Friday, January 22, 2016

Old Russian Proverbs

tihon-zadonsky-3.jpgFear life, not death!

The Devil is always dressed in the latest fashion.

What is well done is slowly done.

The truth has seven sides.

The Devil’s work is quick, it is bright and flashy.
God works slowly - look at nature.

The stranger’s soul is murky.

To know a man you have to eat sixteen pounds of salt with him.

The past is not a bad witness.

If you don’t oil the wheels, you won’t get there.

From honest toil you don’t build mansions

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Abbess Alexandra: On Christian love (conference report)

Love is the only thing that can not be demanded. You can cry when it is not present, and rejoice when it is. People are mistaken when they demand love.
Saint John of Shanghai

abbess-alexandra.jpgSpeaking of Christian love, let us first of all turn to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, in whose works we find all the priceless teachings the Fathers have left us, who theoretically and and by experience internalised the Gospel teaching.

He writes:

We know from the Fathers that there are two kinds of love for neighbour: the natural and the evangelical, which is love in Christ. Natural love has been planted in us at creation, and therefore it is certainly present in every human being. It has been damaged, just like the other good human properties, by the fall, or the ancestral sin. Therefore, each person is subject to more or less damage, short or long-lasting changes. Christ heals all our diseases in a marvelous way, also heals our damaged love: He commands people to love Himself - the Lord - in a man. This brings love up to the highest degree of fervour, gives it purity, spirituality, a sanctuary. Likewise, the flame of love in Christ extinguishes the discordant, smoky flame of carnal love - which consists of a mixture of dreamy, non-existent delight and brutal, murderous torment. The feeling of spiritual love guided the pen of St. John of the Ladder, when he said: “Love of God extinguishes our love for our parents. And so he who says that he has both deceives himself.” He also said: “he is pure who expels fleshly love with divine love, who has extinguished the fire of passion by the fire of heaven (i.e. the Holy Spirit)” When we look at ourselves with attention we will see, with God’s help (God’s help is needed for such a vision! This vision is the gift of God!), that we mostly have a natural love, and have yet to acquire the evangelical love [1].

Give homage to your neighbour as to the image of God - a respect within your soul, which is invisible to others, which is clear only to your conscience. Let your activity be mysteriously conformable to your state of mind.

Give homage to your neighbour, without distinction to age, gender, class - and gradually holy love will be revealed in your heart.

The reason for this holy love is not flesh and blood, not the drive of the senses - but God.

Give homage both to the blind and the leper, and the one with a mental disorder, to infants, and criminals, and pagans show reverence as to the image of God. What are their weaknesses and shortcomings to you! Watch yourself, that you do fall short in love.

In a christian, give reverence to Christ, Who said in His instructions, and also will say when our eternal fate is pronounced: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25.40).

In your relation to your fellow man, keep in mind this saying of the Gospel, and you will be made a confidant of love for neighbor.

The confidant of love of neighbor enters into the love of God by it.

But if you think that you love God, and in your heart there lives an unpleasant attitude to even one person, then you are in grievous self-delusion.

St John the Evangelist says: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar…this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.[2]

The Gospel rejects the love that depends on the movement of blood from the feelings of the carnal heart. The fall subjected the heart to the dominion of blood, and by blood, to the sovereignty of the prince of this world. The Gospel frees the heart from this bondage, from this violence, and leads it to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit teaches us to love our neighbor in holiness. Love which is lit and fueled by the Holy Spirit is a fire. This fire extinguishes the fire of natural, carnal love, which is damaged by the Fall.

What a fallen state our nature is in! He who by nature is capable of vehemently loving his neighbour, has to force himself extraordinarily to love his neighbour in the way commanded by the Gospel. The flame of natural love easily turns into disgust, into an implacable hatred.

How plagued our natural love is! What a grievous wound to her is passion! Possessed by passion, the heart is capable of any injustice, any iniquity, just to satisfy its morbid love. Natural love gives his favourite only what is earthly, for it does not think of heaven. It rebels against heaven and the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit calls for the crucifixion of the flesh. It rebels against heaven and the Holy Spirit, because it is under the control of an evil spirit, the unclean spirit of one perishing.[3][/quote]

For every Christian (and especially for monastics) it is very important to understand what passion is and how it differs from love in Christ. I will bring your attention to a conversation of Bishop Photios of Triaditza with monastics on this topic.

“Often we confuse love with passion, passion for man … In fact, it is not the person it is difficult to leave, abandoning him himself. We could leave him to God, but it is difficult for us to deny ourselves, deny our own desire for a person, our attraction to the person. This is passion.

Passion is a manifestation of our self-love. It is very dangerous and extremely harmful to the spiritual life. Love is pure and disinterested; passion is something quite different. Passion is a morbid fascination, the soul cleaving to a specific person. This is constant thoughts of him, how he sees me; a special excitement and satisfaction, an agreeableness, when that person pays attention to us; and vice versa - unsettledness, depression, moodiness when that person does not have a friendly attitude to us or does not behave as we would like. In all this - God forbid - it is possible to go to the lowest depths. I do not wish to speak about this. We should wage an uncompromising struggle with these things, even fighting unto blood. Otherwise, self-love will remain the guiding principle in our lives, in our existence. The Lord tells us that it is impossible to serve two masters - this we know.

I think that we are afraid; the voice of our self-love does not give us trust in the Lord until the end, trust in the truth that the life of the soul can be purchased in its entirety only in the communion with God. Yes, we do not have any similar experience; we are sinful, unclean creatures. As she moves away from God, the soul is hungry, poor, wandering the world like a stranger, rejected by all. And then the soul begins to become attached to one soul, or the other. This is obviously a terrible self-deception, a serious illness. The soul is trying to find in another soul some kind of a world, in which to find satisfaction, pleasure for her selfishness. Here we must be uncompromising, strict to the end, otherwise we will remain in captivity to our selfishness.

If someone seems nice to you and your heart is drawn towards him, it does not mean that you love him. If this enthusiasm continues, you yourself will soon learn what treacherous, even tyrannical claims your soul presents with respect to this “dear” man. You will see how your soul can not stand that man’s independence from you, she is jealous and demands love for herself, demands that the subject of your love be slavishly devoted to you.

And your soul is ready to retaliate if this affection grows cold! We see that in this case everything rests on self-love, on the expansion of one’s own possessions in this world: “What I like - this is mine. It is in some way belongs to me.” For the most part this “cute” man is a door to a new, interesting and enjoyable small world trust for your heart. At the beginning you just want to enjoy this world as a little garden, and then you wish to put a small house there. When you are strolling through the garden, you no longer admire what is planted in it, but rather, yourself. This is the most disgusting of partiality in false love. Therefore, I repeat that here we really have to be uncompromising.

True Love - says Saint Paul - seeketh not her own” (1 Cor. 13:5). Pure love is unselfish. It is generally quite alien to be possessive of what you love, because it is love in the Lord. Love in the Lord always respects the freedom of the other, and always loves man in Christ. It is difficult to understand this for us, because we are not committed, there is no trust and openness to the Lord, in order to make an effort in this direction. When a man fights, when he knocks, the Lord eventually opens. And then all these truths become clear to the mind, she knows them in her inner experience. Then the soul rejoices, because the truth has become her own private treasure. She rejoices because in her quest, in her struggle against all that separates her from the Lord, she is seeing a stronger stream of light in the tunnel; She rejoices because this brings her to God, and this joy is natural from her perspective - yet it is supernatural in terms of our fallen state.”

Abbess Alexandra

[1] Meeting of the letters of St. Ignatius, Bishop of the Caucasus. Publication Research Center, the protection and restoration of the heritage of the priest Paul Florensky. M., 1993. p. 153
[2] St. Ignatius (Bryanchaninov). Ascetic experience. T. 1. M., “Rule of Faith”, 1993, p. 125-126
[3] St. Ignatius (Bryanchaninov). Ascetic experience. T. 1. M., “Rule of Faith”, 1993, p. 121-122

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Some thoughts on Church reality (Conference paper)

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All these years, after entering the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, I both voluntarily and involuntarily observe the events of the religious life of the former Soviet Union. Of course, the reality is such that we can state: The religious organization of the Moscow Patriarchate has rejected the possibility of repentance. The “system”, has been able to repeatedly change its “colour” to adjust to the new political reality, like a chameleon. But this is not surprising, as this organization ever since 1927 lives on the basis of a demonic delusion which is called the Sergianist heresy. By its illness and leprosy of non-repentance, this “organization” has infected and continues to infect a great many people. This has become especially tangible in the present “pro-Putinist” period of modern political reality. At this time, it has became clear that, alas, there has been no true repentance of the people with respect to the bloody, atheistic Soviet past. Saint Philaret Voznesensky wrote:

One remembers father Archimandrite Konstantin (Zaitsev), who spoke much, and persistently, about that the worst of what has been done in Russia by the atheistic power, is the creation of the “soviet church“. The Bolsheviks presented it to the people as the true Church, having driven the Orthodox Church into the catacombs and concentration camps.
(On the Relation of the ROCOR to the Moscow Patriarchate Filaret St Voznesenskiy.http: //catacomb.org.ua/modules.php? Name = Pages & go = print_page & pid = 1335).

But let us come closer to the subject. For an Orthodox Christian, the moral ideal is the Lord Jesus Christ, who calls every sincere believer in Him:

“… Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matt 11:29).

This is, so to say the “psychological portrait” which true Orthodox Christians should seek to acquire. Because a Christian knows the teaching of the Church about the likeness of God, and how a person can direct his abilities and strength of soul towards God-likeness - towards perfection in pursuing truth and goodness.

150809-konf-2.jpgHowever, when the kind of behaviour described above becomes routine even for crowds of people, having been excited by “priests”, all in the name and outward appearance of Orthodox Christians and the Orthodox Church, and even after “prayers” - one becomes frightened and sad. For all of this has no relation neither to the Church nor to God. Rather, it more closely resembles an organization showing the characteristics of a destructive cult. Truly:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits…
(Matt 7:15-16).

Now, let us note that the process of “deterioration” from a church schism to transforming into a sect can be very long. However, the logic of this process is approximately as follows: Any schism which is not being healed by repentance sooner or later turns into a heresy, and then is transformed into a sect. Of course, one does not want to use this term for the religious organization of the MP by any means. But, alas, the life and the fruits of this “system” unwillingly put one on ones guard..…

For the Orthodox person who knows the true recent history of the Russian Church, who closely observes what is happening today, this is obvious. The process of “deterioration” in this organization has already been crowned, so to speak, by her Sergianist heresy as well as the heresy of ecumenism. It has given birth to a characteristic pseudo-spirituality: False eldership, the concept of the “infallibility” of the top hierarchy instilled into the minds of followers. In other words, an obvious effort to bring up loyal, obedient, servile , unthinking, and equally passionate members of the organization. Candidates are ordained to the priesthood indiscriminately. There is a purposeful and planned transmission to the flock of reinterpreted, false data on the modern history of the Russian Orthodox Church and the state. This is the cult of profit, double standards, corruption, an avalanche of every possible false teaching of an apocalyptic nature; the cult of politically-motivated canonizations; the general exploitation of the people under carefully hidden political, religious, cultural, and other guises - for favors to, or by order of the authorities.

Well, what if a person is conscientious, thoughtful and sensitive to the truth of Christ, and does not get caught in the psychological traps? In that case, fierce persecution, slander, and even physical violence are guaranteed by the “ system.” Incidentally, this is also a sure sign of a destructive cult.

“St. Theophan the Recluse, (writes Archimandrite Constantine) predicted the last stage of apostasy in the Church: The external semblance of the Church, devoid of grace, with only her deceptively seductive, visible image. The whole atmosphere of apostasy is that nutritious broth in which all the germs of antichrist grow. Eventually it will grow the two-faced image of Antichrist himself, who will simultaneously show himself as a militant fighter for Christ, while at the same time also vested in the deceptive appearance of a betrayer of Christ.

The last words, in my view, exemplify well the religious character of the MP organization and its pseudo-spiritual experience.

The “system of the Patriarchate” has managed to take on the role of an ideological “guide” in the post-Soviet state, all the while itself being a product of the totalitarian Bolshevik power. This has naturally given birth to chauvinism instead of true repentance, to a hybrid Soviet - Orthodox Russian national socialism, and to an aggressive “orthodox Taliban”. This occurs in the post-Soviet society, which is not able to see the difference between ideology and true, sincere faith in Christ. However, this situation and condition is the fruit of pride, self-delusion and lack of repentance. That is why it is desirable for a person who has become aware of the falsehood of the “system” of the MP to leave immediately, without deceiving himself with the false idea of the struggle from within. To remain in a religious organization founded on lies, bears serious danger to the spiritual and mental health of the individual. It endangers the salvation of the soul and the hope of a blessed eternal future.

Therefore, a conscious shift to the ROCA, joining the Church of Christ, is a courageous step. It is often associated with a profound mental and psychological shock. This is not surprising, as the act of giving credence to lies as if to truth, living for many years in such a state, inflicts wounds upon the soul. This has brought an experience that we must critically review with penitential prayer to the Lord and with the help of an experienced spiritual guide, now on the basis of Holy Tradition of the Church of Christ.

But in any case this negative experience should be taken as a lesson given by God in discerning good and evil. It is important not to lose heart, not to accept ungrounded fears, confusion and anxiety, doubts, all of which the enemy of our salvation may inspire. There is a weapon against all this: Confession and counsel with the bishop or an experienced priest. In this difficult time it is necessary to patiently learn not to fear persecution, intimidation, defamation from “misguided” brothers. It is very important in this difficult period not to become embittered against ones persecutors, to endure all for the sake of Christ.

There are a number of priests, monastics and laity of our Church who are people come from the MP. Therefore some issues emerge both in spiritual and parish life. Even after several years, people can carry an “imprint” of their stay in the Patriarchate. We have to always remember these and other hazards, and be watchful. For example, some priests that have come from the MP are drawn just like “magnets”, not to the teaching of Christ, but rather to delusional ideas and false teachings of patriarchate false elders, or the surrogates of various clever people of an apocalyptic character. The organisation of the MP is a real “muddy spring”. Take a gulp from this “source” and you become infected - then trouble follows: For the soul, for the parish, and for our Church - and a headache for the bishop. Therefore the above outlined guidelines, thoughts and cautions are not dry theory, but the living experience of people who have gone through this themselves.

Some may reproach me for this presentation: “Again you’re speaking about the patriarchate …” Therefore, I will finish it by drawing attention to the life of our Church. We all think of ourselves as church people, faithful children of the Russan Orthodox Church Abroad. But do we know what this means for us? Venerable father Justin Popovich taught that the Church is the God-man Jesus Christ. Therefore hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) accurately notes:

“The whole point of the Church is to attain Christ in ones heart. But a person can live all his life associated with the Orthodox Church, and yet have with a heart not awakened.”

So, if we consider ourselves to be church people, we must comprehend with the mind and heart, that the Church makes us partakers of the same nature as Christ, and sets before us the goal of our Christian Church life , which is briefly summarized by apostle Peter in his epistle:

“…that…ye might be partakers of the divine nature… “(2 Peter.1: 3-4).

And if we are the children of Christ, we are called to DEIFICATION [Tr. note: Becoming God-like]. Then how can it be that we have amongst us gossip, feuds, disputes, grievances, misunderstanding of Church catholicity - voluntarily or involuntarily misidentifying it with democracy and anarchy - slander and anger? How is it possible that we, instead of doing the work of penitential prayer, turn all our private Christian life and the church into an arena of verbal battles and politics? Is it not clear that this is the explicit fruit of the devil:

“… A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire…” (Mt 7:16-20).

Do we really love our little Russian Orthodox Church Abroad so poorly that we are not afraid to lose the gift of God - the Church, and thus our salvation!

Archbishop Averky (Taushev) wrote:

“True Christianity is not only a formal recognition, the cold acceptance of the mind of a a certain sum of abstract dogmatic positions - rather, it is spirit and life. In true Orthodoxy - faith and a life in faith, or piety, are inseparable. The great father of the Church, saint Cyril of Jerusalem speaks eloquently about this: “The image of piety consists of two things: of pious dogmas and good works. Dogmas without good works are not pleasing to God, and works performed without pious dogmas will not be accepted by God. What good is to know the tenets of God, yet in folly to commit fornication?“ (Cathecatical Homily IV).[/quote] That is why both the ancient Fathers of the Church, and our Russian fathers (see for example St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and St. Theophan the Recluse), clearly teach that the true Orthodox person is not the one who simply accepts the tenets of Holy Orthodoxy with a cold mind, but rather, the one “who thinks Orthodox, feels Orthodox and lives Orthodox.”
(On the Importance of Episcopal Rank and the Council of Bishops. Archbishop Averky 1956 to the Synod of Bishops).

In the Gospel of St. Matthew we read:

“… what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.“ (Matt 16:26-27).

Therefore, in my opinion, we require consciousness of our sins, knowledge from experience of ones weakness and unworthiness, contrition, humility - from these are born the desire and effort to transform ones private spiritual life to prayerful repentance according to the Commandments of God, the teachings of the Holy Church and the Holy Fathers. Above all this is what is necessary for the transformation of both ones private life, and even more so, church life generally.
After all, prayer is the mother of all virtues, and it is necessary to internalise this. I conclude with the words of the Apostle Peter, which are directed to all Christians, regardless of rank and title, to each one of us:

“…add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity…For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
(2 Pet 1:5-11).

July 2015.
+ Archbishop George (Kravchenko)

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