January, 2023


Focus on the Faith – The Meaning of the word “Orthodox”

The term Orthodox combines the adjective orthos, which means right, correct or true, and the noun doxa, which comes from the verb doxazo, “I hold an opinion,” or “I believe.” Hence “right belief,” or “true doctrine.” But in a deeper sense it also means “right worship,” since doxazo can also mean “I glorify.” It could be said that the term Orthodox was forged as a defense against heretical, or heterodox, teaching which persisted during the formative centuries of the Church. As then, so now, it signifies a framework of theological propositions worked into precise doctrinal formulations, a body of faith and a tradition, that has retained its absolute integrity in the face of the changes and innovations that have occurred within the heterodox “churches.”

The Tradition of Orthodoxy

In short, the Church’s claim to Orthodoxy derives from the conviction that it has received the faith of the Apostles, as contained in both the written and the oral Tradition, as interpreted by the Fathers in council, that is, in consensus, and as lived by the whole Church throughout the ages, fundamentally without change or interpolation.

This conviction is nowhere better expressed than on the first Sunday in Lent, which is known as the “Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.” The first occasion for this observance was the final restoration of the icons in 843; but it is much more than a triumphant celebration commemorating that or any other particular “victory.” It is rather in the nature of what for a Protestant would be “Reformation Sunday” – except that it celebrates the exact opposite of reform, in that it reaffirms the whole ethos of the Church. Nor is it any longer, happily, merely an occasion when we repeat the ancient and terrible anathemas against the various heresiarchs of the past. Rather it is a reaffirmation of the faith, kept free of heresy and heterodox teachings throughout the great doctrinal controversies. Coming as it does at the start of Great Lent, we might well think of it as the observance of the Church’s self-awareness.

Orthopraxis – Stewardship

The Orthopraxia of Stewardship

“Orthopraxia” means “the practice of living the Orthodox life.” One essential aspect of Orthopraxia is stewardship. Orthodox Christian stewardship is important because Jesus says that the giving of our time, talents and treasure is the path of blessedness (Acts 20: 35). Effectively living and practicing our faith in Jesus Christ through faithful stewardship demonstrates that we truly love God and offer all that we can to the glory of God. Stewardship means that we make an honest effort to focus on the call of Christ to commit ourselves to prayer, to work, and to give, so that the body of Christ, the Church, may live and meet Her mission. St. Paul writes, “It is required in stewards, that a person be found faithful.”(1 Cor.4-2). We must be willing to meet the challenge to strengthen the sacred work of our parish and of the Orthodox Church in America generally.

We support the Church, not because it is a responsibility, but a privilege. True commitment to your Church begins when we give sacrificially. It is “meet and right” that our Orthodox Christian offering be equitable and fair to the Church. A member of the Orthodox Church is one who is baptized and chrismated into the Faith. Membership, however, does not end following our participation in the holy Mysteries of the Church. To be a faithful parishioner, a steward, means that we fulfill the vow made at our baptism to pledge ourselves to Christ, as our King and God!

From the Lives of the Saints

Saints of January

JANUARY 10 – Our Holy Father Theophan the Recluse (1894)

This modern-day Church Father was born in Chernavsk in central Russia. The son of a priest, he entered seminary at a young age, then completed the four-year course in theology at the Academy of Kiev. Though he distinguished himself as a student, his heart turned increasingly toward the monastic life, and he was tonsured a monk and ordained a priest upon completion of his studies. During his time at the Academy he often visited the Lavra of the Caves, and there became a spiritual child of Father Parthenius (March 25).

His desire for monastic life was not fulfilled immediately, for the Church felt need of his intellectual gifts. He served as a professor at the Theological Academy in St Petersburg, then worked for seven years in the Russian Mission to the Near East, mostly in Palestine. During this time he gained a perfect mastery of Greek and studied the works of the Church Fathers in the original languages. Returning to Russia, he was soon consecrated a bishop; but after seven years of episcopal service, he at last achieved his heart’s desire, resigning as bishop and retiring to a small monastery at Yvschen, where he spent the rest of his days.
After taking full part in the liturgical and communal life of the monastery for several years, he took up the life of a recluse in 1872. He lived in two small rooms, subsisting almost entirely on bread and tea, visited only by his confessor and the abbot of the monastery. He celebrated the Divine Liturgy every day in his cell. All of his time not taken up by inner prayer was devoted to translating the works of the Fathers into Russian and, increasingly, to writings of his own. Most importantly, he prepared a Russian-language edition of the Philokalia which had a deep impact upon Russian spiritual life. Though he received no visitors, St Theophan entered into correspondence with many earnest Christians who sought his counsel, and so in time became the spiritual father of many believers throughout Russia. He reposed in peace in 1894.

In addition to the Philokalia, St Theophan produced (among other works): a Spiritual Psalter of selections from St Ephraim the Syrian; The Path to Salvation, an exposition of Orthodox Spirituality written in clear, plain language for those living in the world; collections of his letters to spiritual children; and Unseen Warfare, a treatise on prayer and the ascetical life. This last has an unusual history. In its original form it was written by Lorenzo Scupoli, an Italian Roman Catholic priest. St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, recognizing the book’s merit, produced a Greek edition in which he corrected various deviations from Orthodoxy in the original. St Theophan in turn revised the Greek edition extensively, removing some material and adding passages of his own; so that the Italian, Greek and Russian versions are in fact three substantially different books. Many of St Theophan’s works (including Unseen Warfare) are available in good English translations. They are almost unique in presenting the undiluted hesychastic spirituality of the Orthodox Church in plain, straightforward language accessible to most people.

January 12 – Holy Martyr Tatiana (+230)

She was the daughter of a wealthy Roman consul. She became a deaconess in Rome, and was seized as a Christian during the reign of Alexander Severus. Before the tribunal she fearlessly confessed Christ and, when she was taken to the temple in an effort to force her to make sacrifice, she cast down the idols by the power of her prayer. At this, the soldiers seized her and subjected her to many indignities and tortures, finally throwing her into a raging furnace. When this did not harm her, she was thrown to the wild beasts, but they refused to harm her. At last she was beheaded and thus gained her crown.

JANUARY 20 – Holy Martyrs Inna, Pinna and Rimma (1st – 2nd c.)

They were disciples of Saint Andrew the Apostle, the first missionary to the lands north of the Black Sea. They witnessed to Christ around the Danube River and converted many to the Faith. They were arrested and condemned, and died immersed to their necks in icy water.

In the Prologue, St Nikolai Velimirovich describes them as the “first Slavic martyrs mentioned in history.” In ancient martyrologies they are referred to as Scythians, a term applied to the peoples living around the Black Sea in the early Christian era. It is doubtful that they were members of the Slavic people as we understand them today, though it seems that they were the first martyrs in the lands that are now inhabited by the Slavic people.

Reminders

The St. Theophan the Recluse and St. Ignaty Brianchaninov Study Group resumes on January 10th. This is an online web meeting on Tuesday evening at 7:30PM, with a chat room for extra discussion. Contact Reader John using the contact form on the website (webmaster) if you would like to join in.


Reserve your spot for the Burns Supper Now!

Upcoming Events

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December, 2022


Focus on the Faith – The Nativity Icon

An Orthodox Christian Church Nativity icon not only depicts the birth of Jesus Christ, but it also tells a story involving doubt, temptation, death and resurrection, the different paths to faith, and mankind’s journey through this world into the afterlife.

At the center, of course, is the child of God, whose birth Christ the Saviour Cathedral in the West End of Johnstown will celebrate on Thursday in accordance with the Julian calendar. But, unlike in Western religious Nativity scenes, he is not shown merely as an adorable baby. Rather, the newborn savior – with adult features – is covered in white cloth that resembles both a swaddling wrap and a burial shroud, while resting in a box that could be a manger or coffin. His birth takes places in a cave, foreshadowing the time he will later spend buried in a tomb during the days between his crucifixion and resurrection.

The Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, His mother – is depicted with three stars on her garments. These represent her virginity before, during and after the birth – rests on a traveling bed, symbolizing the journey through this life to heaven. The largest figure in the scene, Mary is looking away from the child, thus inviting others to come to him. Joseph, an elderly man with a gray beard, is off to the side, being tempted by the devil to not believe the miracle that has occurred.

Orthopraxis – Nativity Fast Fasting

A GENTLE REMINDER, DEAR ONES

Below are the Rules for fasting During the Nativity Fast/Advent. The young, the elderly, pregnant or nursing women, people with medical problems, and those who perform heavy labor jobs are allowed concessions to the strict rules, best to consult with your Father Confessor, parish priest for personal specifics. May the Lord helping, we advance spiritually during this fasting period and joyfully greet the grace filled Holy Days.

The rules prescribed by the Church for the Christmas fast are the same as for the Apostles’ fast. It is clear that meat, butter, milk, eggs, cheese are to be avoided during this fast. The Holy Canons of the Church prescribe that on Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the Christmas fast, fish, wine and oil are not to be consumed and only food without oil is allowed.  On the other days – Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, food with vegetable oil is permitted. Fish during the Christmas fast is allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on major, and also on temple holidays and the days of the major saints, but only if those holidays fall on Tuesday or Thursday. If the holiday falls on a Wednesday or Friday, it is celebrated with wine and oil. From December 20-24, the fast is intensified and on those days, even on Saturday and Sunday, fish are not blessed to be eaten. I wish pleasant and soul-profitting fasting period to us all!

From the Fathers – On Christmas

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

– St. John Chrysostom

Wake up, O human being! For it was for you that God was made man. Rise up and realize it was all for you. Eternal death would have awaited you had He not been born in time. Never would you be freed from your sinful flesh had He not taken to Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. Everlasting would be your misery had He not performed this act of mercy. You would not have come to life again had He not come to die your death. You would have perished had He not come.

– St. Augustine

This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God – that putting off of the old man, we might put on the new; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.

– St. Gregory Nazianzus

From the Lives of the Saints

December 4 – Holy Great Martyr Barbara (290)

‘Saint Barbara was from Heliopolis of Phoenicia and lived during the reign of Maximian. She was the daughter of a certain idolater named Dioscorus. When Barbara came of age, she was enlightened in her pure heart and secretly believed in the Holy Trinity. About this time Dioscorus began building a bath-house; before it was finished he was required to go away to attend to certain matters, and in his absence Barbara directed the workmen to build a third window in addition to the two her father had commanded. She also inscribed the sign of the Cross with her finger upon the marble of the bath-house, leaving the saving sign cut as deeply into the marble as if it had been done with an iron tool. When the Synaxarion of Saint Barbara was written, the marble of the bath-house and the cross inscribed by Saint Barbara were still preserved, and many healings were worked there. When Dioscorus returned, he asked why the third window had been added; Barbara began to declare to him the mystery of the Trinity. Because she refused to renounce her faith, Dioscorus tortured Barbara inhumanly, and after subjecting her to many sufferings he beheaded her with his own hands, in the year 290.’ (Great Horologion)

December 6 – Our Father among the Saints Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra (345)

Our beloved holy Father Nicholas is, along with St George (and second to the All-holy Theotokos), probably the best-loved Saint of the Church. His numberless miracles through the ages, on behalf of the countless Christians who have called on him, cannot be told.

He was born in Lycia (in Asia Minor) around the end of the third century, to pious Christian parents. His love of virtue, and his zeal for observing the canons of the Church, were evident from his infancy, when he would abstain from his mother’s breast every Wednesday and Friday until the evening. From early youth he was inclined to solitude and silence; in fact, not a single written or spoken word of the Saint has come down to us. Though ordained a priest by his uncle, Archbishop Nicholas, he attempted to withdraw to a hermit’s life in the Holy Land; but he was told by revelation that he was to return home to serve the Church publicly and be the salvation of many souls. When his parents died, he gave away all of his inheritance to the needy, and thereafter almsgiving was his greatest glory. He always took particular care that his charity be done in secret. Perhaps the most famous story of his open-handedness concerns a debt-ridden man who had no money to provide dowries for his daughters, or even to support them, and in despair had resolved to give them into prostitution. On three successive nights the Saint threw a bag of gold into the window of the man’s house, saving him and his daughters from sin and hopelessness. The man searched relentlessly to find and thank his benefactor; when at last he discovered that it was Nicholas, the Saint made him promise not to reveal the good deed until after he had died. (This story may be the thin thread that connects the Saint with the modern-day Santa Claus). God honored his faithfulness by granting him unparalleled gifts of healing and wonderworking. Several times he calmed storms by his prayers and saved the ship that he was sailing in. Through the centuries he has often done the same for sailors who call out to him, and is considered the patron of sailors and all who go to sea. He was elected Bishop of Myra not long before the great persecutions under Diocletian and Maximian (c. 305), and was put in prison, from which he continued to encourage his flock in the Faith. When the Arian heresy wracked the Church not long after Constantine came to the throne, St Nicholas was one of the 318 Bishops who gathered in Nicea in 325. There he was so incensed at the blasphemies of Arius that he struck him on the face. This put the other bishops in a quandary, since the canons require that any hierarch who strikes anyone must be deposed. Sadly, they prepared to depose the holy Nicholas; but in the night the Lord Jesus and the most Holy Theotokos appeared to them, telling them that the Saint had acted solely out of love for Truth, not from hatred or passion, and that they should not act against him. While still in the flesh, he sometimes miraculously appeared in distant places to save the lives of the faithful. He once saved the city of Myra from famine by appearing to the captain of a ship full of grain, telling him to take his cargo to the city. He appeared in a dream to Constantine to intercede for the lives of three Roman officers who had been falsely condemned; the three grateful soldiers later became monks. The holy bishop reposed in peace around 345. His holy relics were placed in a church built in his honor in Myra, where they were venerated by throngs of pilgrims every year. In 1087, after Myra was conquered by the Saracens, the Saint’s relics were translated to Bari in southern Italy, where they are venerated today. Every year, quantities of fragrant myrrh are gathered from the casket containing his holy relics.

December 12 –  Our Holy God-bearing Father Spyridon the Wonderworker (348).

He was a humble shepherd who lived on the island of Cyprus with his wife and his one child, a daughter named Irene. Though he was poor himself, his house and table were always open to travelers and those in need. He kept his money in a box which he left open and available to all, not concerning himself with who took from it or whether they were deserving or not. In time, his wife died and, with less worldly cares, he redoubled his prayers and his almsgiving. He became so well-loved on the island that, when the bishop of the town of Tremithos died, the faithful unanimously chose Spyridon to succeed him, and he thus became a shepherd of rational sheep as well as the beasts he had tended. Despite his sudden elevation in rank, he kept to his former manner of life, traveling everywhere on foot, tending his animals as before, while fulfilling all the duties of a bishop as well. (To portray this godly humility, his icon shows him wearing bishop’s vestments and a peasant’s woven straw hat.) His compassion for others was boundless. Though he was very strict with himself, he would always break a fast to give comfort to a traveler. Once a band of robbers broke into his sheepfold by night, but found themselves confined there by an invisible force. When Spyridon found them in the morning, he freed them, admonished them to live honestly, and gave them two sheep in compensation, he said, for their keeping an all-night vigil. Pages could be filled with stories of the miracles wrought by the holy bishop for the good of his flock: by his prayers he ended a drought, turned a snake to gold to help a poor man, and even raised the dead son of a poor widow. His radiant virtue touched the consciences of those he met so that many would spontaneously fall at his feet and confess their sins. When the Emperor Constantine summoned the First Ecumenical Council in 325, Spyridon attended, dressed in his simple peasant’s garb. At one of the sessions, a proud Arian philosopher challenged the Orthodox to a debate about the Holy Trinity, and was amazed when the simple Spyridon stepped forward to accept the challenge. He and all the other bishops were far more amazed when the uneducated peasant bishop confounded all the Arian’s arguments with his eloquent, Spirit-inspired words. The humbled philosopher admitted that he was convinced, embraced the Orthodox faith, and called upon the other Arians to abandon their human wisdom and embrace the true and life-giving Faith. The holy bishop always celebrated the Divine Liturgy with joy. Once, serving in a remote, almost empty church, he turned to the invisible congregation and said “Peace be unto all!”, and his disciple heard a choir of angels respond “And with thy spirit!” Saint Spyridon reposed in peace in 348 at the age of seventy-eight. His incorrupt and wonder-working relics poured forth miracles for the people of Cyprus until the seventh century, when they were moved to Constantinople to escape the Arab invasion; when the City fell to the Turks, the relics were again moved to Corfu, where they are venerated to this day. Even after 1,500 years, the holy relics remain incorrupt and work many life-giving wonders. Saint Spyridon is venerated as the Patron of Corfu.

Upcoming Events

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November, 2022


Focus on the Faith

Introduction to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky – The Man Behind the Philokalia

by Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina

Image

DECEMBER 21, 1972, marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Schema-Archimandrite Paisius Velichkovsky. This remarkable anniversary went almost totally unnoticed in the Orthodox world, which is so occupied with its worldly problems and its very struggle for survival. And yet, for Orthodox Christians of the 20th century there is no more important Holy Father of recent times than Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky. This is so not merely because of his holy life; not merely because, like another Saint Gregory Palamas, he defended the hesychast practice of the mental Prayer of Jesus; not only because he, through his many disciples, inspired the great monastic revival of the 19th century which flowered most notably in the holy Elders of Optina Monastery; but most of all because he redirected the attention of Orthodox Christians to the sources of Holy Orthodoxy, which are the only foundation of true Orthodox life and thought whether of the past or of the present, whether of monks or of laymen.

Having come to love the Holy Fathers and true Orthodox piety in his childhood, Blessed Paisius at the age of 17 saw that even in the best Orthodox school of Russia he was not being given the pure teaching of Holy Orthodoxy from the patristic sources, but rather something second-hand and accompanied by useless pagan learning; and, further, that an over-emphasis on the formal side of the Church’s existence, greatly furthered by the Government in its attempt to make the Church a “department” of the State, promoted chiefly the idea that church-minded people, the clergy and even the monks, occupied a definite place in the apparatus of the Church organization.This overemphasis of a real but decidedly secondary aspect of church life tended to obscure the primary aspect: the love and zeal for true Orthodoxy and true piety, which are what inspire every genuine Orthodox Christian, whether clergy, monk, or layman. Seeing the difficulty of exercising his love and zeal in the Russia of his time, Paisius left his homeland in search of a place where his tender Orthodox conscience could mature in blessed freedom and in the opportunity to draw instruction and inspiration from the unadulterated sources of Orthodoxy.

Having come to spiritual maturity, Blessed Paisius then himself became a source and seedbed for the great monastic and patristic revival of Holy Russia in the 19th century. True patristic spirituality and its hesychast tradition, to be sure, never died out in Russia, not even in the 18th century, that age of pseudo-enlightenment when the Empress Catherine closed most of the Orthodox monasteries and strictly regulated the rest of them; no, it remained and provided the fertile ground on which the disciples and the example of Blessed Paisius were to bear such great spiritual fruits. But it required the patristic bees of the great Elder Paisius, bringing back the pollen of the true and free tradition of Orthodoxy under the much more favorable climate of the 19th century, to cause the native Russian trees to give forth such a marvelous abundance of spiritual fruit.


Taken from the Introduction to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, by Schema-monk Metrophanes, trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1976.

From the Lives of the Saints

Excerpts from Orthodoxwiki

St. Nectarios of Pentapolis 11/9

St. Nectarios (1846-1920), Metropolitan of Pentapolis and Wonderworker of Aegina, was officially recognized as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961. His feast day is celebrated on November 9. He is often referred to as Nectarios of Pentapolis or Nectarios of Aegina, and his name is sometimes spelled Nektarios.

Saint John Chrysostom 11/13

Our father among the saints John Chrysostom (347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for his eloquence in public speaking, his philanthropy, his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time, and for a Divine Liturgy attributed to him. He had notable ascetic sensibilities. After his death he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek Χρυσόστομος, “golden-mouthed.” The Orthodox Church honors him as a saint (feast day, November 13) and counts him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (feast day, January 30), together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. Another feast day associated with him is January 27, which commemorates the event in 437, thirty years after the saint’s repose, when his relics were brought back to Constantinople from the place of his death.

St. Gregory Palamas 11/14

Our father among the saints Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessalonica, was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece (at Vatopedi Monastery and Esphigmenou Monastery), and later became Archbishop of Thessalonica. He was a preeminent theologian and a proponent of hesychastic theology. His feast days in the Church are November 14 and the second Sunday of Great Lent as the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas.

St. Paisius Velichkovsky 11/15

Our venerable father Paisius Velichkovsky, also Paisius of Neamt, led the renaissance in Orthodox monasticism in the late eighteenth century, helping the Church recover from the decline in monastic life and spirituality caused by the troubles and conflicts of the previous centuries. His effort was centered on the spirituality of the hesychastic tradition, which was expressed in the popularity of counseling by starets (elders) in nineteenth-century Russia. His feast is celebrated on November 15.

The feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple 11/21

The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, also called The Presentation, is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, celebrated on November 21.

According to Tradition, the Theotokos was taken – presented – by her parents Joachim and Anna into the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem as a young girl, where she lived and served as a Temple virgin until her betrothal to St. Joseph. One of the earliest sources of this tradition is the non-canonical Protoevangelion of James, also called the Infancy Gospel of James.

Mary was solemnly received by the temple community which was headed by the priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. She was led to the holy place to become herself the “holy of holies” of God, the living sanctuary and temple of the Divine child who was to be born in her. The Church also sees this feast as a feast which marks the end of the physical temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God.

St. Innocent of Irkutsk 11/26

Our father among the saints Innocent of Irkutsk was an educator and early missionary to Siberia where he was appointed the first bishop of Irkutsk in central Siberia. His dedication to the task of preaching the Gospel and teaching the people of the area in their languages would be continued by his namesake Innocent of Alaska. St Innocent’s repose is commemorated on November 26. He is also remembered on February 9, the day of his glorification and translation, and on September 2, the date of the second translation of his relics to Irkutsk in 1990.

Orthopraxis – Introduction to the Jesus Prayer

by H.R.H. Princess Ileana of Romania

We honor two saints this month that are instrumental in preserving the Philokalia – the essential manual of hesychasm. But the heights of hesychasm are beyond many monastics of our day, let alone those of us in the world. Many of us have even been advised against reading the Philokalia early in our journey. How can we proceed? Our modern holy fathers and mothers have taught us a way to begin that is not too advanced for us – baby steps in the path that lead to holy hesychia. One such instructor is H.R.H Princess Ileana of Romania, who began this journey as a layperson, later becoming a Nun. Some of us at St. Nicholas knew her. She is an example of traveling far by the simple means of the Jesus Prayer.


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.

I have often read the Jesus Prayer in prayer books and heard it in church, but my attention was drawn to it first some years ago in Romania. There in a small Monastery of Sâmbata, tucked away at the foot of the Carpathians in the heart of the deep forest, its little white church reflected in a crystal-clear mountain pond, I met a monk who practiced the “prayer of the heart”. Profound peace and silence reigned at Sâmbata in those days; it was a place of rest and strength—I pray God it still is.

I have wandered far since I last saw Sâmbata, and all the while the Jesus Prayer lay as a pre­cious gift buried in my heart. It remained inactive until a few years ago, when I read The Way of a Pilgrim. Since then I have been seeking to practice it continually. At times I lapse; nonetheless, the prayer has opened unbelievable vistas within my heart and soul.

The Jesus Prayer, or the Prayer of the Heart, centers on the Holy Name itself. It may be said in its entirety: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner;” it may be changed to “us sinners” or to other persons named, or it may be shortened. The power lies in the name of Jesus; thus “Jesus,” alone, may fulfill the whole need of the one who prays.

The Prayer goes back to the New Testament and has had a long, traditional use. The method of contemplation based upon the Holy Name is attributed to St. Simeon, called the “New Theologian” (949-1022). When he was 14 years old, St. Simeon had a vision of heavenly light in which he seemed to be separated from his body. Amazed, and overcome with an overpowering joy, he felt a consuming humility, and cried, borrowing the Publican’s prayer (Luke 18:13), “Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me.” Long after the vision had disappeared, the great joy returned to St. Simeon each time he repeated the prayer; and he taught his disciples to worship likewise. The prayer evolved into its expanded form: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” In this guise it has come down to us from generation to generation of pious monks and laymen.

The invocation of the Holy Name is not peculiar to the Orthodox Church but is used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants, though to a lesser degree. On Mount Sinai and Athos the monks worked out a whole system of contemplation based upon this simple prayer, practiced in complete silence. These monks came to be known as “Quietists” (in Greek: “Hesychasts”).

St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), the last of the great Church Fathers, became the exponent of the Hesychasts. He won, after a long drawn out battle, an irrefutable place for the Jesus Prayer and the Quietists within the Church. In the 18th century when tsardom hampered monasticism in Russia, and the Turks crushed Orthodoxy in Greece, the Neamtzu monastery in Moldavia (Romania) became one of the great centers for the Jesus Prayer.

The Prayer is held to be so outstandingly spiritual because it is focused wholly on Jesus: all thoughts, striving, hope, faith and love are outpoured in devotion to God the Son. It fulfills two basic injunctions of the New Testament. In one, Jesus said: “I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16: 23, 24). In the other precept we find St. Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing, (1. Thess. 5:17). Further, it follows Jesus’ instructions upon how to pray (which He gave at the same time He taught His followers the Lord’s Prayer): “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:6).

And Jesus taught that all impetus, good and bad, originates in men’s hearts. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).

Upon these and many other precepts of the New Testament as well as the Old, the Holy Fathers, even before St. Simeon, based their fervent and simple prayer. They developed a method of contemplation in which unceasing prayer became as natural as breathing, following the rhythmic cadence of the heart beat.

All roads that lead to God are beset with pitfalls because the enemy (Satan) ever lies in wait to trip us up. He naturally attacks most assiduously when we are bent on finding our way to salvation, for that is what he most strives to hinder. In mystical prayer the temptations we encounter exceed all others in danger; because our thoughts are on a higher level, the allurements are proportionally subtler. Someone said that “mysticism started in mist and ended in schism”; this cynical remark, spoken by an unbeliever, has a certain truth in it. Mysticism is of real spiritual value only when it is practiced with absolute sobriety.

At one time a controversy arose concerning certain Quietists who fell into excessive acts of piety and fasting because they lost the sense of moderation upon which our Church lays so great a value. We need not dwell upon misuses of the Jesus Prayer, except to realize that all exaggerations are harmful and that we should at all times use self-restraint. “Practice of the Jesus Prayer is the traditional fulfillment of the injunction of the Apostle Paul to ‘pray always:’ it has nothing to do with the mysticism which is the heritage of pagan ancestry.”

The Orthodox Church is full of deep mystic life which she guards and encompasses with the strength of her traditional rules; thus her mystics seldom go astray. “The ‘ascetical life’ is a life in which ‘acquired’ virtues, i.e. virtues resulting from a personal effort, only accompanied by that general grace which God grants to every good will, prevail. The ‘mystical life’ is a life in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are predominant over human efforts, and in which ‘infused’ virtues are predominant over the ‘acquired’ ones; the soul has become more passive than active. Let us use a classical com­parison. Between the ascetic life, that is, the life in which human action predominates, and the mystical life, that is, the life in which God’s action predominates, there is the same difference as between rowing a boat and sailing it; the oar is the ascetic effort, the sail is the mystical passivity which is unfurled to catch the divine wind.” The Jesus Prayer is the core of mystical prayer, and it can be used by anyone, at any time. There is nothing mysterious about this (let us not confuse “mysterious” with “mystic”). We start by following the precepts and examples frequently given by our Lord. First, go aside into a quiet place: “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31); “Study to be quiet” (I. Thess. 4: 11); then pray in secret—alone and in silence.

The phrases “to pray in secret, alone and in silence” need, I feel, a little expanding. “Secret” should be understood as it is used in the Bible: for instance, Jesus tells us to do our charity secretly-not letting the left hand know what the right one does. We should not parade our devotions, nor boast about them. “Alone” means to separate ourselves from our immediate surroundings and disturbing influences. As a matter of fact, never are we in so much company as when we pray”… seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” (Hebrews 12:1). The witnesses are all those who pray: Angels, Archangels, saints and sinners, the living and the dead. It is in prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer, that we become keenly aware of belonging to the living body of Christ. In “silence” implies that we do not speak our prayer audibly. We do not even meditate on the words; we use them only to reach beyond them to the essence itself.

In our busy lives this is not easy, yet it can be done-we can each of us find a few minutes in which to use a prayer consisting of only a few words, or even only one. This prayer should be repeated quietly, unhurriedly, thoughtfully. Each thought should be concentrated on Jesus, forgetting all else, both joys and sorrows. Any stray thought, however good or pious, can become an obstacle.

When you embrace a dear one you do not stop to meditate how and why you love—you just love wholeheartedly. It is the same when spiritually we grasp Jesus the Christ to our heart. If we pay heed to the depth and quality of our love, it means that we are preoccupied with our own reactions, rather than giving ourselves unreservedly to Jesus —holding nothing back. Think the prayer as you breathe in and out; calm both mind and body, using as rhythm the heartbeat. Do not search for words, but go on repeating the Prayer, or Jesus’ name alone, in love and adoration. That is ALL! Strange—in this little there is more than all!

It is good to have regular hours for prayer and to retire whenever possible to the same room or place, possibly before an icon. The icon is loaded with the objective presence of the One depicted, and thus greatly assists our invocation. Orthodox monks and nuns find that to use a rosary helps to keep the attention fixed. Or you may find it best quietly to close your eyes—focusing them inward.

The Jesus Prayer can be used for worship and petition; as intercession, invocation, adoration, and as thanksgiving. It is a means by which we lay all that is in our hearts, both for God and man, at the feet of Jesus. It is a means of communion with God and with all those who pray. The fact that we can train our hearts to go on praying even when we sleep, keeps us uninterruptedly within the community of prayer. This is no fanciful statement; many have experienced this life-giving fact. We cannot, of course, attain this continuity of prayer all at once, but it is achievable; for all that is worthwhile we must “… run with patience the race that is set before us …” (Hebrews 12:1).

I had a most striking proof of uninterrupted communion with all those who pray when I lately underwent surgery. I lay long under anesthesia. “Jesus” had been my last conscious thought, and the first word on my lips as I awoke. It was marvelous beyond words to find that although I knew nothing of what was happening to my body I never lost cognizance of being prayed-for and of praying myself. After such an experience one no longer wonders that there are great souls who devote their lives exclusively to prayer.

Prayer has always been of very real importance to me, and the habit formed in early childhood of morning and evening prayer has never left me; but in the practice of the Jesus Prayer I am but a be­ginner. I would, nonetheless, like to awaken interest in this prayer because, even if I have only touched the hem of a heavenly garment, I have touched it—and the joy is so great I would share it with others. It is not every man’s way of prayer; you may not find in it the same joy that I find, for your way may be quite a different one—yet equally bountiful.

In fear and joy, in loneliness and companionship, it is ever with me. Not only in the silence of daily devotions, but at all times and in all places. It transforms, for me, frowns into smiles; it beautifies, as if a film had been washed off an old picture so that the colors appear clear and bright, like nature on a warm spring day after a shower. Even despair has become attenuated and repentance has achieved its purpose.

When I arise in the morning, it starts me joyfully upon a new day. When I travel by air, land, or sea, it sings within my breast. When I stand upon a platform and face my listeners, it beats encouragement. When I gather my children around me, it murmurs a blessing. And at the end of a weary day, when I lay me down to rest, I give my heart over to Jesus: “(Lord) into thy hands I commend my spirit”. I sleep—but my heart as it beats prays on: “JESUS”.

Upcoming Events

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Autumn Harvest Luncheon

AUTUMN HARVEST LUNCHEON

Delicious Food

Pies for Holiday Purchase

Unique Gifts for Sale

Live Music

Join us on November 12th from 12:30 to 3:30

At: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
14220 Elva Avenue in Saratoga

$25 per person donation requested
Reservations are accepted until November 2nd by calling
Valarie, 408-770-7443 or Nika, 408-245-1785

October, 2022


Focus on the Faith

Is Jesus your “Personal Savior?”

Coming from a Protestant background, I was always taught to think of Jesus as my “personal savior.” Is this view based on scripture and Christian tradition? What is the relationship of the individual believer to Jesus? How does it work?

I too come from a strong evangelical Protestant background and the idea of Jesus Christ as my personal Savior is strong in my upbringing. I think the Protestant emphasis comes from the recognition that just a simple acknowledgment of Jesus as Messiah or as Son of God or even as the Accomplisher of Salvation is not enough, but that there must also be some type of commitment involved.

In the Orthodox Church the understanding is much more organic than in the Protestant confessions. In Protestantism, the individual is saved by a personal (meaning relating to me alone) action of God and the Church is the collection of all of those saved individuals. Salvation is an individual state, according to this view. The Orthodox Faith teaches us that salvation is not individual but corporate – the whole Church is saved together and apart from the Church we cannot be saved. The conversion experience as a “saving act” is not a part of Orthodox faith – rather this conversion experience (accomplished by baptism, btw) is only the door into the saving ark of the Church. Jesus by His death and (more importantly) resurrection has defeated sin death and the devil and has unlocked the door to paradise (it had been closed against fallen man and guarded by an angel with a flaming sword) and leads us in. Will we follow? – that is what “salvation” is all about; following Christ into paradise.

The words individual and personal bring up another interesting and important aspect. Within Orthodox teaching, we can say that Jesus is our personal Savior in that He takes individuals (a being that is independent and separated from all others) and makes them persons (a separate being that is united to other beings in a larger whole, in this case, the Church) This contrast between individuals and persons is a little bit of an extrapolation from the doctrine of the Trinity. We worship One God (individual) in three persons. Similarly, there is only One Church (individual) which is made of many persons. The emphasis on individuality in western and especially American culture is in this sense anti-Christian and derives from an incorrect understanding of the Church which is the result of the reformation in Western Europe and the resulting theology which had to justify salvation apart from the Church. We must remember that salvation is corporate – the whole Church is saved together and will be presented as a single entity as the Bride of Christ (there is only one Bride – Jesus is not a polygamist) at the 2nd coming. Our individual judgment is not whether we are saved or not, but rather we are part of the Church and following Christ. If we are part of the Church following Christ then we are being saved along with the whole Church but if we cease to follow Christ and separate ourselves from the Church by placing our own judgment and will as higher and more important than that of the Church, then we are not being saved because we have “jumped out of the ark”.

Fr David Moser – St Seraphim Orthodox Church – Boise, Idaho

From the Fathers

The Mature Christian’s Rule of Life:

“The mature Christian does not only try to avoid evil. Nor does he do good for fear of punishment, still less in order to qualify for the hope of a promised reward. The mature Christian does good through love. His actions are not motivated by desire for personal benefit, so he does not have personal advantage as his aim. But as soon as he has realized the beauty of doing good, he does it with all his energy and in all that he does. He is not interested in fame, or a good reputation, or a human or divine reward. The rule of life for a mature Christian is to be in the image and likeness of God.”

—Clement of Alexandria

“My poor soul! Sigh, pray and strive to take upon you the blessed yoke of Christ, and you will live on earth in a heavenly manner. Lord, grant that I may carry the light and goodly yoke, and I shall be always at rest, peaceful, glad and joyous; and I shall taste on earth of crumbs which fall from the celestial feast, like a dog that feeds upon the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.”

—St. Tikhon of Voronezh

Where there is pride there cannot be grace, and if we lose grace we also lose both love of God and assurance in prayer. The soul is then tormented by evil thoughts and does not understand that she must humble herself and love her enemies, for there is no other way to please God.

— St. Silouan the Athonite

Lives of the Saints

October 2

St Andrew the Fool for Christ (911)
St Andrew was bought as a slave by Theognostos,a wealthy citizen of Constantinople, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise. Theognostos recognized Andrew’s unusual ability and taught him to read and write. Despite this, Andrew, obeying a divine revelation, took up the ascesis of folly for Christ, behaving as a madman all day and secretly praying most of the night. His master endeavored to have him cured of his apparent madness, having prayers read over him in church, but to no avail. Finally, he discharged Andrew, who thereafter lived in absolute poverty in Constantinople, clothing himself in rags and living on the bread given him by kindly Christians. Anything that he received, beyond that needed for bare survival, he gave to beggars, usually mocking and insulting them at the same time so as not to be thanked or praised for his deeds. Such was the wholeheartedness of his prayers that he was given grace to see angels and demons, to discern the secrets of others, thereby turning them from their sins. It was he who, with his disciple Epiphanius, saw the vision of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God (see October 1). After a life of profound ascetic struggle, he reposed in peace.

Hieromartyr Cyprian and Virgin-Martyr Justina (304).
“Saint Justina, who was from Damascus, lived in virginity for the sake of Christ. Saint Cyprian, who was from Antioch, began as an initiate of magic and worshipper of the demons. A certain foolish young man who had been smitten with Justina’s beauty hired Cyprian to draw her to love him; when Cyprian had used every demonic device he knew, and had failed, being repulsed by the power of Christ Whom Justina invoked, he understood the weakness of the demons and came to know the truth. Delivered from demonic delusion, he came to Christ and burned all his books of magic, was baptized, and later ascended the episcopal throne in his country. Later, he and Justina were arrested by the Count of Damascus, and having endured many torments at his hands, they were sent finally to Diocletian in Nicomedia, where they were beheaded in the year 304.” (Great Horologion)

October 3

Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite (96)
He is mentioned in Acts 17:19-34. He was a learned Athenian, a member of the Athenian court on Mars Hill (Areos Pagos in Greek, from which the title ‘Areopagite’ comes). At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, he was studying in Egypt and saw the sky darkened there for three hours when Christ breathed His last. He later married and had several children. When St Paul preached in Athens, Dionysius was among the first to believe, and became either the first (according to some) Bishop of Athens, or the second, succeeding St Hierotheos (commemorated tomorrow, October 4). With St Hierotheos he was present at the Dormition of the Mother of God. He received a martyr’s end in his old age, possibly in Athens. Several famous works of mystical theology, including On the Divine Names, Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Mystical Theology, and 10 Letters are attributed to him.

October 8

Our Holy Mother Pelagia (461)
“This Saint was a prominent actress of the city of Antioch, and a pagan, who lived a life of unrestrained prodigality and led many to perdition. Instructed and baptized by a certain bishop named Nonnus (November 10), she departed to the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, where she lived as a recluse, feigning to be a eunuch called Pelagius. She lived in such holiness and repentance that within three or four years she was deemed worthy to repose in an odour of sanctity, in the middle of the fifth century. Her tomb on the Mount of Olives has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.” (Great Horologion). The Prologue adds that Pelagia had accumulated a large fortune as a courtesan, all of which she gave away to the poor upon her conversion.

Saint Thaïs the Repentant Harlot (4th c.)
She lived in Alexandria, where, when she was seventeen, her own mother placed her in a brothel, where due to her great beauty she was able to amass some wealth. Saint Serapion (March 21), hearing about Thaïs and her way of life, was moved by God to try to convert her. He dressed himself as a soldier, found her, gave her a gold piece, and went with her to her room. When the door was shut, he put aside his tunic, revealing his monastic robe, and asked if he might speak with her. With tears he told her of the doom that awaits sinners, and of the infinite mercy of God, who desires that all should be saved and welcomes every repentant sinner. Thaïs, her heart melted by his words, ran to the public square, burned all the fine clothes and possessions that she had acquired through her trade, and went with Serapion to a women’s monastery. There he instructed her to stay secluded in her cell, beseeching God’s mercy constantly and only eating every other day; she was to do this until she was instructed otherwise. Thaïs lived in this way for three years, with such zeal that she amazed all her monastic sisters. Meanwhile St Serapion went to St Anthony the Great to ask him if God had accepted Thaïs’ repentance. Saint Anthony and his brethren spent a night in prayer and received a vision in which they were assured that Thaïs had been found worthy of God’s mercy. Returning to the monastery, Serapion made the repentant Saint leave her cell, though by now she only wished to spend her life in repentant prayer. After spending only fifteen days in the common life of the monastery, the holy Thaïs reposed in peace.

October 19

Righteous John, Wonderworker of Kronstadt (1908).
“Saint John of Kronstadt was a married priest, who lived with his wife in virginity. Through his untiring labours in his priestly duties and love for the poor and sinners, he was granted by our Lord great gifts of clairvoyance and miracle-working, to such a degree that in the last years of his life miracles of healings — both of body and of soul — were performed countless times each day through his prayers, often for people who had only written to him asking his help. During his lifetime he was known throughout Russia, as well as in the Western world. He has left us his diary My Life in Christ as a spiritual treasure for Christians of every age; simple in language, it expounds the deepest mysteries of our Faith with that wisdom which is given only to a heart purified by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Foreseeing as a true prophet the Revolution of 1917, he unsparingly rebuked the growing apostasy among the people; he foretold that the very name of Russia would be changed. As the darkness of unbelief grew thicker, he shone forth as a beacon of unquenchable piety, comforting the faithful through the many miracles that he worked and the fatherly love and simplicity with which he received all. Saint John reposed in peace in 1908.” (Great Horologion)

Orthopraxis – Clergy Etiquette

Why Orthodox Christians Stand for Prayer or Worship

To express the respect of God which is congruent with the worship of Him, Orthodox Christians stand while in worship as though they were in the presence of a king. Traditionally, women stood on in the north side of the church in front of the icon of the Mother of God while the men stood on in the south side of the church in front of the icon of Christ. Now, however, this is rarely done and worshipers simply stand in any open space in the nave facing the altar and praying silently or singing as they stand. In most Orthodox churches, the congregants stand through the entire service with the exception of the elderly, the ill, pregnant women or mothers with babies, who may choose to sit in chairs or on benches in the back or along the sides of the church.

The custom that Orthodox Christians stand during prayer arid church services is not only a representation of spiritual service in the Heavenly Church, but also in the Church of the Old Testament. In the description of the blessing of Solomon’s temple it is said: “The Levites and all the singers, being arrayed in white linen… stood at the east end of the altar” (II Chronicles 5:12); and “All the congregation of Israel stood” (II Chronicles 6:2).

The holy prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, speaking of the services of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity, say: “And they set priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David, King of Israel” (I Ezra 3:10); “And the Levites stood according to their rank and cried with a loud voice unto the Lord their God, and the Levites caused the people to understand the law; and the people stood in their place” (Nehemiah 9:4,5; 8:7; also Matthew 6:5).

To stand during prayer was thus the customary rule among the Jews, as is proven in their writings, in the manner of the Old Testament Church, Orthodox Christians have maintained the same custom, since apostolic times, of standing during divine services. The correctness of such a practice is evident from the Scriptures, the holy fathers, and from the texts of the services themselves, where it is often proclaimed “Let us stand well, let us stand with fear, let us stand upright, let us stand at attention!”

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events this month are in the online calendar, which you can subscribe to on your phone or tablet. Use the print button on the calendar to print a copy.

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