The essence of any religion is contained in the spiritual life, which is its most sacred side. Entry into this life demands not only good intentions, but also knowledge of the laws of spiritual life. But to acquire this knowledge in an age of spiritual confusion requires clear guidance. The writings of the nineteenth century ascetic and theologian, St Ignatius Brianchaninov, are based upon his scrupulous study of patristic writings, tried in the furnace of personal ascetical experience. They provide a kind of Orthodox ascetical encyclopedia clarifying the most important questions of spiritual life, including the dangers that can be met along the way. They set forth the patristic experience of the knowledge of God as applied to the particular psychology and special weaknesses of people living in a secular age, making his writings exceptionally valuable for modern-day Christians.
We suffer an age of redoubled iconoclasm. It is not the image-smashing of Constantinople, the Reformation’s rage against papist altars in Germany, nor the vandal-piety of Vatican II that plunders its own treasures. It is a militant renovation of the very meaning of beauty which shuns “the aesthetic value of a building” as belonging to an obsolete culture of symbolic frills.
Thomas Traherne was a seventeenth century Anglican priest originally known as one of the less prominent “metaphysical poets,” although he was until recently overshadowed by figures such as John Donne and George Herbert. As a simple country priest, he led a quiet, obscure, and pious life, dying of smallpox in 1674 at less than 40 years of age.
In the winter of 1896-1897, a work of prose, his “Centuries of Meditations,” was discovered by accident in the bargain bin of a London bookseller who was about to discard them in the trash, and since then it has become a classic of English spirituality.
In this moving account, Archpriest Nikolai Agafono narrates how a foolish childhood escapade led his family into Orthodox Christianity, despite their dismissive view of religion that exemplified attitudes imposed by the Soviet state. As the details emerge, he skillfully reveals how God’s love can permeate even the most rigid ideological filters that modern secularism is able to enforce.
C.S. Lewis warns that refashioning man according to newly fabricated norms will result not only in the perpetual tyranny of those elites who have invented the new norms, but in the abolition of humanity itself.
St. Theophan teaches the basics of prayer in ways easy to understand and apply. Those who practice this will soon master the skill of ascending to God in their hearts.
Despite the abundance of recent news on Russia, much of it false or distorted, little attention has been shown to the remarkable renaissance of Orthodox Christianity in that country. Yet during less than thirty years since the fall of the Soviet Union, the number of churches in Russia has risen from less than 500 to nearly 40,000—about four new or restored churches per day! This moving account of how two faithful Orthodox nuns restored an abandoned church, and helped revitalize the Orthodox faith in a small village along the way, is typical of thousands of wonderful stories that lie behind this resurgence.
In this interview with Kevin Allen, now newly reposed, Fr. Thomas Hopko offers a balanced and insightful discussion of the doctrine of the aerial tollhouses that the Church has traditionally taught we will encounter after our death. The toll houses have been the theme of recent debates so often assuming extreme positions that some have become skeptical of the issue altogether, setting it aside as undecidable.
Yet as Hopko argues, no matter how literally or symbolically one may take the teaching itself, it is founded upon a solid foundation of Christian theology: Christ has truly freed us all from sin and death, and won our salvation, but each of us must actively accept that salvation. Do we really accept him, or is our true loyalty in fact with the forces of darkness? Our very nearness to Christ after death will judge us: will we let go of our passions and our demons and accept the love and redemption of our Savior? This question of “the last battle,” as Hopko puts it, is far too important to be set aside.
Lawlessness is the defining characteristic of both Antichristianity and the modern world. The Antichrist is described by St. Paul as “that lawless one,” and without any doubt at the heart of the modern era is revolution: the unprecedented systematic overthrow of all traditional political, moral, and spiritual authority.
Prelest (in Greek, “plani”) is the spiritual correlate of high blood pressure: its progression is slow and silent, and it often goes unnoticed until it reaches a deadly stage. From our friends at Orthochristian.com, here are two articles on prelest (or spiritual delusion) that discuss both its dangers and preventatives against it.
For the ancient philosopher Heraclitus, πóλεμος (polemos or strife) is “the father of all things,” an aphorism that seeks not to encourage actual warfare, but rather to acknowledge that conflict and struggle in one form or another bring to light what is finer and higher. Lest this be shocking, we should remember that Christ Himself reminds us that He came not “to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34), while urging his followers to sell their garments if need be, in order to buy a sword (Luke 22:36). At the very least, we may conclude that the Kingdom of God is worth fighting for. Addressing our age of “conflict resolution” that seeks to melt everything into a bland aggregation, and that praises accommodation while pursuing annihilation, Jesse Cone discusses G. K. Chesterton’s depiction of how opposing one’s enemy can ennoble both parties, while at the same time revealing the sacred. This insight is sorely lacking in today’s political, ethical, and cultural discussions, he argues, and we would benefit from rediscovering it since it reaffirms the vital importance of the sacred in our lives and safeguards our human dignity.
Transhumanism is an ideology asserting that humans must harness technological advancements to take an active, intelligent role in their own evolution. The transhumanist push towards a reimagining of our own humanity and our shared future is a primary component of three growing cultural trends: artificial intelligence, human augmentation through biotechnology, and the transgender phenomenon. The means of effecting these transformative developments are entirely technical, and promise liberation from reproduction, liberation from disease and mortality, and liberation from the body itself. In awarding the mind complete power and authority over the flesh, however, we are not liberating ourselves, but submitting to the oppression of a consciousness we do not yet properly understand.
Tuesday, July 17, 2018, marks the centennial of the killing of the Russian royal family. On that date a hundred years ago, the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, his wife the tsarina Alexandra, their five children and four retainers, were ushered into a basement in the city of Yekaterinburg during the early hours of the morning, for an execution that would mark a turning point in history.
We communicate mainly through word, and it does matter how we do it. Our word is a reflection of the Incarnate Word. The Lord said, “Let there be light.” And the invisible received its existence through word. Word is the greatest power in the world. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth” (Ps. 33:6)…Words should make us closer, unite us, but not corrupt and separate us.
“Behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place” (St. Luke 1:20). As we all have just heard, because of his doubt, the priest Zacharias was struck dumb. And with this silencing of Zacharias the three traditional leadership roles of Ancient Israel were all silent. The people of God had no priest, prophet, or king.
One of the towering figures in American Orthodoxy has reposed. Struggling to recover from surgery performed last December, Herman fell asleep in Christ on the morning of June 21 in Houston, Texas among family, friends, and clergy. As an author, as a lecturer, as a teacher and mentor, as a friend and brother and father to so many, as a man whose heart was as big as the state of Texas and as warm as the Texas sun, his influence on Orthodoxy Christianity has been incalculable. In this first part of our tribute to Reader Herman, we present a short biography written by two of his former graduate students, as well an interview with him conducted in Hong Kong, where he frequently lectured. He has inspired multiple generations not only to embrace the Orthodox Faith, but to hold fast to it with all our heart, and to preserve it uncompromised and undiluted, just as we have received it from the Fathers, just as he did himself. May his memory be eternal!
What compels a man to seek ordination? Is it the thought of exercising power and authority with those same hands over other lives? Or does the reason lie in becoming servants of the people of God? Such servants do not seek power over anyone, but are faithful examples, guides, and shepherds, who walk among the flock, go after the stray, and are a source of comfort and nourishment that keeps the people of God close to the Church, rather than trying to set up fences and chains to keep the people in.
Based on my experience of 27 years in the priesthood, I believe that one of the most fitting motivations for seeking lifelong consecration to God is because you have been gifted to be a σκεύος, a vessel of God, for the reception and imparting of sanctification through the invocation of the Deity, and to do some good in this world, whenever you can and wherever you are in the small part of creation in which you will live – to make present the same sanctifying blessing bestowed by the Savior, so that you can contribute in a meaningful way to the healing and new life of the people of God.
Part of your persistence and determination should be to never minimize or ignore the activity of Satan in this world, but to be aware and on guard, lest, in the words of one Byzantine commentator on the canons, “the evil one might not appear to derive an advantage, blazingly pilfering the eternal from the one performing priestly functions.” Satan must be opposed in your sermons, in the Mysteries that you celebrate, and especially in the confessions that you will hear, through which you may be able to help people turn away from sin and be healed.
The Holy Oil used for Holy Unction in the healing prayers and Holy Chrismation during baptism is a symbol but in the Greek, not English, meaning of the term. In Greek the term symbol (σύμβολον) means the place where two realities come together, in this case the oil becomes a concrete means by which the grace (energy) of God is offered. Grace and nature work together, much like how Christ (“The Anointed One”) took on human flesh and human nature to reveal Himself as the Uncreated Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God.
In English we take symbol to mean something that represents something else. We don’t grasp the interconnectedness of grace and nature, we don’t see that grace is more than merely God’s good favor that must be comprehended to be actualized (which reduces salvation to primarily a psychological or emotional experience), we have little awareness that created things can become holy.
In this essay Dr. Mario Baghos surveys the Orthodox understanding and practices of the distribution of Holy Oil in the Orthodox Church. Read it to understand how our Lord takes the matter, the stuff, of creation and elevates it to show that salvation encompasses more than just man but involves the recapitulation of the entire creation.
Sexual identities, in contrast to sexual practices or passions, are a relatively new concept. Only recently were passions taken to define people, i.e. seen as constituting an identity or essence, such as homosexual or heterosexual—an understanding that even many secular circles now scorn as untenable. It is, then, discouraging to see a highly respected Orthodox hierarch dare to breach the unwavering moral tradition of the Church based upon such an “essentialist” notion of “sexual orientation.” Siewers argues that this step undermines Orthodox anthropology by turning the body into a thing (reification) and alienating humanity from the incarnation of the God-man Christ.
Readers of Kyriakos Markides’ “Mountain of Silence” already know Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol as “Fr Maximus” of Mt Athos. In this wonderful talk on marriage, Metropolitan Athanasios exhibits the same personal, relaxed, but powerfully insightful style of discourse that we remember from Markides’ book, as he discusses wide-ranging issues from the the communion of marriage to the nature of Orthodox Sacrament to the grounds of human dignity.