:: Sunday, July 31, 2005 ::
One down, 1534 more to go!
:: Wednesday, July 27, 2005 ::
This weekend, I survived. Moreover, I said my lifetime confession. I didn’t pass out. I didn’t wimp out. I actually did it.
Luckily for me, the 2.5 hour ordeal (termed ‘short’ by Father afterwards!) didn’t require me to talk much. I came with four nicely typed pages based on an outline he’d given me. I said the first two sins on the list, and then it became more of an instructional dialogue than a ‘confession’ in the sense that I had imagined it. He did most of the talking. It was a general question/answer with dialogue to explain why I had committed this and that specific sin; they themselves were not of as much importance. He is a good confessor, or I must be really transparent; his conclusions were excellent. I could not have even put into what he was saying into words, but I was shocked at how incredibly accurate he was.
Now that I look back on it, I see he was being as gentle as he possibly could; that would never have been an adjective I would have applied to him before yesterday. I knew that everything I had listed on that paper was a sin (hence, I had listed it on that paper!). Through the entire thing, he never once said, “That was wrong” or “That was a sin” or something patronizingly stupid like that. I think I half expected him to kind of condemn me, or at least judge me a little. I was really shocked at how he didn’t do the least of either. I am certainly still scared of him (especially when he is at the altar!), but he seemed to understand that I was terrified, and he was as patient and gentle as he could possibly be. He seemed to be really good at picking out what I was trying to say even when I wasn’t saying it. You know, I’d list like 6 things in one breath, hoping that he would try to hear them all and miss the bad one in the middle? (I’m sure no one else has ever tried that; and if you haven’t, it doesn’t work one bit!) He saw right through it and nailed me about the one that I was trying to ‘slide over.’ But he didn’t judge me. I know he heard me and listened; we dialogued, but at the same time, I can’t imagine someone hearing that list of sins and not condemning me. I also can’t explain how surprised I was at both his gentleness or lack of condemnation.
The things he told me were not new. They seemed new and profound, but as I look back, he told me to love God, and to love people, and do everything I can for their salvation. The central idea was love. Love God, love man. Having that applied to my life, though, was radical. I saw how I did not love God or people (mostly people, actually!), and how I could do so.
It felt less like what I’d always imagined confession to be, and more of a dialogue with another person over snack (in front of me was his hand-cross, a Gospel, and a bowl of fresh red cherries). He seemed less like a priest than I think I’d ever seen him. Even with the epitrachelion on, he seemed more like a fellow struggler, just another person along this path of salvation. When he was acting most as my spiritual father, he seemed the least like a spiritual father. He was just another Christian; he wasn’t the intimidating priest I see at the altar, or the bubbly monk running around playing host. I guess I respect him more now, but in a different way. When I first met him and I told him I was scared of him, he used to say “All ground is level at the foot of the cross.” In my confession, when the very un-levelness should have been most obvious, the ground seemed the most level indeed.
Glory to God!
:: 9:21 PM on
Sunday, July 31, 2005
The Other Day…
:: Sunday, July 24, 2005 ::
This short fiction is the result of reading authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Flannery O’Conner, and Henry James; it is my first attempt at such, so it may not work too well.
The other day, as I rushing to get ready for Liturgy, I remembered that there was this guy who had insulted me the other day. I would see him at Liturgy this morning, and I would set him straight. As I was leaving my room with these thoughts, I felt a icy shiver; I was suddenly afraid that there was a little demon sitting right behind my door. As I nervously opened the door, I saw a little green slimy thing, squatting and hunched over, all 18 inches of it, blocking my path. I sighed a sigh of relief, “Whew! I’m glad it’s just you, Anger. I thought it was a demon or something come to scare me!” I laughed at my own stupidity, gingerly picked up my Anger, put him in my pack, and continued down the hall.
As I walked down the hall, I passed the mirror on the side door. As I got closer, I had a breath of apprehension…was there something waiting for me? I was afraid to go on, but my Anger was strong now, and so I had to keep going. As I passed the mirror, however, I realized how foolish my apprehension was. There, in the mirror, was an ugly, wart-covered demon of a few feet tall. “Oh, that’s nothing I should be afraid of! That’s just my old pal, Vanity!” Along with Anger, I scooped her up and put her in my pack.
As I walked out past the kitchen, I saw that woman that everyone always likes. You know her, right? She’s so nice to everyone, and she helps people a lot. “You know, everyone always thinks good things of her, and they forget you. She always is the center of attention, she has everything.” I heard these coming from right behind my left ear. I checked; Vanity and Anger will still in my pack, so who could this new voice belong to? Of course, it was another one of my companions, the eight-legged poisonous spider-like demon of Jealousy. I found myself agreeing with this new companion, almost despite myself. “Yeah, it’s not fair,” I replied to this old friend, and quickly stuffed him into my pack.
By the time I got out of the building, I had acquired a whole host of my old friends in my pack. I had Anger, Vanity, Jealousy, Lust, Pride, Self-justification, Sloth, and many of their other companions. I got a few feet from my building, but I was too tired to go on; my back hurt from the heavy pack I was carrying. And besides, I didn’t really want to go to church anymore. After all, I’m too scared of the priests.
Glory to God!
:: 9:51 PM on
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
:: Monday, July 18, 2005 ::
Pure maiden, so suddenly
thrust into the embrace of the Mother of God,
we who are left among the wreckage
weep that your alms-giving heart and hands
no longer anoint us,
that your loving face has turned away to the pure heights.
And yet it takes our breath away to think
what songs in that feast of entry
you in the procession of candle-bearing maidens hear.
Oh, you lived honorably dear friend, sweet daughter;
what crown of peace sits on your brow today!
- by Christopher Lewis
In memory of Alyse Veronica Handelilh, September 3rd, 1985 – July 20th, 2005.
So often we would speak of the frivolous things in life, forgetting what is important. So often we forget to say goodbye, sure that we will meet again so soon. We will meet again, my friend, but I must wait many more years. May your soul dwell with the blessed, and may your memory be eternal!
Alyse was killed in a car wreck as she and some other friends drove back from their diocene conference. Please pray for our community in Santa Rosa, as this loss of such a bright young life is shocking to us all. Please pray for the driver, Mara, who is still in a Boston hospital recovering. Please pray for Alyse’s soul.
Glory to God!
:: 6:17 PM on
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Apropos for the feast day…
:: Tuesday, July 12, 2005 ::
A Prayer to St. Seraphim
O most wondrous Father seraphim, thou great wonderworker of Sarov, ready helper of all that have recourse to thee! During thine earthly life none went away from thee empty and without consolation, but the sight of thy face and the kindly sound of thy words was sweetness to all, for to them the gift of healing, the gift of clairvoyance, the gift of treating afflicted souls, appeared abundant in thee. And when God summoned thee from thine earthly labors to heavenly rest, in no wise did thy love abandon us, and it is not possible to count they miracles, which are as numerous as the stars of heaven. For lo, thou dost appear unto the people of God throughout all the ends of our world, and dost grant them healing. Wherefore, we cry out to thee: O most gentle and meek saint of God, bold intercessor before Him that dost in no wise turn away them that call upon thee: offer up thy mighty prayer for us unto the Lord of hosts, that He strengthen our Orthodox hierarchy and grant us all that is needful in this life and all that is profitable for the salvation of our souls, that He keep us from falling into sin and teach us true repentance, wherein without incurring offense we may enter into the heavenly Kingdom, where thou dost now shine in unfading glory, and there with all the saints hymn the life-originating Trinity unto the end of the ages. Amen.
Another Prayer to St. Seraphim
O great servant of God, our venerable and God-bearing Father Seraphim! Look down from the heights of glory upon us, the lowly and infirm, weighed down by many sins, who entreat thy help and comfort. Look down upon us in thy compassion, and help us to keep the commandments of the Lord blamelessly, to hold fast to the Orthodox Faith, to offer repentance earnestly unto God in our sinfulness, through Grace to progress in Christian piety and to be worthy of thine intercession before God for us. Yea, O saint of God, hearken unto us that entreat thee with faith and love, and disdain us not that are in need of thy defense. Now and at the hour of our death, help us and by thy prayers defend us from the evil wiles of the devil, that their power not prevail over us, but that by thine aid we may be vouchsafed to inherit the bliss of the mansions of paradise. For in thee do we now place our hope, O compassionate father: be thou truly unto us a guide to salvation, and lead us to the unwaning light of eternal life by thy God-pleasing intercession at the throne of the Most-holy Trinity, that with all the saints we may glorify and hymn the right-worshipful Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Holy Father Seraphim, pray for us sinners!
Glory to God!
:: 7:09 PM on
Monday, July 18, 2005
Priests, Please Forgive Us Converts!
:: Sunday, July 10, 2005 ::
I found this introduction to an article by Fr. Jonah of St. John the Baptist. It deserves reprinting here…mostly because it is so true!
5 Good Reasons NOT to Visit a Monastery
Hieromonk Jonah (Paffhausen)
The priest looked out of the altar, checking to see if the choir director was ready to begin the hours before the Divine Liturgy. Just as he was ready to say, "Blessed is our God," his newest convert, Bill, made a grand entrance into the church, having just gotten back from his latest pilgrimage to another monastery. Bill—or Vasili, as he now insisted on being called—had been a normal young evangelical convert, clean-cut, single, and working his first job out of college. Then he discovered Orthodoxy in a bookstore, and with great zeal embraced the Faith. He was chrismated after a usual six-month catechumenate, during which he read just about every book in print on the Orthodox Faith.
After a year or so, Bill had decided to go visit monasteries. This is where his change began. He became more pious and more serious about his faith, but also started to become, well, weird. Like this Sunday morning. Bill/Vasili was not content to come in like everyone else. Rather, prayer ropes flying from his wrists, he made grand bows at the entrance to the nave, and again, the entire congregation watching, with a flourish prostrated before virtually every icon in the church. It was such a display that no one listened to the hours.
Then, just before the time the Liturgy should have begun, Bill came up to the door of the altar and announced he must have confession, or he'd be in big trouble with the holy elders. Father, being patient with zealous youths, went to hear the confession.
"I am the worst of all sinners!" Bill began as usual. Then he read his list, only four pages this morning. "And I only could do two hundred prostrations, not my usual three hundred, and only read four akathists, so I am not fully prepared for communion," he said. "Besides, I just had to have a cup of coffee, but since everyone else does anyway, can I still go to communion?"
The priest had heard it all before. What does one say? "You did all those prayers, and still had to have a cup of coffee?"
"Well, the Elder said I had to do the prayers, but I couldn't stay awake to finish them all. So I had some coffee. But doesn't everyone in this jurisdiction even have breakfast before Liturgy? I heard that Bishop So-and-so even had coffee with those godless Catholics right before Liturgy. Besides, it was at three a.m. when I had the coffee, and it's almost ten now."
A little after, thought the priest. "Why didn't you start your rule a little earlier?"
"Well, the book I just read said it must only be done after midnight, as that is the time to battle demons. Besides, Madonna was on 'Saturday Night Live.' Uh . . . the video clips of hers really led me into a big temptation ... so I did all those prostrations."
Father really did not know what to address first. "Father," Bill asked, "don't you think it's time to start being more traditional, to get rid of those paraffin candles and use real beeswax? It is more Orthodox. It really bothers me that the choir reads half the texts of the vigil, instead of singing them, like last night. And on the wrong calendar too. It took me three hours just to repeat the vigil on the right calendar! I'm afraid I am going to have to find another jurisdiction that is more Orthodox. Am I the only one in this parish who knows how to do things right? Besides, I have invited my Elder to meet you, and he'll set you straight on all this stuff. He told me we have to do everything correctly, like they do it, otherwise we'll all burn in hell."
Father was losing patience, looking at his watch, 10:20 and counting. "Okay, Vasili, look, there are a number of issues here, and we need to talk about them, but not while the whole church is waiting for you to finish. When did you go to confession last?"
"Yesterday, at the monastery. I think I have finally found a spiritual father worthy of my obedience."
"And who is he?"
"Fr. So-and-so, from the monastery in the mountains. He is coming to serve with you next Sunday."
"Bill . . ."
"Okay, Vasili, then. That guy was defrocked years ago. I can't serve with him! Who gave you a blessing to go see him? Much less submit yourself to him? Much less invite him here?"
"Oh, so you too are continuing to persecute that righteous man! I know in my heart he is truly Orthodox! Besides he baptized me yesterday, making up for what you did not do by chrismating me. Actually," getting excited, "why am I here anyway? I should really go be with him as the true criterion of Orthodoxy. . . Not in this modernist, ecumenist jurisdiction. My spiritual father may have been defrocked, but he is obedient to God, not those godless bishops! I know it because I feel it in my heart. .."
"So," said Father, rather irritated, "why do you want to go to communion here anyway?"
"What! You would deny me my right to go to communion!" he whined, as he stormed out.
Glory to God!
:: 10:34 PM on
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
The Best Parish
:: Wednesday, July 06, 2005 ::
At Raphael House, I have the opportunity to meet many Orthodox people from all over the United States, and a good number from foreign countries. Recently, a young woman arrived to become a permanent member of our staff, and as we walked to church, she asked me if I had seen the multitude of Orthodox churches in San Francisco and the surrounding areas. When I answered in the affirmative, she asked me what my favorite parish was.
Without even pausing a moment to think, I said, “Mine. St. Seraphim.” She kind of laughed, “No, really, which is your favorite?” Honestly, my own parish is my favorite. It is the best parish in the world. The temple is beautiful, the choir is great, the priest is pious, the people pray fervently. What more could I ask for?
This woman seemed very impressed. With another small laugh, she stated, “I wish everyone thought their own parish was the best.” Well, everyone should. Sure, you can visit and travel and enjoy the beauties of other parishes and other places, but remember that your parish is your home. It is where you pray, and it is the best parish in the world.
Glory to God!
:: 3:27 PM on
Sunday, July 10, 2005
So, I just finished “Shepherd of Souls,” a book about the contemporary Rumanian elder, Elder Cleopa. It makes me wonder how spiritual we over here are today.
The way in which faith is described as interacting with ‘real’ life is incredible. The people seem scared of demons. They seem comfortable with monastics. They seem to expect so much more spiritual awareness than we even dare to ask of people. How many confessors do you know who would assign the prayer rule the Elder assigns to his spiritual children (the lay ones)? If that kind of stuff were expected of us…how far we would fly! The book speaks of the youth of the Elder. It says that his father would encourage his sons not to eat before noon as they were growing up; I believe the exact words were, “You are not pigs to be fed in the mornings!” If we can fast once in a long while until noon today, we are happy. It seems as though we are slipping down the spiritual slope, yet in our pride we think we are getting better and better.
We should expect more of ourselves. It would be good for us.
Glory to God!
:: 7:25 PM on
Wednesday, July 06, 2005