As we approach the Feast of the Annunciation, we may recall the words of the Troparion for the feast: “Today is the beginning of our salvation, the revelation of the eternal mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin.” That is, Christ becomes incarnate as fully man at the time of His conception, and so too did each one of us become fully man at the time of our own conception.
Remember, Christian soul, that the ascent to heaven is indispensable for anyone who wishes to save his soul unto eternity. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Strive to enter in through the narrow gate.” That is, the Christian ought to be an ascetic. Not only the monastic, but every Christian.
But if while ascending this ladder of spiritual perfection by struggles and ascetic labors, we cease from this work and ascetic toil, our soul will not remain in its former condition. Like the stone, it will fall to the earth. More and more quickly will it drop until, finally, if we do not come to our senses, it will cast us down into the very abyss of Hell. Unless we continually employ our efforts in correcting ourselves and our lives, we shall cease our ascent, and, most assuredly, we shall begin to fall.
The Ladder of Divine Ascent is a powerful and foundational work of Orthodox asceticism and it is one of the few universal classics of world spirituality. It is the inspiration from a renowned icon, pictured along with this article, and it lent its name to its author, St John of Sinai, more commonly known as St John Climacus or St John of the Ladder. Although it was written originally for his fellow monks on Mt Sinai, it outlines a spiritual path that applies to everyone, and it has long been customary for Orthodox Christians to see regard this as obligatory Lenten reading. Using the image of a ladder connecting heaven and earth from the dream of the Patriarch Jacob in Genesis 28, St John offers a wise and insightful catalogue of those virtues and vices that serve as signposts for spiritual ascent.
Just as the body of the Lord was sanctified through the Cross, so our own bodies are sanctified, along with our relationship with the world and the world itself. The Cross is the power of Christ that, if we adopt it, can bring the world to paradise. It is the cleansing force of the universe.
And when we make the sign of the Cross with faith and determination for a pure life in the world, the power of the Spirit of Christ comes, the power of Him Who was pure in the world. Creation is still in its birth pangs as regards its true and new condition of existence. They’re the pain of the Cross.
This dish is extremely easy, takes only a few minutes to prepare, and is so delicious it will make you forget about meat altogether—perfect Lenten fare. It would go well with rice or perhaps vermicelli, but it’s terrific on its own.
There are many versions of this recipe on the Internet, but they all trace their ancestry from Doc Ford’s Grille on Sanibel Island, a few miles off the southwest coast of Florida. This version has been adapted for Lenten use (the original uses butter).
Lent is that time during the Christian Year when we can all, to some humble degree, emulate the life of monastics — attending numerous services during the week along with the usual Saturday Vespers and the Divine Liturgy on Sunday.not to mention keeping the Great Lenten Fast, all of this together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters.
But it is also a time to get into better shape spiritually, setting up an exemplar for ourselves of how we should live every day of the year.
The second Sunday in Lent honors St Gregory Palamas (a c. 1296—1359), whose life and writings have decisively shaped our understanding of Orthodox Christianity. But despite his influence in defining the Orthodox mindset, the essentials of his thought and spiritual vision are not widely understood. Fr George Metallinos of the University of Athens, himself a leading theologian in contemporary Greece, concisely summarizes the teachings of St Gregory and their importance for us today. Palamas shows us that hesychasm—the path of purification, illumination, and glorification—is meant not just for monks, but for all Orthodox Christians.
“The Lord has revealed to me,” said the great elder Seraphim, “that in your childhood you had a great desire to know the aim of our Christian life, and that you have continually asked many great spiritual persons about it.” “But no one,” continued St. Seraphim, “has given you a precise answer.”
This sermon, delivered in 1903 on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (first Sunday of Great Lent) at the Cathedral Church in San Francisco, presents the missionary call to which all are exhorted, which itself is part-and-parcel with the gift of the Church that all Orthodox have received. It is perhaps even more timely today than when it was first delivered.
Illumined with the effulgence of the Most High, the venerable Macarius heard a voice issue forth from a skull, saying: “When ye pray for those suffering in hades, even the heathen experience relief.” O the wondrous power of Christian prayers, whereby light doth penetrate even the uttermost depths! Yea, even unbelievers receive consolation with the faithful when we chant for the whole world: Alleluia!
Collect concrete, living insights and understanding, the priest told the young man, as best you can, drawn upon your vital experience with God and not from books. Read, pray, give to the poor, do labor on behalf of someone who cannot do it, all in secret, if possible…Of all these things, fasting seemed the most puzzling, perhaps because it seemed to have so little connection with morality, with being good and righteous, and he had always heard that religion was about being moral and good. But at the same time, this had always given him a certain disdain for Christianity, which seemed quite unnecessary as an aid to being good and upright (we all have our own “virtuous atheists’ to exhibit).
Hegel argued that history was at an end, a final culmination. This belief was embraced both by the cultural left (Marx and his successors, promoting “liberation” and revolution to realize this end) and the cultural right (most recently espoused by Neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama, whose End of History promotes a global hegemony of capitalism and liberalism). Both parties are convinced they are “on the right side of history.” Both thereby “immanentize the eschaton,” i.e. both insert the Kingdom of God into history itself.
Meanwhile, Nietzsche argued that things were not getting better, but rather declining into a nihilism of meaninglessness. To counter this he prescribed valiantly embracing an endless cycle of cosmic repetition as an existential tonic.
In his brilliant reflection on Time and Eternity, Fr George Florovsky shows us how these contemporary views are rooted in an ancient conflict between paganism and Christianity, while showing the Orthodox resolution of these dilemmas.
It is not merely that artists, directors, musicians, and others connected with the arts are in flight from beauty. Wherever beauty lies in wait for us, there arises a desire to preempt its appeal, to smother it with scenes of destruction. Hence the many works of contemporary art that rely on shocks administered to our failing faith in human nature—such as the crucifix pickled in urine by Andres Serrano. Hence the scenes of cannibalism, dismemberment, and meaningless pain with which contemporary cinema abounds, with directors like Quentin Tarantino having little else in their emotional repertories.
Prayer is infinite creation, far superior to any form of art or science. Through prayer we enter into communion with Him that was before all worlds. Or, to put it in another way, the life of the Self-existing God flows into us through the channel of prayer. True prayer uniting us with the Most-High is nothing other than light and strength coming down to us from heaven. In its essence it transcends our plane of existence. True prayer to the true God is contact with the Divine Spirit which prays in us.
The politics of gender, sexuality, race, and immigration are increasingly eschatological. Their power and appeal depend on the belief that they advance a liberating moral narrative, inspiring a secular Exodus that will lead to a secular Pentecost. To adopt this creed is to join a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation It does not bear witness to God, but to the belief that we can be like gods.
Sexual sins foster isolation and shame. Healing comes through a surrender to reality, a coming to the senses much like the Prodigal Son before his turning back to the Father. Communion with the self, others, and God must can be restored.
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Meeting of the Lord. The Purification of the Virgin. Candlemas. Why does this Feast have four names? Fr Andrew Philips tells us why.
Twentieth-century readers knew Kerouac’s On the Road and Jack London’s earlier hobo classic, The Road, but how many of us know what the 21st-century counter-culture is up to, their life-styles and aspirations? We see the tattoos, nose-rings, attitudes, but do we hear the cries of the heart from young people searching for truth?
One of the greatest spiritual gifts that Elder Paisios gave me was his guidance along the mystical path of the Jesus Prayer. This started at the beginning of our acquaintance and continued until his repose twelve years later.
When we saw this chart at Byzantine, TX, we couldn’t resist sharing it with our readers, many of whom will have seen it already.