Archive for christianity

Pilgrimage

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 23, 2009 by Blake

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.

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The long road home.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 2, 2009 by Blake

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…

No…

… 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.

I entered…

and before a word was spoken, before hardly a thought could pass, I knew it. This was home.

On the Image of God…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 16, 2009 by Blake

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.

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.

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. —