Archive for orthodoxy

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.

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.

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