May 16, 2005

 

A,

 

These are councils from your friend and Godfather-to-be. They are not meant to take the place of a Father Confessor, once you have received the Holy Mysteries, or to presume the place of the one charged with your catechesis.

 

The icon corner

 

Treat the icon corner always with reverence and as an occasion to pray, if only briefly. It is the chapel of the home. When passing it, stop to face it not too hastily, and cross yourself. Use the lighting of the lamp to draw yourself into prayer. Do not hesitate to look directly at the icons when praying, as your rule of prayer is memorized; they are for the eyes. Venerate them as you would any image of the Saints and Our Lord. At the same time, do not be delicate by avoiding the icon corner and prayer, out of a presumed humility when you sin. That form of gluttony is a passion and the tool of the enemy. Keep your prayer rule short enough to be manageable in morning, evening, and at special times, so that you are not frustrated, and add to it only gradually in conversation with your Father Confessor. If others are around, do not pray with the heterodox, nor pray with an audience. For the non-Orthodox who are not heterodox, offer them to pray along with you or ask for privacy.

 

Prayer at mealtimes

 

It is better not to eat, than to eat and not pray. It is customary to pray Our Lord's Prayer, without adding the priest's part: "For Thine is the Kingdom…" or to pray another pious prayer that confesses the Incarnation and that reminds of us what we are doing…

 

The eyes of all hope in Thee, O Lord, and Thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest Thy generous hand and fillest every living thing with good will.

 

If you also pray after meals, pray such a prayer as this:

 

We thank Thee, O Christ our God, that Thou has sated us with the good  things of Thine earth: do not deprive us also of Thy heavenly Kingdom.

 

The fathers tell us not to eat until full, but stop while still a little hungry. Besides, the stomach does not tell the brain it is full, until about 20 minutes after it has had enough. Be willing to leave a little on the plate; it is not waste, rather waste is the energy lost on too much preoccupation with food.

 

Pray always "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Pray the Jesus prayer at all times when the slightest need or inclination is felt, and at some times simply as a way of living, or as a discipline. Do not try to regulate your breathing or engage in any other ascetic exercise without consulting your Father Confessor.

 


The pious customs

 

Do not be weighed down with too much pressure, either self-imposed or presumably imposed by others, to learn and keep all pious customs as though they were commandments. But gradually add every pious custom to your own customs. It is not necessary to stock your icon corner with every implement, nor keep all the hours as a monastic would. It is likely not possible without damaging much that is necessary for life, for your salvation. At the same time, do not cling too much to the beauty of sparse offerings, since Orthodoxy is the fullness of the fullness of piety. Again, gradually seek the fullness of piety. It is a path of discernment that we must not ignore things merely because they interfere with our enjoyment, or require of us some rigor, but we must not presume to be gladiators just yet. When we are lazy, we should remember the old women, the Archbishop of venerable age, and those on crutches and with canes, who stand in long services without flinching, like warriors in an arena. When we are weighed down, we should remember St. Seraphim's simple icon of the Theotokos, and the Jesus Prayer, and ask of ourselves just a little more – only a little, not a lot. If anyone corrects you in simple piety, try to learn and to follow, if the custom is truly pious and if it is not too burdensome. Discuss all things with your Father Confessor.

 

Books

 

It is not possible to read every book that others or one's own intellect may suggest, however holy or important they are. At the same time, it is a good idea to always keep a book going. While some prescribe reading the lives of the saints, and others the desert fathers (always with the blessing and conversation of one's Father Confessor), and still others history, the fathers, or the work of the latest scholar or thinker (which are sometimes erroneously called theologians), it is good to consult one's Father Confessor on such things, and to find one's own way. Advice can be helpful; just as one would ask instructions for reaching Rome. Others have been on the path, even if all roads eventually lead there.

 

In university, my Professor advised me to read what interests me, and the moment it doesn't interest me to put it down. Subject, of course, to one's catechetical instructor, and one's Father Confessor, I would suggest in your case, reading the Fathers – not the Desert Fathers, for now, but that these be read with help from those who know the difference between a Father, an early Christian writer, and a heretic, which often appear in the same volumes, collection, and editions.

 

You definitely want the Apostolic Fathers, with the aforementioned provisos. The SVS Press editions of later Fathers are compact (notably, the works of St. John of Damascus and St. Theodore the Studite, on the Holy icons, and St. Athanasius "On the Incarnation"). Bettenson's twin Volumes, "The Early Christian Fathers" and "The Later Christian Fathers", with the same provisos, are excellent topical arrangements of texts. I would also recommend some appropriate history, such as certain works by Fr. Meyendorff ("Christ in Eastern Christian Thought"), Fr. Schmemman ("The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy"), some works on iconography, such as those of Kalokyris and Fr. Ouspensky, and some works that it may be safely said belong in any Orthodox library, such as Vladimir Lossky's "The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church" and works by Fr. Florovsky (not Florensky). I would also recommend the works of Joseph Farrell, such as "Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor", "The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit". The work by his academic mentor Bishop Kallistos Ware (as Fr. Timothy Ware) – "The Orthodox Church" is a handy introduction, though problematic in some areas.

 

In short, be reading something, and read as gradually or voraciously as you feel is right, consulting your catechetical instructor and later Father Confessor, and read always with prayer, realizing that reading is a form of prayer, but do not drown in books at the expense of the rest of your Faith.

 

 


Attitude

 

Ours is a mind of repentance and mourning illuminated by joy. The fathers teach us to say "All will be saved, and I alone will be condemned." When asked who crucified Christ, the proper response is "I did." When one of the fathers was asked who the sheep are and who are the goats, he replied "I am one of the goats, but as for the sheep, God alone knows who they are." Our Lord has said to us, "When you have done all that is commanded you, say 'We are useless servants; we have only done what was our duty." In the Gregorian Rite, the communicants say with the Roman officer, "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed."

 

And yet, it is healing. We also say "O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and you are annihilated. Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen." Fr. Silouan of Athos says, "Keep your mind in Hell and despair not." This is a difficult balance, and is an area of discernment. Remember your sins, and be humble and aware of your helplessness without Our Lord, but do not despair (which is a passion), and let nothing rob you of His Glorious Resurrection, which the enemy is always trying to do.

 

 

The Divine Liturgy & Other Services

 

Keep the calendar as much as you can, participating in the times and seasons even when you cannot participate in the services, but participate in the services whenever possible. Remember, the laity is a part of the priesthood as well, and the Divine Liturgy is a type of the liturgy in Heaven, the temple a part of the Heavenly Temple. Staying away from the services is a form of independence and a denial of the Church, and so a denial of the Incarnation. You must actually plan specific times to participate, or else it will always be lumped with what are happenstance, accident, and mere convenience.

 

Goals

 

For now, the goal is to learn as much as possible the fullness of Orthodoxy, to fix your thoughts on the Incarnation and the heart's desire for theosis, to liberate the mind as much as possible from heresies and false ideas, and to eventually receive the Holy Mysteries. This is the first part of the ultimate goal of continual theosis or deification/divinization. In this, we seek the death of the passions, the gift of tears, the resurrection of the person, and growing union with Christ Our God. Discuss anything that concerns, worries, distresses, or burdens you overmuch, with your catechetical instructor, and later with your Father Confessor.

 

 

 

I the unworthy, saying these things in fear, not presuming to teach, since I am not blessed to do so, but offering my best counsel in love and from friendship, because it is Christ's will that all men be saved and none perish and because, there being no one else at the moment, it is my privilege with awe to introduce you to the True Faith, in One Church, of the only Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father, and the Most Holy and Life-giving Spirit, lives and reigns now and ever, and unto all ages of ages.