St. Ephraim on the Nativity.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 15, 2008 by Blake

Thy mother is a cause for wonder: the Lord entered her

and became a servant; He who is the Word entered

– and became silent within her; thunder entered her

– and made no sound; there entered the Shepherd of all,

and in her He became the Lamb, bleating as He came forth.

Thy mother’s womb has reversed the roles:

the Establisher of all entered in His richness,

but came forth poor; the Exalted One entered her,

but came forth meek; the Splendrous One entered her,

but came forth having put on a lowly hue.

The Mighty One entered, and put on insecurity

from her womb; the Provisioner of all entered

– and experienced hunger; He who gives drink to all entered

– and experienced thirst: naked and stripped

there came forth from her He who clothes all.

In the candlelit nave

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 24, 2008 by Blake

I had the blessing of spending a good eight hours at church yesterday, between the Divine Liturgy, coffee hour, and later an Akathist to Saint Katherine, with a small meal after and a film on her life. It was the name day of Father Mark’s daughter, so she served us our meals and cleaned up afterward with thankfulness and a smiling face — she’s a sweet girl, very humble and pious in her short eleven years.

I had the chance to speak with Father Mark for awhile. I told him that it did me well to take his words to heart, concerning certain situations which have been hard for me to deal with lately. He had told me, to paraphrase, to express humility and patience and glorify God in all things, and the demons use setbacks such as these to tempt us with ideas of God being far from us, and not caring for us in our sufferings. He showed me how to pray for the reposed with my chotki, which brought me consolation and peace of heart. I confided these things in him, and expressed that the heavy cold I had been carrying around for weeks was gone. Father blessed me, and we went into the church and talked a little more about these things, and gave thanks to God.

As I had left Father a small note saying that I hope to get the chance to speak with him later in the afternoon, he pulled me aside as everyone was leaving, so that we could get the chance to talk. In the nave, I told Father Mark of my thankfulness for him taking the time out to speak with me, and that I’ve been visited with health and consolation. I told him that it has all worked towards my humility, and it must have been a way of forcing me to take my eyes off of myself. Wallowing in my grief and sickness seemed to increase my bonds, but, when I took up the prayer rope in nightly rule and prayed for the souls of the departed, after several nights, God visited me. As Saint Mark of Ephesus says, “God is not bound by contracts”, I know full well that I can’t expect anything as a result of what I do — I can’t say if I do a hundred prostrations God will give me this much grace, I can’t say if I say prayers for this many hours God will heal me of this much sickness, and so on, but I know that God listens to prayer, and He is near to the contrite heart.

Father told me, after we got done talking, that if I continue to struggle, and swear not to fall away after Pascha, he will baptize me. I nodded to him, and I quoted the Psalter: “Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them.”

He replied, “And FULFILL them! Making vows to the Lord is easy, fulfilling them is the hard part.” He blessed me, we venerated the icons, and went our separate ways.

Pray for me, as I continually take it upon myself to struggle, and that the demons of despondency and hedonism stay far from me during the Fasts. I have a strong desire for the Mysteries which I have deprived myself of. I have a great need to die in the waters and arise new in Christ. I need this, with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my strength.

Weekly contemplation.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 22, 2008 by Blake

Consider, how the Lord in His divine wisdom, gave us the means of calling upon His name, and by descending into our own hearts through this ineffable glory, we also ascend, into the Kingdom of Heaven. Consider, how the invocation and utterance of the name of the Lord Jesus, crushes the heads of the infants of spiritual Babylon against the rocks, and gnashes their teeth.

Consider, the sheer humility of the prayer, and how only through being abased are we exalted by it. Consider, how many holy ones have retreated into the desert to taste this prayer more sweetly, and have died to the world and become as angels by this unceasing prayer. Consider, heavily, the Lord Jesus, Who spoke thus: “Abide in Me, and I in you.”

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

No death.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 31, 2008 by Blake

“Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life.”

It is no wonder that on the Great and Joyous Feast of Pascha, our hearts abound with joy. We have waited with anticipation from the beginning of the Ecclesiastical Year for this day to come, when we triumphantly cry aloud together: “Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!”

But what does this mean? A lot of times, we go through life just thinking of Easter as a holiday we celebrate by watching the kids do egg hunts and feeding them chocolate, having dinner with the family and shooting the breeze. The theological significance of what has occurred on this day is experienced every day and is present in all things — because the Christ has suffered on the Cross, was buried, and Ascended on the third day, we no longer have to bear the consequences of a second death.

It is true, however, that we must bodily die. We read that we are fashioned of dust and to dust we will one day return, inevitably, due to the consequences of the Fall of man — but because of the New Testament, the Perfect Sacrifice willingly given on behalf of all and for all, we too may walk in the newness of life, both now, and after our physical death, to a place where there is no pain, sorrow, or sighing, but life everlasting in the presence of He Who suffered on our behalf. We have the assurance that, if we follow in His footsteps, there is the eternal assurance of peace, dwelling forever in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jesus said, in the Holy Gospels, “Follow Me.” More specifically, He said “Deny yourself, pick up your own cross, and follow Me.” In this, we see that, we are not promised a life without sorrow or pain. It is through sorrows that we gain a better understanding of eternity. St Isaac the Syrian, a holy ascetic who lived in the 7th century, wrote “The glory of the Cross is concealed in the sufferings of the Cross.” We can’t understand the mysteries of God until we too have experienced pain, loss, suffering, denial of ourselves and of our pleasures. The reasons for this, on one hand, is to emulate what Christ has done and felt, and on the other hand, is a great Mystery that we aren’t meant to understand in this life.

We may ask, “Why is it that God takes those who we love when we need them the most?” It is because He takes them when He can show them the most mercy. We can’t look only to ourselves and our scattered human reasoning, we have to look upward and see that because Christ is Risen, we have the promise of being with them again one day…

… but only if we take it upon ourselves to walk the path that Christ Himself walked. The relationship between God and man is synergistic, that is to say, working together. We don’t reap the newness of life by continually walking in death, but in bearing our own cross and following Him daily. We don’t change ourselves and go to God, we go to God, and He changes us. We aren’t expected to have all the answers, only to hope in Him Who has made all things new. We aren’t to believe that those who have passed on are separate from us, but praying for us, waiting for us, near to us, and more alive now in paradise than ever in this fallen world we still live in.

Because Christ is Risen, there is no more death. Because God descended and took human flesh, human blood and a human soul, in Christ Jesus, and was crucified and buried, all humanity has been given the promise of this same Resurrection.

But realize, and consider, that the way to life was cloaked in death, even the pain of crucifixion. He did not promise us an easy way, He promised us that it would be worth every sigh, every tear, every sorrow, every pain. He did not promise it would always be easy, only that His grace is sufficient when we are weak, and that He will beckon to us when we call on Him. Because of these things, we don’t ask for a break, we don’t ask for a lighter load, we ask for a stronger back… so that we can partake of the sufferings of Christ, and because of this, we can partake of the newness of life that is promised us.

One day, if we want it, all will be revealed, it will all make sense, it will all be worth it. Today, we must hope in the resurrection, and be assured that we don’t suffer because we are being punished, we are being pruned to be made fruitful. We aren’t suffering because we aren’t loved, but rather because we are loved — the strongest steel comes only from the hottest flames, and God works in mysterious ways.

When new life enters the world, glory to God. When life departs from the world, glory to God. In health, in prosperity, in thanksgiving, glory to God. In sickness, in pain, in sorrows, glory to God. All works according to His glory, and He remains in control of all things in this world.

— Dedicated to my Stepfather. I can’t imagine the pains you have surely felt in these past couple of years and I’m sure it is undeniably hard, but I know with certainty that those who have gone on look upon you and the entire family with new, radiant eyes, eternally. They are not gone, but because of Christ, even death has been conquered, and they are alive forevermore. This is the promise of the New Testament. —

Retreating inward.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 25, 2008 by Blake

It seems that, around this time of year, a lot of feelings surface in my heart — some that I like, some that I don’t like so much, but they are there and I can’t help but acknowledge them one way or another. It may sound a little crazy, but it’s almost like a bittersweet nostalgia is carried in the wind during Fall, and all of those who are inward thinkers can’t help but be taken back whether they care to or not.

I’m reminded now of early childhood, before being busy, before bills, before tuneups and oil changes and nine to fives, when you were happy to wake up with the sun and get outside in the yard and play. I remember when I got my first bike, I’d ride for hours! I always loved doing that… I’d usually find myself at a historic caboose that was parked on some railing on the edge of town, and walk around the water and the trees there, I even took a nap on the big flat rocks a few times. It’s funny how some things never change, even as a boy I preferred retreating inward and finding nice plans to be alone with my thoughts. I had friends, and we had many great times as boys, but some of my fondest memories include those personal walks to church, bike rides, painting with Grandma, reclining with Grandpa watching the news, asking them questions about life. I took a lot for granted, then.

It’s a shame that as we move on, we’re forced to let go of that child in many ways. We close our eyes one night, open them, and ten years have passed. Now, constant noise is mandatory, forty hours of your week, more or less, are obligated to a corporation where you are more of a cog in a wheel than a person, one which is workable and replaceable in most cases. We put these hours in at these places to get some of those fancy presidential pieces of paper, and give it all away, just to ‘survive.’ I’d expect some readers to think that, perhaps, I’m just a lazy good-for-nothing who expects to sit at home in dreamland and let the world pass me by, miss out on my American Dream and piece of the pie. I probably am. I just don’t think that my dream has anything to do with what has become ordinary of life. I’ve never understood the expectations, get a job, get a car, get a wife, get that house with the picket fence, have kids. None of these are bad things, but why is it supposed to be that way? Maybe I just have some growing up to do, and I can accept that, I just wish I was a little happier with the idea of corporate America…

… who am I kidding. I’ve never wanted anything to do with it. A life that would make me happiest would be as a married Orthodox Christian, serving as a Priest if this is God’s will, homeschooling my children and teaching them strong Christian morals, how to be content with the small things, and be happy without a television. Or if I’m not meant to be married, I’d want to live a monastic life. There’s nothing for me ‘in the world’ and I have always, always felt that way.

And now, these thoughts off of my heart and out of my head, I’m truly going to spend some time retreating inward. There’s a place waiting for me there that I’m more content with, and it needs a little cleaning up.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, the sinner…

Hieromonk in prayer

Overdoing it

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 6, 2008 by Blake

I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like… butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. — Bilbo Baggins, Fellowship of the Ring

I can’t say I relate entirely to the Hobbit, but the quote certainly applies. This isn’t a depression, this isn’t a bitterness or hatred or anything of the type — this is the feeling I tend to get when I overdo being social, or being in social areas. I greatly feel the need to withdraw, to “recharge my batteries”, so to speak.

It’s a part of my personality that I don’t entirely understand and I doubtfully ever will, all I know is that it’s a set in stone fact that I can’t change, and I don’t think I would want to. By nature, I am one who thrives on solitude and personal reflection, and at times, which is most likely wrong — I feel that external social activities damper my inner life. There must be a balance, to be sure, in order to thrive in a very social world, but my scales tend to tip more towards ‘alone’ than ‘with others’. I am content with that. I’ve never known a time when things weren’t this way for me, and it’s definitely not changing any time soon.

One thing that is unfortunate about it, is the fact that most people don’t understand it at all. Some take offense to it, thinking that I am stuck up, or standoffish, or rude because for a time I’ll be fine with going to dinner or a movie or a drive or whatever spontaneously comes up, then comes the time when I just can’t be productive without drawing back and ‘climbing back into the shell’ so to speak.

Anyone who really knows me can tell you that I am not antisocial as far as conversation and activities go. A good conversation is ideal, getting out of the house once in awhile is a good thing, I’m comfortable in social situations and more often than not I’m calling the shots and playing leader — but this is something that I can only explain as ‘external’, not entirely needed, something that is welcome when the time is right, but nothing that I would suffer without. If I had to choose, say, three months straight of daily activities with friends or three months straight to myself with no obligations or bothers, I would choose the latter in a second.

I’ve lost friends over this in my life, some of which just not being able to understand the fact that I simply need time to myself to function, others thinking I’m cold or unusual. It’s a very unfortunate thing, but this is something I’ve come to terms with. I’ve always preferred a handful of very close friends than a book full of acquaintances. A quote from a friend I heard recently comes to mind:

One should never be in the company of a person with whom it would not be an honor to die.

I suppose the purpose of this blog is to let it all out and see if anyone out there relates to me on this one, and, also, to point out to any dear friends who happen across this that I am not a cold or rude person, not intentionally, I’m just not able to invest too much time in being social.

Forgive me.

Hosts of heaven, hear me…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 5, 2008 by Blake

Draw near to me O Lord, hasten to help me, bring my soul out of affliction and have mercy on me for I am in need of Your great and abundant mercies. Despise me not, O my Master, though my good works are as filthy rags and my virtue is comparable to dirt. Forsake me not, Heavenly King, though in actions, in words, in thoughts and in deeds I have forsaken You. Heal me from within and unbind these chains, these passions which beset me and humble me even to the earth, deliver me from this death I bring steadily upon my soul. I dare not raise my hands to heaven, for with them I have become an idolater, I do not use them for labors of asceticism but for personal gain. I dare not lift my eyes to heaven for with them I behold that which causes me to stumble, with them I have entertained carnal thoughts and have set myself in a snare, eagerly, willingly, as a dog to his vomit and a naive lamb to the slaughter. I only raise my thoughts and prayers to the throne of grace, in hopes that Your mercy outweighs even my sins, the wretched, the terrible, the undeniable weight of my innumerable sins against You, against myself, against my neighbor, and against all the world. Forgive me, Lord, for I do not sin against myself alone, but I sin against You, and I sin against humanity.

I am humbled, my King, again, I am humbled, for in my sins I have warranted physical and spiritual death but I have not been made to suffer the cross. I haven’t a single day in my life without sin, I have scarcely a passing moment when I do not sin against You, I am the sinner, the hedonist, and in truth I have betrayed you more than Judas. Yet You have ascended the Cross even for my sake. You have given hope even to one such as I, that even my abominable sins are above retribution… for what manner of evil can I commit that Your Passion cannot subdue? What act can I, as creation, exalt above the acts of You, the Creator, Who has deemed in ineffable Divine Providence to grant great and abundant mercy to a world much in need of it? I am humbled… Lord I am humbled… grant through the prayers of your Saints that I may die with You, that I may be resurrected in You, in Baptism, in Illumination, and in glory. Grant O Master and King that, not for my glory, not for mine, but for Yours, that I may walk in the newness of life and suffer myself not to live as a child and product of spiritual Babylon, but the Kingdom which has no end. Grant O Lord and King that through the prayers of the Panagia and of all the Saints, I may no longer simply think of You, but experience You in Sacrament and divinization.

Have mercy on me O God have mercy on me, according to the multitude of Your compassions blot out my transgressions, wash me thoroughly of my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin…

For I am in need of Your great and abundant mercy.