The Pillars of Orthodoxy
Apostle Andrew First Called
Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
- The Holy Apostle Paul to the Church at
· Wednesday 10:15-11:15 Catechesis: (abbreviated for Nativity Fast)
· Saturday (Sund Vespers): Sunday 9am 3rd & 6th Hrs & Typica or Div Liturgy
I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him
Who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong,
and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.
"The way of humility is this: self-control, prayer,
and thinking yourself inferior to all
Why a weekly letter?
Throughout the week as I think of you, my godchildren, catechumens, enquirers, and brethren in Christ, there are things I wish to say to you that do not fit easily into our weekly lessons. Even when I resolve to speak to you, if I don’t write down my thoughts, I forget them, only to remember them after we have met. In writing them down, they often take the form of scrawled notes on napkins and, often, I wish I could give them to you in some form that would bring them back to mind on occasion. I’ve hesitated to create a ‘newsletter’, until we receive a blessing to formalize our catechetical school. So, for now, I’ll simply put them in the form of a catechetical letter from myself, godfather and catechetist to you, my beloved children, friends, and brethren.
Do me the service, then, as I risk being somewhat bold in the manner of my speaking to you, of remembering that I really have nothing to say if the Church does not say it, nor have told you any truth if I contradict the consensus of the holy fathers or the seven holy Oecumenical Councils. That is partly why I decided to ‘dedicate’, still unofficially as yet, this series of letters to the honor of The Pillars of Orthodoxy, as I hope also to receive blessing to do for our ‘portable catechetical school’. If I have anything at all good to say to you, the glory is to God, and if I err, it is my error and my shame.
Our prayer and readings throughout the week
I’ve been thinking about how our prayer and readings throughout the week both mimick and follow the liturgical services of the Church, whether we have attended them or not. For each service, there is the keeping of the calendar, mindful of the season, whether, for example, it is the Nativity Fast or Penetecost, mindful of the day, whether it is a fast or a feast, and of which saints, icons, or events, are especially venerated on the day. For each service, there are readings, common prayers and changeable prayers (e.g. the Troparia and Kontakia for the Saints commemorated this day), intercessions, thanksgiving, acknowledgement of our sins, prayers to the Lord and to the Theotokos… You see where I’m going; our own rules, our own practices, mimick and follow those of the Church’s liturgics.
For each day, there are readings. Likewise, it is the pious custom of Orthodox Christians to read the scriptural readings appointed for the day, even when not attending services. I have found myself out of step with the Saints in this regard, struggling as I do to keep even the simple prayers of my rule. And if I do not pray, how shall I read? I am well aware, too, that the fathers always couple fasting with prayer; and teach us that “as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion.” – better to eat and be dispassionate than to be passionate and fast from food. After all, it is partly liberation from the passions, at war with me in my flesh, that the fast from food is meant to serve. So how is it that I find it easier to keep the rule of the fast in food than to follow the train of holy fathers in their supreme fasting from the passions?
In the same way, I find it easier to be regular at liturgy, and to tick off the times and seasons than to live the life of which the liturgies speak, and of which we pray and read. So, I cannot call you, my fellow catechumens in Christ (we are all always catechumens in the Lord), to live the pious life that I am presumably living. Far from it. Instead, I can only ask you to help me in my struggle, as I strive to help you in yours. Let us encourage and exhort one another. Let us help one another over the hurdles, pulling one another up the ladder, grasping hands so we don’t fall. Most of all, let us press on since, only if I press on will I have any word or example or meaning when I turn to give footing to another.
Be encouraged: Remember, the war against the passions, the ascent to dispassion, the process of theosis – these are a ladder.
On a ladder, there are rungs. We need not despair for the great distance – only fear if we step off the ladder. Rungs are steps. There are deliberate, planned, actions we can take to make progress. Lastly, the ladder is a work of synergy. As a ladder it requires our energies; as The Ladder of Divine Ascent rather than the Tower of Babel, it also requires the energies of God, who is ever present to help, heal, and save.
Fr. David Moser speaks of the written sources of faith as a pendant. The Holy Scriptures form the central diamond. The surrounding gems include the writings of the Fathers, the Lives of the Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils and the canons (e.g. The Rudder), and the liturgical texts of the Church, which likewise can be read systematically:
The only way to explore the riches of the Orthodox Church’s liturgical poetry is to study the texts systematically, just as one studies music, mathematics and other subjects. There are several ways to do this. One is to go to church every day and follow the service books as they are read and sung. Another is to read and sing in a choir. The third is to read liturgical books at home, and still another is to study Greek and Slavonic and compare the original text with the Slavonic translation. – Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev
Holy Scripture is the centerpiece, remember. There is no writing more sublime. The liturgical poetry of the Church contains, as St. Theophan says, “the whole of our theology and moral teaching”. The lives of the Fathers show us the very heart of the Church are are written icons, as surely as the icons on our walls have been written. The writings of the Fathers and decisions of the Councils train our minds to think in an Orthodox way, which is essential to our lives. And the canons of the Church teach us true piety. These jewels likewise illuminate the rungs of the ladder.
If you happen to think of me, make the thought a prayer.
-- the unworthy