthodoxy, Father Seraphim Bell, was a pastor who started to study Orthodoxy history and theology in order to prove that the Orthodox speaker Frank Schaeffer, author of Dancing Alone, was wrong, only to discover that he was in fact right.[34]

Of course, there are many people who suffer crises of all kinds in this world without converting to Orthodoxy, because the fullness of time has not come for them or because they pridefully respond to their pain with anger and self-indignation, instead of that humility, which would make them receptive to the grace of God that both initiates and completes the process of a person’s conversion.[35] Now humility and heresy are generally mutually exclusive categories, but in fact “most Western Christians are not conscious, willful heretics.” Neither any of my relatives nor I knew anything about the Orthodox Church until I started investigating it systematically in graduate school. Peter Gilquist, the leader of a large group of Protestant communities that entered the Church, notes that the Antiochian Orthodox Church “provided a home for people such as the Evangelical Orthodox Church—Christians who for so long didn’t even know this Church existed.”[36] Since these people were unconsciously in heresy out of ignorance, Saint Cyprian of Carthage’s teaching would seem apropos: “one who errs by simplicity [of mind] may be pardoned as the blessed Apostle Paul says of himself, ‘I who at first was a blasphemer, and a persecutor and injurious; yet obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly.’”[37] And although the Saint’s remarks do not change how the sacred canons should be applied, it does make it possible for some of these people to be compared to “New Testament God-fearers like Cornelius” or Candace’s eunuch who “neither believed aright concerning God, nor taught others the truth,” but because they humbly and diligently sought Christ, they were particularly worthy of a special help.[38]

The Path towards Conversion: A Humble and Diligent Search

This humble and diligent seeking of Christ can be seen in the questions those who would convert to Orthodoxy would ask themselves or others. Father Edward Wilson, for example, recalls asking his friend the question, “if we saw God at work doing something that was different from what we were doing, would we have the good sense to join it?”[39] Another Orthodox priest when taught in Methodist seminary not to accept any authority, but to decide on his own what to believe, asked himself, “Who was I to invent or even re-invent the Christian religion? I needed someone or something higher and wiser than I.”[40] Humbly seeking in turn gives way to humbly submitting to the Truth, once the Truth has been found. Frank Schaeffer puts it in this way: “I no longer believed it was my duty to stand in arrogant judgment over the historical Church… as if it were merely a matter of personal taste, amusement, or comfort. Rather I began to see that it was the Holy Tradition of the historic Church that stood in judgment over me… This is no theoretical or theological assertion, but a very practical one, since as a moral cripple I need the crutches —this historical certainty—offered by the historic community of belief.”[41] When Father Peter Gilquist was asked what prompted him to leave the Protestant world, he gave a similar response, “ultimately the change came for us when we stopped trying to judge and re-evaluate Church history, and for once invited Church history to judge and evaluate us.”[42]

Once someone has humbly accepted the universality of the Orthodox Church as the unique theanthropic body that is authoritative in his life on matters of salvation, the movement from an assent in the mind and heart to the actual act of converting to the faith requires another virtue that Saint Clement of Rome calls “strength of devotion and of purpose.”[43] This realization that nothing is more important than properly entering the Church and pushing towards that goal is necessary for the person who is seeking the Church to be able to overcome the obstacles that the evil one will surely put in his way. We can see this “strength of devotion” in many of the accounts of those coming to Orthodoxy. Father Jack Sparks, for example, spoke of being “committed to finding that Church and becoming part of it, no matter what the cost.”[44] Father Peter Gilquist saw Ruth the Moabite as a model for entering the Church, in which following God meant humbly making His people (that is, the members of the Orthodox Church) your people, regardless of the conditions.[45] I remember after six months of reading nearly every book on Orthodoxy that I could find in the University of Chicago library and before even visiting an Orthodox parish, I told myself, “I will do whatever it takes to become Orthodox, even if I have to become a Russian or a Greek, or learn to speak Russian or Greek in order to do so.” To a certain extent, I ended up doing both.

The Cause of Conversion: the Action of Grace

As important as it is to humbly seek the Truth with a contrite heart and to submit to it with determination, the chief factor at any conversion is always the working of divine grace. “Saint Athanasios the Great, in his On the Incarnation of the Word of God states, ‘The Saviour is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching.’”[46] And while according to the Fathers, grace does not work on man from within the soul prior to Orthodox Baptism, it can and does move the unbaptised person towards the good from without.[47]

Of course, grace acts in a multitude of ways on souls that are prepared and receptive, and it would seem helpful to enumerate some of them. In some cases, it is the right book falling in the right hands at the right time. In my first year of college, I read the Brothers Karamazov and was amazed by the beauty of a Christianity I had never encountered before. This is when I was first conscientiously attracted towards Orthodoxy. For others, it is cumulative effect of reading many books on the Orthodox faith.[48] When a Roman Catholic seminarian in Africa was awaiting ordination, he encountered a woman who told him about Orthodoxy, and after reading some books and praying, he understood that the Truth of Christ is found only in Orthodoxy.[49] For others, it was the study of Church history that brought them to the doorstep of the Church.[50]

Apart from reading, many have felt the pull of grace by attending liturgical services. For example, one former protestant seminarian, now an Orthodox priest, found “the presence and power of the Kingdom of God in the Church as a Eucharistic community.”[51] Others have inadvertently entered an Orthodox Church and been captivated by the beauty and holiness of the icons. When I first entered an Orthodox Church and saw the icon of Christ and heard the priest exclaim “let us commend ourselves and one another to Christ our God,” I knew that I had found my place and in fact the Church I had been seeking from my youth. One protestant woman spoke of her first visit to an Orthodox Church in this way, “I stared into the faces of Michael the Archangel, the Lord Jesus, and the Virgin Mary. It was as if I were being taken right up into heaven with them. It was right then and there that I knew that I had found home; I knew I wanted to become Orthodox.”[52] Father Moses Berry, describes the first time he walked into an Orthodox Church as a young American black man and how he saw a large icon of Saint Moses the Ethiopian. He writes, “I was stunned by its terrible beauty and other-worldliness. It was as if he were saying to me, ‘Welcome home! Welcome to the Church my son!’ I wanted to cry or shout for joy.”[53]

In others, the action of grace is even more manifest, such as a family in Africa who were desperately watching their loved one dying and asked an Orthodox priest who happened to be in the hospital to pray for them, and the priest read a prayer and the dying man arose, and with him, his entire family desired to learn about Orthodoxy and be baptized.[54] Or there is the case of a former Christian who strayed into Buddhism and became a practicing Buddhist who was inexplicably awoken every night at three in the morning. His guru told him to call on the name of a Tibetan deity, but when the man did that, he heard a voice saying, “I am not that.” Shaken, he asked, “Who are you?” and he felt a Light that knew him and loved him and he knew it was Christ, even though he had earlier rejected Christ completely and would not even refer to Christ by name.[55]

The Final Step Before Conversion: Making the Comparison

And in a sense, every convert has this feeling of being awakened by the grace of Christ in one way or another. Like the prodigal son, he comes to himself, makes the comparison between his father’s house and the squalor in which he is now living, and makes his decision to return home. In the words of another convert who has since become an Orthodox priest, “the reality of Orthodoxy is far better than the illusions of life outside.”[56] Some compare the order and cohesion of Orthodoxy with the confusion of Protestantism. Others contrast the historical continuity of Orthodoxy with the lack of historical connection in modern Protestantism.[57] Others compare worship rooted in the Holy Spirit’s guidance with the make-it-up-as-you-go-along affair of Western Christendom.[58] Others contrast the shallow “how to” programs developed over the course of a few short years with two millennium of proven guidance and council.” [59] Still others note the presence of tools to combat sin in Orthodoxy with their absence in heterodox confessions.[60] They compare, they contrast, and they come to a decision.

And so the person from another confession completes his catechism and by the grace of God is baptized into the Holy Orthodox Church. From this point onwards, “it should be of no importance to a man who joins the Church what he was,” according to Saint Hilarion, “it is important and saving for him only that he, by becoming united with the Church, becomes a member of the Body of Christ.”[61] Following Holy Baptism, the one time process of conversion becomes the life-long process of repentance within the Church.

The Conversion Process and Ecumenism

What we have said about the process of someone’s conversion to Orthodoxy—in terms of pain of heart, humbly seeking God’s will, and a determination to do God’s will whatever the cost—must continue in the Church in the life of repentance, because the struggle for purification and sanctification essentially begins with Holy Baptism and because the life of repentance is a similar life of continuously seeking God’s will. Just as it is a fearful sin to do something that would hinder someone’s repentance, it is a fearful sin to hinder someone’s approach to Orthodoxy by our lives, our actions, and our words. An ecumenism that pretends that the real differences between Orthodoxy and heterodoxy are insignificant is precisely such a sin of fearful proportions. It denies the Truth that so many former heterodox Christians have struggled to find and attempts to shut the door to others still searching. We must not be deceived by the smiley mask of ecumenism. Ecumenism is in opposition to someone seeking the Truth and striving to enter the Church of Christ at every single step. Ecumenism encourages feeling good about discovering a superficial unity, not compunction and a life of repentance. Ecumenism discourages a search for the Truth that would mean admitting that there is also falsehood. Ecumenism does not really have the humility to listen to another perspective apart from its own, especially if it suggests that ecumenism is itself a lie. Ecumenism allows for comparisons, but not conclusions that one tradition is more genuine than another. And in the end, ecumenism discourages any decisive action that would be in opposition to its own goals. In truth, Christ’s words to the Pharisees apply to the ecumenists, “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”[62]

Saint John Chrysostom advises each of us how to help those outside of the Church, “thou canst not work miracles, and so convert him. By the means which are in thy power, convert him; by showing him brotherly love, by offering him shelter, by being gentle with him, by dealing kindly him, and by all other means.”[63] In other words, we need to reach out to those heterodox Christians outside the Church with that hospitality and love so characteristic of Orthodoxy. This means being able to see whatever virtue is present among those in error even as Saint Peter, not to mention an angel of God, saw virtue in Cornelius prior to his Baptism.[64] The path to conversion is not an easy one, and those struggling along it need our love, concern, and support. At the same time, however, we must proclaim the “hard saying”[65] of the Truth, even if it is painful. The truth that the Orthodox Church is the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”[66] as well as the unique ark of salvation is “our chief cornerstone, elect and precious,” that has always been and will always be “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.”[67]

It should not be surprising that those formerly heterodox Christians who have converted to the Church are the fiercest opponents of ecumenism. For ecumenists, converts to Orthodoxy are clearly an embarrassment, since conversion denies the existence of some middle ground between the Church and heterodox confessions. For converts, their involvement in ecumenism would be the fulfillment of the proverb “as a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.”[68] Converts are intimately familiar with the spiritual sickness and suffering caused by infidelity to the teachings of Christ and His Church in heterodox communities. They cannot be duped by soothing words about love that sacrifice the Truth or empty words about a unity that in reality does not and cannot possibly exist. Their repentance over what is wrong in those communities was by the grace of God a fount of knowledge leading to salvation. They will not let ecumenism deny this knowledge to themselves or to others.

And this position of theirs is not a negative position. On the contrary, it springs from love for Christ, love for the Church, love for the Truth, love for those within the Church, and love for those outside of Her bosom. In love, we reject ecumenism, because we want to offer those in heterodoxy precisely what the Lord has graciously given to all of us in the Holy Orthodox Church, the opportunity to become members of the Most Pure Body of Christ, “children of light”[69] and “heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love him.”[70]

 

Advice and Random Musings from a woman who has secondary infertility to another one younger in the struggle

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks of sharing some more about my experience with secondary infertility.  Perhaps some for myself and maybe in case there is another women going through it right now ….In no particular order, here are some things I have learned.  (I will add to this and modify it as I think of new things to add.)  I will entitle this essay…

“Advice and Random Musings from a Woman who has secondary infertility to another one younger in the struggle”  

  • I’m not sure what studies say exactly, but in my experience, secondary infertility seems to be very rare.  If you meet anyone with an even remotely similar experience to you, you are very lucky.  While you are in the infertility experience, you will realize that there are many kinds of infertility and that no one’s story is quite the same, and that it can be hard or frustrating to try to relate someone else’s story exactly to yours.  (Though all sympathy and empathy is appreciated.)  Secondarily infertility in the late 30s or early 40s is not like secondary infertility during prime child bearing age.  Having secondary infertility after having primary infertility is not the same as secondary infertility during prime child bearing age.  If you are a person of prime child bearing age who “easily” got pregnant the first time, and were completely blindsided and shocked to find that you could not have more, I’m sorry to say, but you are in misunderstood minority of women.  Most people will try to tell you that actually, you are wrong, you can have more!!  Because why couldn’t you?  You already had one!  Even after medical tests have revealed the severe unlikelihood of this possibility, people will still continue to make you feel like you should you not accept reality and should keep beating your head with a stick.  This will hurt.  This will hurt because its complicated.  People want the best for you and want you to be happy.  They don’t want to you to go through this, but somehow in doing so, they will make you feel like you should not accept your lot and that somehow you are unacceptable in your imperfections.  Then when you realize how excited you are about your hopeful future foster and/or adopted child, they will still tell you that you might get pregnant on your own.  Remind yourself that they mean well, but that the best child is the child that God wants to give you.  If possible, politely remind them of this.
  • Just 2 months ago, I finally met a person who experienced secondary infertility in the same way that I had…complete and utter shock after having a first child normally.  She had another child 5.5. years later, but being able to finally talk to someone who went through my exact experience was very meaningful and was a gift from God.
  • While you are going through infertility, you will realize that some of your friends are not really your friends, some are really awkward, and some are social unaware.  If you find even one person who is making an effort to be considerate or help you cope, consider yourself lucky!  Be prepared for the loss of friendships…This is normal.  In Matthew 24:12, it says love will grow cold in the end days, so one can conclude people going through suffering will have to go it alone more.  However, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28).
  • I was once in a group of women at church, where the conversation came to their children growing up too fast.  I was in the height of my secondary infertility struggle.  Most of these women had three or four children or were pregnant with their third or fourth and were complaining about their youngest growing up too fast.  It was shockingly insensitive and I’m sure I spent a bit crying afterwards.  I even tried to politely speak up and tried to say “yeah, imagine only being able to have one and then…” but the circumstances would have it that no one heard or they decided to ignore me.
  • One “friend” who I used to speak with regularly before my infertility started, never once asked me how I was doing or how I was coping for well over a year of my struggle, though I regularly asked her how she was and how a situation she was in was going.  (I even brought up infertility around her a couple times as bait to she if she could talk to me about it if she knew it was an okay topic and she never did.) We used to go on walks when our babies were in their strollers and talk…we had really enjoyable conversations.  I was looking forward to a dear friendship.  Luckily, she did nothing outrightly mean or insensitive, so I had time to grieve this friendship.  Though tears were shed week after week wondering how I was placed in such a place going through such a thing with such shockingly little support.
  • You will have other friends hurt you in such unique and specific ways that you won’t be able to share them in a blog…With only the strength and love of Christ, can you forgive them.  As I write this I cry, because the hurt by friends when going through infertility is so unique and painful that I am so grateful Christ has helped me forgive and bring me peace.
  • If anyone doesn’t give you the space to grieve or calls you ungrateful for being sad, know they are wrong.  They are either wrong because they are putting a level of spiritual perfection on you that you obviously don’t have, or they have a poor understanding of human emotion, or much worse.  Try to say something polite to them if you can, but with these people, you should probably put up huge boundaries if you keep talking to them at all.  If this person is your priest, perhaps find out if there is another nearby priest you can talk to instead.  Unless you are a Saint, infertility is a sad, hard and difficult thing to go through – if a priest is making you feel bad for grieving, I am sorry.  After going through much infertility, I finally found a priest who made me feel like a normal healthy person for having sadness…and of course this strengthened me and made me stronger!  If the non understanding person is your spouse, I am sorry.  Hopefully, in this case, you do have a priest who can advise you.
  • Eventually, secondary infertility may become a part of you in a similar way that you might hear a person speak regarding a disability.  Infertility is really a hidden disability of sorts.  Its a broken system of the body.  But like we hear people with disabilities saying they wouldn’t change themselves and that God made them that way for a reason, you might also find your own peace and these same thoughts might go through your head one day. Hopefully not to a point of pride, but at this point, I see my infertility as being touched by God physically.  I see all these women of varying lives, and different shapes and sizes getting pregnant and having babies like normal, but for some reason, God allowed something in my body to be broken for some reason so that I can’t.
  • But first grieve and schedule time to cry.  There was a time, when I would have a wonderful time with my son, he would take a nap, I would cry for two hours, and then he would wake up and we would have a great rest of the day.  If you have a young first kid, going through infertility is so hard because you have to spend time grieving, but even more time caring for your first (who might be a complete miracle.)
  • Society is at such a point in history that my infertility really is starting to seem like a very small problem.  Some Christian women in the Middle East are being tortured.
  • But don’t forget to grieve.  Rationally you may know women in other countries are being tortured, but the capability, or lack of capability, to reproduce children is something physically, spiritually, and mystically bound to you and sadness, lots of sadness, is NORMAL.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is is either unkind, doesn’t understand humans, may have a dissociative disorder, or is a well intentioned person who knows nothing about infertility.
  • People will continue to complain to you about the challenges of having multiple children, the busyness, the taking to school, the to and from sports.  This will be hurtful at first, but eventually you might see that these people just don’t understand…they have never been through infertility and honestly, may not value their children as much as you value your first and potential children, and so may not think having one child is a hardship.  This is a very important thing to learn and will save you much heartache…as hard as it is to fathom, some women who have multiple children and are busy, really think having one child would be nice.
  • Secondarily infertility will continue to rear its ugly head.  Its much harder to make friends.  Most women with one child go back to work earlier and send the child to day care.  Woman who are home with multiple children want playdates with families of multiple children.  Sometimes it really hurts when you are literally passed up as a potential friend because you just have one.
  • On a related note, after a while, you will find some peace that you have an only child.  God allowed you to have only one child, so in a way, you let Him help you shoulder the responsibility of having only one.  “God, you allowed me to have only one child, please help meet his needs!”   It hurts and is so painful to accept, but as we are open to God’s will, God will grant you and your child everything necessary for working out our salvation. That may be an eventual biological sibling, many foster siblings, an adopted sibling, or no siblings.  It helps greatly now that I feel less guilty for having an only child. I am counting on God to help me meet my sons needs, and also to meet them Himself.
  • Eventually you will start to enjoy the benefits of having only one…the special perks few women experience since few women stay home to raise one child even into the toddler years.  Want to go to lunch at Chipotle with your child?  Want to have a coffee date and color?  Want to do homeschool today at Starbucks?  Want to read a few board books at Panera? No problem!  Your child will become your inseparable buddy and eventually someone else’s large family will not be a source of jealously because you will see that your child is unique and uniquely in your family for a reason, and you will enjoy doing fun things together that some larger families don’t frequently experience.  (Though I’m sure hide and go seek is way more fun in a large family, this is a paragraph about the positives of having only one, the perks whether real or perceived : )
  •  “Give us this day our daily bread” as part of the Lord’s prayer has also become a plea for me to help meet our family’s need despite having only one, and also in these depraved times.  I am in thankfulness of how much God provides and fills our weeks with activities and random fun encounters at the park and things like that!  Just like when people experience financial poverty and see God at work through random giving, the poverty of infertility will also reveal God’s small everyday gifts in your life.
  • “Little Fur Family” by Margaret Wise Brown is a wonderful book about a cozy family of three that will be nice to read to your only child while you grieve.  Even if Margaret Wise Brown may have had some liberal reason for writing about families of three so often, its a cute cozy story suitable and comforting for the situation of secondary infertility.

The World is Mad by Archbishop Averky

Another edifying, prophetic essay by Archbishop Averky.   Every day these words become more and more true.  This essay is taken from a website dedicated to his writings.  The translation is not perfect and is awkward in a few spots, but overall it conveys well.

The world is mad
  
“The time will come when people will behave like madmen, and to him who does not, they will say: you behave like a madman because you’re not like us.”

So says one of the very ancient predictions about what will happen on the earth shortly before the end of the world.

Many ancient prophecies have come true, and continue to come true before our eyes.  Isn’t this prophesy already coming true, as well?

After all, what is happening now in the world may not be explained otherwise than with an indiscriminate, mass insanity, of which only very few are free.  And that is in all areas of modern life, which has gone far astray from common sense, with a full violation of the reason given by God to man, unlike the speechless, irrational beings.

It is like this in personal life, – family, social, political, public and even in religious life and church life.

Everything has been turned upside down.  Black is called white, white – black, light is called darkness, and the darkness – light, the truth is called a lie, and the lie – the truth, good is called evil, and evil – good … And this is not being done only by the explicit and open atheist- theomachists who call themselves communists, in whom many naive people tend to see the main and almost the only evil of modern life.  No! not inferior to them in their true madness are other people, as if the opposite camp, the opposite sentiment and ideology – the people who left and right all the pathos told that they – “anti-Communists” and even though fighting against communism, wishing to be saved from being absorbed by this world.

Hypocrisy, falseness, deception and manipulation have become an epidemic, which has now infected great masses of crazed people; and believe in their honesty and sincerity, in most cases, is impossible, because they say one thing and do quite another, often the exact opposite.

In saying this, we deliberately avoid mentioning certain innumerable facts, because these facts are more or less known to all, but they often stir up different to the opposite evaluation, precisely because today most people are in a frenzy, lost their minds and lost common sense, and become incapable fair assessment of what is happening, and judge everything with bias, seeing from their own point of view totally dependent on their spiritually morbid disposition.

But life, which every day becomes more and more ominously gloomy, witnesses itself to the correctness of our statements, as well as the fact that all the ancient prophecies are now coming true with amazing precision, in the fullest sense of the word, before our eyes, for those who are still able to see it, who are not yet mad, – not yet foaming at the mouth with some frantic ferocity – not trying to insist everything in the world is doing fine, everything is going quite normally and naturally, as usual, on the path of undeniable “progress “.

And indeed, many of those truly blinded madmen try to convince us that we are the madmen, not they!

Today’s youth…  An amazing unheard of before, the moral laxity, lack of manners, impudence, rudeness, boorishness, a total disregard for the authority of elders…  Parents are deprived of the right to punish their obstinate, disobedient children…
Let’s start with the future of humanity – with young people.  After all, what indeed has today’s youth come to – deprived by orders “from above” of religious or even moral upbringing and education!  An amazing, unheard of before moral laxity, lack of manners, impudence, rudeness, boorishness, a total disregard for the authority of elders (seniors in age)…

And very few people find this really embarrassing or shocking, because it has become somehow commonplace.

Instead, in full flower blooms the overt and covert worship of Satan, even before it has official recognition, the politicians support the temples of Satan and Satan’s ministers, often in open of worship Satan, and they even promote it through the press and all the means of modern technology.  There is an intensive preparation for the unification of all religions and all nations and world governments, of course, with a purpose of all this [world association] globalization is heading towards the enemy of Christ – the Antichrist – about which there are many predictions given to us by the ancient Fathers of the Church.  All modern world policy is precisely leading to Antichrist; it is not noticed by the spiritually blinded, and it is denied by those who themselves are involved in this work, willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, living from day to day, and turning a blind eye to the consequences of their participation in Satan’s doing.

Worst of all, of course, is that the Church and the life of modern “Christians” are not far behind this general epidemic of madness – the onrush towards the Antichrist; the madness is being hidden behind all sorts of specious pseudo-Christian slogans.  Here we often see the horrible picture, which has nothing to do with true Christianity, nothing to do with the serving God and Christ’s Church.  A deceptive appearance – without content.  And here in the first place – there lies personal gain, greed, vanity, ambition and lust for power and vainglory – which pleases not God by any means but rather their own sinful passions, under the hypocritical guise of religiousness.

We will not even speak of such a phenomenon, unprecedented in the history, militant atheism, as the ministry of the Church, in the person of its senior hierarchs, which in essence is nothing but some kind of mad self-destruction.  We will not dwell on all the fairly well-known facts pointing to many bishops belonging to secret anti-Christian organizations focused on the goal to destroy Christianity and to bring about the early enthronement of the enemy of all mankind and the enemy of Christ – the Antichrist.

Even if all this, and not in full, then missing also is the most necessary – a solid standing in the true Christian faith and confession, so important especially in these days of the growing apostasy from God.  There is no sincerity, no honesty, no strict ideology and principles, there is no one ready for self-sacrifice, and instead of all this – only the seeking of careers increasing of personal material benefits, cunning, Jesuitism, hypocrisy – all with the sole purpose of obtaining as much as possible all sorts of worldly goods, wealth and contentment here on earth, with complete disregard for the afterlife, the retribution, and the eternal life awaiting us all.

Here’s how the grim picture of modern spiritual crisis in the Church is drawn by one of the candlesticks of our Russian Church at the end of the 19th century, watching as early as back then the already begun increase of the impoverishment of the genuine spiritual life in the bosoms of our Orthodox Church itself:

“In the higher shepherds of the Church there remains a weak, dark, confusion, misunderstanding as to the letter, which kills spiritual life in the Christian community, which destroys Christianity, which is a deed, and not a letter.  It is hard to see who has been entrusted with the sheep of Christ, who provides for their guidance and salvation! … ”

If it was like this back then, how many more times worse is it right now!  Indeed!  Few people think about or care about the spiritual life.  It all comes down only to the external decor, more or less decent and proper, and often even this is lacking because of the complete lack of principles and ideals – coupled with the open service to one’s own passions, which manifests to all and is seen by those who have not yet lost their innocence.  This can be very painful for those who still have not lost the sensitivity of their conscience.

It is not surprising that many in our time, having essentially no spiritual guidance and seeing only temptations and bad examples, fall away from the Church and even lose faith in God.

And is not all this real madness?

And just try to strongly and openly talk about it, all at once, violently pounce on you and speak with us in the spirit of the above ancient prophecy.

      And try to only strongly and openly talk about this as all immediately bitterly aggro on you and will speak in the spirit of the above us the ancient prophecies.    …
“You are crazy, because you’re not like us!”

Here is in what a truly terrible time we live!

The World is indeed mad, and they do not even notice or would not notice!

What do we do?

The only thing we can do in such a situation is with all our heart to pray to God to preserve us unshaken our own faith and to preserve the faith of the people close to us and to grant us patience in the midst of this already almost universal epidemic of madness, reaching sometimes to violent lunacy, reminding ourselves of the meaningful call that has come down to us from time immemorial:

“Save yourself, to save your soul!”

 

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!

Technology, Transhumanism and Toddlers

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Recently, a friend lent me a nice book entitled Books the Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Children Moral Values Through Stories.  While it provided an overall great book list as a resource (personally, I’m not a huge fan of Maurice Sendak), I felt somewhat sad that the world the author was writing for didn’t quite exist anymore.  While I know “there is nothing new under the sun,” it seems like things have changed greatly since the book was originally published in 1994.  I wish the world was even as simple as it was for me growing up in the 90s.

It seems that my son’s generation (he is now 3) will have far more temptations surrounding it. From opportunities for literal transhumanism experiences to all kinds of gender bending wierdness all going against God’s created order.  I feel there is a strong need in the very early toddler stage before a child can even read to simply create a love of God’s created order and God’s created things: people, forests, trees, animals, general peacefulness, and even educational books that reinforce the order of language, numbers and basic science.  And of course Saint’s lives written for children.  After all, when they are alone in their room, they are only left with a memory of the story and the pictures by which to tell their own.

It’s not necessarily that I see my own son at huge risk for these things (who does see their own child that way) but I want him to be actually saddened by how things are in today’s world and how they affect those around him and even grieve The Heavenly Kingdom.  I wonder if his generation carrying the last, or nearly the last flag of Christianity will feel their hearts in a perpetual Lent – living life in a beautiful melancholy.

I realize since the issue of transhumanism and everything else is so new, there is no “time tested” method to deal with these temptations other than trying as hard as possible to live the traditional Orthodox Christian life.  Father Seraphim Rose says that even if we try our hardest, however, our neighbor is not…no matter how we try to protect our children from “modernism” we can’t.  These days I have seen children watching videos on their ipads in even the mostly unlikely places.

It would seem that since the “world outside” is trying to bombard us with messages to confuse us and won’t even reflect, let alone reinforce, God’s order anymore – I may have to work harder as a parent at this.  It is probably more important to reinforce gender identity, the traditional family, and love of God’s creation through early literature, when this was probably something taken for granted by previous generations.  In other words, I don’t read books about robots to my son, but prefer to read books that have something beautiful and human in them.  (For example, today we picked up some books from the library including one about a family that moves from the city and builds a house in the country with the help of family and friends, and another about a family that runs a small farm.) I know there are probably books about robots that are “moral” and “cute” but there are too many reasons to not read the robot book for me. Among all the other agendas, there is indeed a transhumanism agenda as well.  When my son learns about robots, I want him to learn the whole story about them in an age appropriate way…so no “cute” robots for us for now.  The agenda is pretty evident is most modern media, so if you don’t already notice it, these links probably won’t help much, but just in case:

The Hidden Message In Pixar’s Films

So, What Are We Now? : Posthumanism and Transhumanism in Music Videos

Transhumanism for Children

Our Transhuman Kids – this article is actually against transhumanism

Robot to Attend School for 10 Year Old Cancer Patient

Meet Life Like Robot Nadine that works as receptionist

I lived the first almost 7 years of my life without computers…and while I can’t tangibly remember the freedom that gave my soul, somehow I can feel the change and how technology has grown and grown and could completely drown my soul if I let it.  Someday my son will be on his own and making his own decisions.  I want him to feel the ache in his heart like I do.  I want him to long for simpler and more beautiful times after he finds himself making mistakes.

But someday soon I will tell my son as much as I can for his age, and keep telling him more as he grows.  It will be an “Orthodox Survival Course” for children until he is ready for the real thing and to start his own Orthodox Christian reading.  But for now, I just tell him “I wish I could tell you more, but for now all I can say, ‘the hour is very late’.”

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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