I leave early in the morning for Holy Cross Hermitage.
Pray for me, a sinner. I will pray for you and light a candle for you.
I leave early in the morning for Holy Cross Hermitage.
Pray for me, a sinner. I will pray for you and light a candle for you.
O Lord, my God in Heaven, restore sight into mine eyes… visit me with your abundant graces, visit my soul with every good thing. Cause me to see your glory, as I have set my hope in you, grant unto me the joy of salvation and the spirit of servitude. Cast me not into the dregs of the earth, abase me not according to my sins, but raise me up, visit my soul. Allow me to see your glory, fill my heart with rejoicing, set straight my paths and make yourself known to me, although I am not deserving. Magnify, O my soul, the God of all creation, the Lord robed in majesty, He who is girded with strength. Magnify, O my soul, the Lord God Almighty, the only Lover of our eternal souls! Magnify, O my soul, He who has walked on water, He who is dominant over all the earth.
Grant me forgiveness for my many sins, cast them into the ocean of your endless mercy. Restore me, O Jesus, grant me tears of compunction and a clean heart, for I put my trust in you.
Lord, Father, accept me, and do not forsake me, although I have not stood watching and waiting in vigilance, and have fallen into the murky slumbering of my sin. Master, visit my heart, although I have not prepared it for Your coming, and it has been host to all things unclean. I am humbled beneath you, and truly beneath all men, for I have sinned against You, my King, and I have sinned against humanity. What wonder, O Christ, that You have come to save even me, who am dust and ashes, and so often prefer evils to the light of Your divine radiance. Help me to rise above the sloth I have incurred, help me to return. Grant through Your grace and mercy, my Lord and God and Savior, that I may one day enter into paradise and be with You, according to Your love, for I thirst after You, and You are my only sustenance. Often I have tasted the bitterness of life, but You, O Lord, give living water… often I have walked through life despondent and not looking to Heaven, but may Your Uncreated Light be a guide to me always.
I beat my breast, Jesus, for so many precious moments You have given me, yet I have wasted in fruitless and meaningless efforts — but visit me! For though I am as the blind man, I know You are ever passing by, and I only desire to look upon Your face. Though I am dead in sin, I know only You have the power to raise me, this is my desire. Though I am as a thrall in mind and I am fallen into a deep abyss, where can You not reach, My God — You who are in all places and fill all things? Take me, by my wretched and outstretched hands, and grant that I am not consumed and burned away as hay against the torch. Grant that once more, the grace which flows from you, Jesus, carries me on the palm of it’s hand, not pertaining or according to my virtue, for it is scarce, but according to Your glory…
Grant that I walk upright, that the warmth You place in my heart is not so easily extinguished… Grant through the prayers of Your holy ones my inner fortitude is righteous and withstanding, that I may not eagerly walk into my passions as a naive lamb to the slaughter. Through my sins, I deserve nothing… but, Lord Jesus Christ, I ask from the bottom of my wretched heart, and from the depths of my spirit, forsake me not, the prodigal and accursed one, made greatly unprofitable by shameful words and deeds…
To You be all glory, and power, and honor, and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
On my own accord as a little boy I used to walk about a mile to the Baptist church that some of my extended family was a part of. My aunt taught Sunday school there. These were during the good days when a little kid could walk to church on Sundays in a good little southern country town where nothing ever went wrong. Oddly enough, every Sunday, I’d walk past a church with a big golden dome on it, but I didn’t know anyone there and I was too intimidated to walk in. It was called St. Mary’s.
All throughout my early youth I continued on with the Baptists, doing the little Christmas plays and learning about the usual Sunday school material.
Eventually we moved from that town and I started going to church with a different side of the family at a local Pentecostal assembly, still just up the street from where I live now. It wasn’t really a church thing for me at that time, even as a little boy, even though I loved the activities and things with my family and friends then, I knew something was missing and frankly… shallow. I was done coloring pictures of Jonah and the whale and leaving the room when it was time for the grown people to hear their message… I never understood why the children were encouraged(sometimes forced) to leave the main area of the church when the real preaching was getting started. That’s what I wanted to hear. I was thirsting for something substantial that I could never find, and it wasn’t being filled by the redundant praise music and childish activities we were being spoon-fed.
So I fell away from church altogether not too long after all that, for a good four or five years I’d say. I started getting into evil music and dark lifestyles, my mouth became filthy, my habits became filthy, my friends and associations were filthy… I was in rebellion, there was no way I was going to be a part of this modern church, where the altar was a stage and homilies were self-help seminars from overpaid ‘pastors’, self-appointed Apostles spewing garbage about how soon Jesus is coming to take us away from our problems, preaching endlessly about how unless we drive a Bentley, live in a big house and have no health problems we are not favored by God and we are missing out on His blessings.
I dabbled in demonology, paganism, buddhism, zazen meditation sessions, drugs, and music to touch the spiritual world. And I did indeed touch the spiritual world. And it left me a very dark, bitter, depressed, and angry young man… a slave to the passions, to myself, and to the demons. I thought of myself as ‘more aware than the rest’, my eyes were open, I was out of tune to the ‘lies of man-made religion.’
A few years passed this way. Nearing the end of this dark journey I was using the ouija, invoking the goddesses, studying the demons, and more things that don’t need mentioning. I was, at this point, completely lost… and I knew I was… but I was too numb to despair. I became a shell, hollow inside.
The only thing that changed me was Providence. God, in His infinite mercy, did not desire the damnation I was steadily bringing upon myself.
One night, I was laying on a friends bed, extremely drunk and high to the point of being sick. I was tossing and turning, the room was spinning, I was burning up, and all of my friends at the time were passed out around me. The thought hit me, then, feeling this way, and seeing them all passed out from intoxication… I’m not truly living. I am not alive. My lifestyle is living me. I’ve sold myself out.
I recall thinking of that little boy who I used to be, oh, if he could only see me right now… he would surely walk up to me and spit directly in my face and curse everything that I let him become. He was such a good kid… without a care or worry in the world. And now here is the result, sick yet again from indulgence, surrounded by a bunch of fools who don’t know whether they’re living or dead.
What was different, then… what has changed…
God had abandoned me…
… I had abandoned God.
I decided that, for better or worse, the next time the doors are open, I will go to the place where I left off. And so I did. I walked into that church, the only thing I really knew about Christianity, where I really got my first start. The pastor was preaching words that I can hardly recall… but Providence had in store that this was the day I was supposed to be in that place, at that time. What was spoken there seemed as though it was spoken directly through my bone and marrow, piercing down into my very soul… come to the altar and come back to God, it was said, come and be saved from what you have become…
I seemingly floated towards that altar, tears rolling down my face, heart pounding, not sure of what to do, say, or think. All I knew was, without the shadow of a single doubt, God truly existed, God truly was there, God is truly near the broken and contrite heart and was waiting exactly where I left Him behind. Some may call the experience I had there which truly cannot be justified in words nor explained to do it justice ‘being saved’, I call it step one of a long journey back home… one that I am still on. The prodigal had returned home, the sinner had repented, and the angels of heaven rejoiced.
I no longer had the desire for drugs or alcohol, there were no withdrawal symptoms. Any sort of item attributed to darkness or the occult was disposed of, and I dove into my Bible daily. I would pray to God, Lord, show me the way, guide me and I will follow, show me the ancient paths I’m reading of, where I may find true rest for my soul…
I knew without a doubt that God existed, from that glorious moment where I truly had experienced Him, felt Him, heard Him… but I knew that this couldn’t be it. Where is the Church?
I found a church not far away, ‘established in 33 A.D Jerusalem, the Church of Christ’ of the acapella variety which some of you are aware of… I was nearly convinced. Nearly. They talked a really good game, to put it lightly, and they could quote book chapter and verse, but something was still missing. I started studying Catholicism, thinking it was the oldest Christian expression of belief… and in a nutshell, I was pointed towards Orthodoxy.
There was a poster during my inquiry phase on The Ancient Way known as ‘eoe’, who sent me a PM with my current Priests phone number, the church number, the address, the jurisdiction, and everything… he implored me to go, quickly, not to wait, and when I got there to just observe and not try to follow along in some service book. And so I did… October the 1st, 2 years ago, the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God.
St Mary’s Orthodox Church. It had relocated over the years.
I was stunned. I felt just as much wonder as I did as a little boy, walking past that church with the huge golden dome standing sentinel against the horizon. Only now I was going inside.
and before a word was spoken, before hardly a thought could pass, I knew it. This was home.
I would like to welcome my dear friend Sergius to the Orthodox blogosphere.
You may view his blog here: http://sergiusbob.wordpress.com/
My friend, know that you are in my thoughts and prayers daily, and it will be a blessing for me to follow your writing.
Sweet, sweet serenity… crystalline pure silence, the mystery of the age to come, completely exalted and wholly different in essence than the false glitter of this world — the satanic noise, infernal chaos, that I, in my indifference, have become so accustomed to. How I long for even a moment’s peace of spirit and clarity of mind, the rapture of soul and utter abasement of the body if only for a moment, and even if within the world. Not a clarity of worldly knowledge or even theological, but the harmony and wakeful lucidity of walking with Christ, the descent into a heart made pure by His grace. Who am I that I should place my cares above God, I who am made of dust, who’s thoughts are vain, against He who existed before all ages? Why do I tarry in vineyards which divert my attention from the state of my soul to a fruitless harvest? For though I tarry, and I reap, I sew nothing which will be taken with me into the next life. Though I fall, and I get up, I hardly retain any knowledge of value, and scarcely lift a finger to fight my passions when they come again.
My troubled soul, perturbed as an ocean within raging storms, no consolation have you found in me, who am a thrall in mind. Scarcely a hope do you have when you have knowledge of saving truth, but will not put yourself to the tasks at hand required of you for your salvation. Your pitiable state of despondency leaves you sleeping, and though death comes soon, you lie in slumber. Where is your spiritual reading, your repetitive prayer rule, your Psaltery, your virtue? Dormant, beneath the murky waters and evil fantasies.
And yet still… escaping the noise, and affirming my thoughts by the thoughts of my Patron Saint Isaac the Syrian, my sins are as a handful of dust cast into an endless ocean. God’s mercy is evident in every moment of my life, for though I deserve death and hell I am given another hour for repentance. The devil’s of despondency are complimented by the devil’s of despair, and silencing one, silences the other. Standing aright, I must sign myself with the Cross, and call ceaselessly upon the name of Jesus, that I may crush the heads of the infants of Babylon upon the rocks. I must break Babylon daily, I must rouse within myself an effort to pray, even if I must make a new start every day, for His grace is sufficient and His strength is evident in my manifold weaknesses. Even if dejected and humbled down to the earth, I must find within me even a spark of zeal, and even if on forced lips I must pray to the Lord my God, and He will strengthen me in His goodness. For, as St. Isaac the Syrian tells us, to stand is not within our own power, nor does it pertain to our virtue, but we are carried by grace itself, as though upon the palm of it’s hand.
As the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force, following the examples of denial and asceticism paved by St John the Baptist, so too must I embark on a spiritual path. I am promised nothing as a Christian, no glory or fame or riches, I am only promised a cross, “let us expect nothing more out of Christianity than to be crucified.” (Father Seraphim Rose of Platina) But it is with this cross that we have the eternal promise, so long as we bear it, and even if we stumble with it all our lives… we may one day receive crowns of glory, a Heavenly glory, not of this world. We may be before Him as His humble and lowly servants, basking in His Light, accounted worthy not through our own efforts, but by following the example of the Cross.
God be attentive to helping me, O Lord make haste to help me, let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul… let them be turned to shame that desire evils against me.
Glory to Your Wisdom, Exalted King above all ages. Glory to God for all things.
It seems to me that, often, we humans(with myself among the first) tend to discredit or look down upon our fellow man with ease, and without the spirit of patience and humility. A reading from Saint John of Kronstadt today was a convicting reminder to me that “… man’s essence, the image of God, is always there.” He said that we cannot confuse man, in the image of God, with the evil which is in man, because evil is “only his accidental misfortune, a sickness, a devil’s dream.” It can’t be denied, however, that all men are created in the image of God.
Theosis, to me, seems to be the way of achieving the pre-Adamic state, a perfect communion both within one’s self(mind, body and spirit) and with the Lord. We as humans tend to elevate the rational mind above the heart and thus become critical and harsh, or we tend to elevate the heart above the mind and become lax in our judgments and clouded in our vision concerning righteous laws(ecumania being a prime example), or there is the time when we attempt to lead with the spirit without elevating humbling the body… there are many examples. When we walk with mind, body and spirit in harmony, it would seem that we become more like God — when we as humans live trinitarian(rightly in body, mind and spirit) we are more open to the grace from the Holy Trinity. When we are longsuffering and patient, silent and forgiving, fasting and praying, giving alms, living in obedience and bearing the cross, the Lord visits us with great graces, and sets our paths straight. The more we humble our intellect, the clearer we discern His voice, for as St. Isaac the Syrian says, we must walk before the Lord deaf and dumb, lowering ourselves even as low as an ant, and not expect that He shall hear us for our length of words. The more we humble our bodies, the less hold the passions have on us, for as the desert fathers have always attested, fasting is the crown of the virtues. St Seraphim of Sarov was so bold to say that if one does not fast, one is not Orthodox.
And when we humble our hearts, remembering that God is more merciful than we are in our judgments with men, and He desires all to be saved — and indeed, we are all made in His image — the less likely we are to give sway to wrath, which silences the inner life(St Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies). Our tongues contain the fires of hell, and we will be held accountable for every idle word. When humbling the body, we must remember among the first things to guard our tongues, to implore the Lord to set a watch over our lips.
James 3:2-12 For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect individual, able to control the entire body as well. And if we put bits into the mouths of horses to get them to obey us, then we guide their entire bodies. Look at ships too: Though they are so large and driven by harsh winds, they are steered by a tiny rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination directs. So too the tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions. Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze. And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the entire body and sets fire to the course of human existence – and is set on fire by hell.
For every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and sea creature is subdued and has been subdued by humankind. But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord, and Father, and with it we curse people made in God’s image. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. These things should not be so, my brothers and sisters. A spring does not pour out fresh water and bitter water from the same opening, does it? Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water.
Proverbs 13:3 “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”
Proverbs 21:23 “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles.”
James 1:26 “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.”
Luke 6:45 “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
May God grant us to walk in His image, and not be confined to a broken humanity.
From the Little Mountain is a half hour glimpse into the monastic life of the Holy Cross Hermitage, a monastery in the mountains of West Virginia, which I hope to visit in the very near future. It’s roughly three and a half hours from here, which is such a tremendous blessing to know, considering West Virginia is seen as one of the largest Protestant States in the Country. Until I had attended the Dormition of St. Mary Orthodox Church(also here in WV), I never knew there was a monastery nearby — the closest I had visited was Panagia Prousiotissa in North Carolina.
As my spiritual father is close with the Abbot of Holy Cross, I do hope to visit them soon — rest assured I’ll give you a little glimpse into my visit at that time. May God bless you.
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