Sunday, July 30, 2017

Orthodox Christians should be ready for self-sacrifice and even martyrdom

…In order to pray one had to be ready at any minute for a martyr’s death. And we were ready for it…

…everyone who entered [the one remaining church that did not accept the Declaration of 1927 by Metropolitan Sergius] was registered and later arrested. This was the time when the atheist Soviet power demanded of believers that they go to the Churches of the official Church.

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I, too, was arrested and banished for five years. At Solovki I encountered many hierarchs of the true Church. And there we already had our Catacomb church.

In the concentration camps the persecution against faith was completely open: priests were shorn and shaved, forbidden to wear cassocks and crosses. For making the sign of the Cross a new term of imprisonment was given. Of course there was no question of any open services. (…) In order to pray one had to be ready at any minute for a martyr’s death. And we were ready for it, always carrying with us, like the first Christians, a Particle of the Holy Gifts. I brought such a Particle abroad and gave it to Metropolitan Anastassy.

what terror overwhelmed me when, fairly recently, I managed to come abroad and found that some people here ’spiritually’ recognize the Soviet Church. Spiritually!

And not only were we ready to die, but many did die, confident that somewhere there, outside the reach of the Soviet authorities, where there is freedom - there the Truth was shining in all its purity. There people were living by it and submitting to it. There people did not bow down to Antichrist. And what terror overwhelmed me when, fairly recently, I managed to come abroad and found that some people here ’spiritually’ recognize the Soviet Church. Spiritually! Many of us there fell, ‘for fear of the Jews’, or giving in to the temptation of outward cooperation with the authorities. I knew priests of the official Church who, at home, tore their hair out, who smashed their heads making prostrations, begging forgiveness for their apostasy, calling themselves Cain - but nonetheless they did not have the strength to decide upon martyrdom. But even they spiritually did not recognize the Red Church. But these others abroad - it is precisely spiritually that they submit to it. What good fortune that our priest-martyrs, in dying, did not find out about this betrayal!

…even they spiritually did not recognize the Red Church. But these others abroad - it is precisely spiritually that they submit to it. What good fortune that our priest-martyrs, in dying, did not find out about this betrayal!

I. M. Andreyev: Russia’s Catacomb Saints

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Some characteristics of clergy not to trust…

The lives of saints provide lessons for all aspects of our lives. Therefore we should be reading them daily. Not only do we learn what kinds of trials face Orthodox Christians on their path through life, but we are also educated in the nature and practice of love, and are given examples of how to pray, be obedient, discern falsehood or demonic activity, how to be humble, forgiving, and patient, while strictly maintaining the Orthodox faith in all fullness.

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After the 2007 union with Moscow, people of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, due to understandable and profound disappointment, have become cautious in trusting clergy. It has been a difficult time for us all. However, it is important for us to continue to learn traditional Orthodoxy, and direct our lives accordingly. A “modern approach” will eventually will lead us away from the Church. For example, we should be aware that the valuable accounts from the lives of saints in fact give hundreds, if not thousands of examples of what kinds of clergymen (and lay people!) not to trust.

For example, in the life of St Athanasius the Great, archbishop of Alexandria (296-373), we read about the heretic Arius:

…spurred on by ambition, he sided at first with Meletios, a schismatic, and then with Archbishop Peter of Alexandria, who ordained him a deacon. He was reconciled with another schismatic, Achillas, who raised him to the presbyterate…

Today, the Church unfortunately sees many “adventurers” among the clergy, who will join one jurisdiction after the other, often due to ambition. This kind of personal-ecclesiastical history is a ‘warning flag’ for us.

At the same time, there exist many laymen and clergy who have turned away from the falsehood of ‘world orthodoxy’ or heterodox faith, and embraced true Orthodoxy. These are distinguished by their humble and consistent work for the Church of Christ, which is often not very spectacular. Arius, on the other hand:

…was not so well versed in understanding Scripture as he was crafty and a vessel of the devil, skilled at instigating scandals…a popular teacher…his teachings began to incite controversy…he made many disciples…his beliefs circulated in the mouths of many….he filled Egypt with tumult and confusion…his ideas we widely accepted…

Moreover, Arius and his followers were great publicists:

…they did not cease, on a daily basis, creating stumbling blocks, with the intention of not only having the saint exiled from his throne, but also from the city, and if possible even to deprive him of life itself…they enlisted whomever they could in Alexandria to defame the bishop…

The righteous very often endure unjust and false slanders. This is a sign to take note of:

…they accused him of crimes…compelling the bishops and priests to hand over a tax…plotting treachery against the Emperor…that Athanasius was avaricious…against the holy archbishop every charge that could be contrived was laid at his door…primarily harshness and violence in dealing with those who took up Ischyras’ case (a man who posed as a priest without ordination, who vacillated between two schismatic groups and the Orthodox church)…reports circulated that Athanasius contracted to have killed [Arsenios, Bishop of Hypsele, who had been bribed to go along with the following plot]…it was alleged that one of the victim’s hands was severed for use in magic ceremonies…this ridiculous rumour was bruited about…threatening, insulting and reviling him, saying, “Magician, swindler, charlatan, hypocrite, mischief-maker!”

The Church of Christ has lived through many confusing moments, when people were unsure what to believe and whom to trust. Let us make these vital decisions with sobriety, based on Scripture, the writings of the Holy Fathers, and the history of the Church, including the lives of the Saints.

Evsevios of Nikomedia and Theognos of Nicaea, filled with notions of their own importance, used all their influence against the advocates of homoousion. On account of the maneuvering and sophistry of Evsevios of Caesarea, many were swayed who went on thinking that they were in accord with the Orthodox view and the Nicene Creed. The substance of the mischievous controversy was, to many, misrepresented and never fully explained.

St Athanasius governed the Church of Alexandria for 46 years. Seventeen of these years, he was exiled from the city, and most his reign passed under the shadow of continuous troubles. But the Church recognises him as one of the greatest saints and confessors of Orthodoxy in Her history.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Early Christian teachings on the Church

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The Shepherd of Hermas is an early Christian writing which contains teachings also for the Christians of today. Hermas was vouchsafed a series of visions of the Church, who appeared in the form of a Lady, instructing him on the nature of the Church and on the moral obligations of all Christians.

The Lady, (the Church) describes the body of the Church as a great tower:

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Now the tower was being builded foursquare by the six young men that came with her. And countless other men were bringing stones, some of them from the deep, and others from the land, and were handing them to the six young men. And they took them and builded.

The stones that were dragged from the deep they placed in every case, just as they were, into the building, for they had been shaped, and they fitted in their joining with the other stones; and they adhered so closely one with another that their joining could not possibly be detected; and the building of the tower appeared as if it were built of one stone.

and the building of the tower appeared as if it were built of one stone

But of the other stones which were brought from the dry land, some they threw away, and some they put into the building; and others they broke in pieces, and threw to a distance from the tower. Now many other stones were lying round the tower, and they did not use them for the building; for some of them were mildewed, and others had cracks in them, and others were too short, and others were white and round, and did not fit into the building. And I saw other stones thrown to a distance from the tower, and coming to the way, and yet not staying in the way, but rolling to where there was no way; and others falling into the fire and burning there; and others falling near the waters, and yet not able to roll into the water, although they desired to roll and to come to the water.

“Many shall hear; but when they hear, some of them shall be glad, and others shall weep. Yet even these latter, if they hear and repent, shall likewise be glad.”

Many shall hear; but when they hear, some of them shall be glad, and others shall weep. Yet even these latter, if they hear and repent, shall likewise be glad. The tower, which thou seest building, is myself, the Church

“The tower, which thou seest building, is myself, the Church…
Hear then why the tower is builded upon waters; it is because your life is saved and shall be saved by water. But the tower has been founded by the word of the Almighty and Glorious Name, and is strengthened by the unseen power of the Master.”

…your life is saved and shall be saved by water…

The Christian is saved by Baptism, and thereafter, by repentance - both are symbolised by water.

“Hear now concerning the stones that go to the building:
The stones that are squared and white, and that fit together in their joints, these are the apostles and bishops and teachers and deacons, who walked after the holiness of God, and exercised their office of bishop and teacher and deacon in purity and sanctity for the elect of God, some of them already fallen on sleep, and others still living. And because they always agreed with one another, they both had peace among themselves and listened one to another. Therefore their joinings fit together in the building of the tower.”

And because they always agreed with one another, they both had peace among themselves and listened one to another. Therefore their joinings fit together in the building of the tower.

“But they that are dragged from the deep, and placed in the building, and that fit together in their joinings with the other stones that are already builded in, who are they?” “These are they that suffered for the name of the Lord.”

“But the other stones that are brought from the dry land, I would fain know who these are, lady.” She said, “Those that go to the building, and yet are not hewn, these the Lord hath approved because they walked in the uprightness of the Lord, and rightly performed His commandments.”

“But they that are brought and placed in the building, who are they?” “They are young in the faith, and faithful; but they are warned by the angels to do good, because wickedness was found in them.”

“But those whom they rejected and threw away, who are they?” “These have sinned, and desire to repent, therefore they were not cast to a great distance from the tower, because they will be useful for the building, if they repent. They then that shall repent, if they repent, will be strong in the faith, if they repent now while the tower is building. But if the building shall be finished, they have no more any place, but shall be castaways. This privilege only they have, that they lie near the tower.

But those whom they rejected and threw away, who are they?” “These have sinned, and desire to repent, therefore they were not cast to a great distance from the tower, because they will be useful for the building, if they repent. They then that shall repent, if they repent, will be strong in the faith, if they repent now while the tower is building. But if the building shall be finished, they have no more any place, but shall be castaways. This privilege only they have, that they lie near the tower.

But wouldst thou know about them that are broken in pieces, and cast away far from the tower? These are the sons of lawlessness. They received the faith in hypocrisy, and no wickedness was absent from them. Therefore they have not salvation, for they are not useful for building by reason of their wickednesses. Therefore they were broken up and thrown far away by reason of the wrath of the Lord, for they excited Him to wrath.

they are not useful for building by reason of their wickednesses. Therefore they were broken up and thrown far away

But the rest whom thou hast seen lying in great numbers, not going to the building, of these they that are mildewed are they that knew the truth, but did not abide in it, nor cleave to the saints. Therefore they are useless.”

the rest…lying in great numbers…mildewed - are they that knew the truth, but did not abide in it, nor cleave to the saints. Therefore they are useless.

“But they that have the cracks, who are they?” “These are they that have discord in their hearts against one another, and are not at peace among themselves; who have an appearance of peace, but when they depart from one another, their wickednesses abide in their hearts. These are the cracks which the stones have.

…They that have the cracks…are they that have discord in their hearts against one another, and are not at peace among themselves; who have an appearance of peace, but when they depart from one another, their wickednesses abide in their hearts

But they that are broken off short, these have believed, and have their greater part in righteousness, but have some parts of lawlessness; therefore they are too short, and are not perfect.”

“But the white and round stones, which did not fit into the building, who are they, lady?” She answered and said to me, “How long art thou foolish and stupid, and enquirest everything, and understandest nothing? These are they that have faith, but have also riches of this world. When tribulation cometh, they deny their Lord by reason of their riches and their business affairs.”

…the white and round stones, which did not fit into the building… are they that have faith, but have also riches of this world. When tribulation cometh, they deny their Lord by reason of their riches and their business affairs

And I answered and said unto her, “When then, lady, will they be useful for the building?” “When,” she replied, “their wealth, which leadeth their souls astray, shall be cut away, then will they be useful for God. For just as the round stone, unless it be cut away, and lose some portion of itself, cannot become square, so also they that are rich in this world, unless their riches be cut away, cannot become useful to the Lord. Learn first from thyself When thou hadst riches, thou wast useless; but now thou art useful and profitable unto life. Be ye useful unto God, for thou thyself also art taken from the same stones.

“But the other stones which thou sawest cast far away from the tower and falling into the way and rolling out of the way into the regions where there is no way, these are they that have believed, but by reason of their double heart they abandon their true way. Thus thinking that they can find a better way, they go astray and are sore distressed, as they walk about in the regions where there is no way. But they that fall into the fire and are burned, these are they that finally rebelled from the living God, and it no more entered into their hearts to repent by reason of the lusts of their wantonness and of the wickednesses which they wrought.

…the other stones which thou sawest cast far away from the tower and falling into the way and rolling out of the way into the regions where there is no way…are they that have believed, but by reason of their double heart they abandon their true way. Thus thinking that they can find a better way, they go astray and are sore distressed, as they walk about in the regions where there is no way. But they that fall into the fire and are burned, these are they that finally rebelled from the living God, and it no more entered into their hearts to repent

But the others, which are near the waters and yet cannot roll into the water, wouldest thou know who are they? These are they that heard the word, and would be baptized unto the name of the Lord. Then, when they call to their remembrance the purity of the truth, they change their minds, and go back again after their evil desires.”

..the others, which are near the waters and yet cannot roll into the water, …are they that heard the word, and would be baptized unto the name of the Lord. Then, when they call to their remembrance the purity of the truth, they change their minds, and go back again after their evil desires

So she finished the explanation of the tower.

Still importunate, I asked her further, whether for all these stones that were rejected and would not fit into the building of the tower that was repentance, and they had a place in this tower. “They can repent,” she said, “but they cannot be fitted into this tower. Yet they shall be fitted into another place much more humble, but not until they have undergone torments, and have fulfilled the days of their sins. And they shall be changed for this reason, because they participated in the Righteous Word; and then shall it befall them to be relieved from their torments, if the evil deeds, that they have done, come into their heart; but if these come not into their heart, they are not saved by reason of the hardness of their hearts.”

With so many pitfalls, what is a Christian to do to be saved and fit into the building of the great tower? The Lady answers:

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“Seest thou seven women round the tower?” “I see them, lady,” say I. “This tower is supported by them by commandment of the Lord. Hear now their employments. The first of them, the woman with the strong hands, is called Faith; through her are saved the elect of God. And the second, that is girded about and looketh like a man, is called Continence; she is the daughter of Faith. Whosoever then shall follow her, becometh happy in his life, for he shall refrain from all evil deeds, believing that, if he refrain from every evil desire, he shall inherit eternal life.”

Whosoever then shall follow {Faith} becometh happy in his life, for he shall refrain from all evil deeds, believing that, if he refrain from every evil desire, he shall inherit eternal life

“And the others, lady, who be they?” “They are daughters one of the other. The name of the one is Simplicity, of the next, Knowledge, of the next, Guilelessness, of the next, Reverence, of the next, Love. When then thou shalt do all the works of their mother, thou canst live.”

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From Faith is born Continence, from Continence Simplicity, from Simplicity Guilelessness, from Guilelessness Reverence, from Reverence Knowledge, from Knowledge Love. Their works then are pure and reverent and divine. Whosoever therefore shall serve these women, and shall have strength to master their works, shall have his dwelling in the tower with the saints of God.”

Whosoever therefore shall serve these women, and shall have strength to master their works, shall have his dwelling in the tower with the saints of God

Anonymous. The Shepherd of Hermas

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Annunciation of the Mother of God Women’s Monastic Community

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  • Spiritual Father: Bishop John.
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