Wednesday, February 27, 2013

St. Raphael of Brooklyn

Repose of St. Raphael of Brooklyn

On February 27, we commemorate the repose of our beloved father among the saints, St. Raphael (Hawaweeny) of Brooklyn.
Today is the day we honor the holy hierarch Raphael! Who can describe his many sorrows and his many labors? Who can describe his many pains? He journeyed on land and on the sea, searching for his lost sheep, in weariness and in poverty, in sleeplessness, thirst and hunger. He became the good shepherd of the lost sheep in America, so let us cry out unto to him: O our Father, intercede for the salvation of our souls!
+ Praises at Orthros
Learn more about St. Raphael of North America via this excellent online resource that includes pictures from his glorification, the story of his life, hymns and more.
Also, see this New York Times article about St. Raphael written on his arrival in America.
Rejoice, O Father Raphael, adornment of the holy Church! Thou art champion of the True Faith, seeker of the lost, consolation of the oppressed, father to orphans and friend of the poor, peacemaker and good shepherd, joy of all the Orthodox, son of Antioch, boast of America. Intercede with Christ God for us and for all who honor thee.
+ Apolytikion, Tone 3
St. Raphael in ReposeSt. Raphael in Repose
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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Jesus Prayer

Saying the Jesus Prayer

By Dr. Albert S Rossi
bethany.jpg"Prayer is Not Optional"

A layman, at the St Vladimir's Seminary Summer Institute, wrote this sentence as the most important thing he learned all week.
Which Words
The classical form of the Jesus Prayer is,
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
The actual words of our short prayers can vary. We might say the classic version of the Jesus Prayer, or we might say, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." We may say, "Lord Jesus, have mercy." Or, we might say a Psalm verse, or a Bible quote, or some other prayer.
Monks of old said, "Lord, make haste to help me. Lord, make speed to save me," all day long.
The history of the Jesus Prayer goes back, as far as we know, to the early sixth century, with Diadochos, who taught that repetition of the prayer leads to inner stillness. Even earlier John Cassian recommended this type of prayer. In the fourth century Egypt, in Nitria, short "arrow" prayers were practiced.
Abba Macarius of Egypt said there is no need to waste time with words. It is enough to hold out your hands and say, "Lord, according to your desire and your wisdom, have mercy." If pressed in the struggle, say, "Lord, save me!" or say, "Lord." He knows what is best for us, and will have mercy upon us.

Pray Ceaselessly 
We are all called to pray without ceasing, says St. Paul in 1 Thess 5:17. The real questions is, how.
The Jesus Prayer provides one good way to pray constantly. In fact, the Jesus Prayer is the most widespread and most specifically Orthodox spiritual prayer, according to Metropolitan Corneanu.
Our task is to draw nearer to God. St. Isaac of Syria says that it is impossible to draw near to God by any means other thanincreasing prayer.

The Power of the Name 
Biblically, knowing a person's name gave power over that person. Name was linked with being. In the Old Testament, God would not disclose His name. In the New Testament, Jesus explicitly gives us God's name, Father, and tells us to use the name in prayer. Jesus gives us access to the Godhead through the name.
Jesus told His Apostles that they hadn't really used His Name in prayer enough. "Hitherto you have asked nothing in My Name; ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (Jn 16:23).

Hidden Martyrdom 
Trying to pray repetitively is an inner asceticism. According to St Ignatius Brianchaninov, trying to pray without ceasing is a "hidden martyrdom."
A casual, but profound, example of this came to a small group of high school students. They were visiting a home for unwed mothers. The woman who directs the home spoke to them for a half hour. Because the woman sensed that the students were wondering about her own faith commitment, she said, "Well, you have been here 30 minutes and I have prayed 15 times." She hadn't been out of their sight, nor out of their conversation. Yet, during the active interchange, this woman found the desire, attention, and time, to shoot 15 "arrow" prayers to God. That's keen vigilance. That's a hidden martyrdom, especially when attempted all day long.
Prayer requires super-human courage, given the atmosphere of the world today. The whole ensemble of natural energies is in opposition. So says Sophrony.
Lions may not eat us for the sake of the Gospel. Rather, our call to martyrdom takes the form of being attentive to the present moment, relying upon God's power always, and doing His will. Our call to martyrdom may not be any easier than death by violence.

Who can Say the Prayer 
Clearly, the Jesus Prayer is not only for monks. We are told that the prayer is for cab drivers, social workers, business persons, teachers, professional baseball players (not necessarily used to win a game), psychiatrists. We use the Jesus Prayer to do God's will, not our own bidding. Anyone, everyone can say the Jesus Prayer. There are no prerequisites for saying the Jesus Prayer.  We are all sinners and need to pray, always.  We try to keep the Commandments, be living members of His Body on earth, and try to find a guide.
Bishop Kallistos Ware has sound advice for those who simply can't find a suitable guide. "But those who have no personal contact with starets may still practice the Prayer without any fear, so long as they do so only for limited periods - initially, for no more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time - and so long as they make no attempt to interfere with the body's natural rhythms."

When to Pray 
The Jesus Prayer is recommended in the morning, following our prayer rule, for some period of time, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. If that is impossible, then sometime before noon, or in the evening. This might be called "formal" use of the prayer. The second form of the Jesus Prayer is the "free" use of the prayer. This means at any and all other times of the day, or night. This is especially true for the semi-automatic tasks such as driving, doing dishes, walking, being unable to sleep, etc. The Jesus Prayer is notably useful in time of extreme concern or upset.
When alone, we might find it helpful to pray the Jesus Prayer, out loud. This can help lower the distraction level.

Prayer of the Heart 
The Jesus Prayer is also called the Prayer of the Heart. In Orthodoxy, the mind and heart are to be used as one. St Theophan tells us to keep our "mind in the heart" at all times. Heart means the physical muscle pumping blood, and emotions/feelings,and the innermost core of the person, the spirit. Heart is associated with the physical organ, but not identical with it. Heart means our innermost chamber, our secret dwelling place where God lives.
"The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace; all things are there." So says St. Macarius.
Someone said the heart is a dimension of interior consciousness, awareness, where we come in touch with an inner space, a space of no dimensions. This consciousness is timeless, the place where tears reside and deep contact with the present moment abide, and from which restful movement comes. Acting out of our heart means to act lightly, with vigor and enthusiasm. When not in that inner awareness, we are restless, agitated and self-concerned.
There is within us a space, a field of the heart, in which we find a Divine Reality, and from which we are called to live. The mind, then, is to descend into that inner sanctuary, by means of the Jesus Prayer or wordless contemplation, and to stay there throughout our active day, and evening. We descend with our mind into our heart, and we live there.
The heart is Christ's palace. There, Christ the King comes to take His rest.
The photo at the top of the page is a seventeen year old girl [Bethany] who said that, when this was taken, she felt like she was walking "into the silence of the hills." To reach the field of the heart we need outer, and inner, silence, rather like one might experience while gazing upon this scene.

Silence is a choice. We choose the things we want to do. These things, then, order and measure our lives. Someone said that Christians "order and measure" their lives from communion to communion. We might also say the Christians "order and measure" their lives from silence to silence.
Silence, at its best, is God-awareness. We quiet down our outer and inner lives, and listen to God speak. Someone said that when God speaks, His words are like the sound of a flutter of a bird's wings. We need to be attentive if we are to hear anything.
Outer silence is a choice. When my son, in his teen years, rode with me in the family car, we cut a deal. He had the car radio half the time, and I had the car radio half the time. He always chose his half at the beginning of the trip. Like most teens, he wanted his jollies up front. For my half of the ride, I sometimes chose silence, because I like silence. I really didn't do it to cause him pain. He, however, did sometimes have a restless and difficult time of it. Later he did tell me that he enjoyed our quiet evening rides together.
Outer silence calms the senses. By contrast, sensory overload and excitement can be addictive.
Inner silence can usually be achieved only by substituting one thought for another. Hence, the Jesus Prayer overrides our usual compulsive stream of consciousness about our own anxieties. Beginning with this form of prayer, then we might be led to deeper inner stillness, prayer without words. The caution here is that prayer without words is not heaviness, semi-sleep dullness. Rather, wordless prayer is alive, vigorous God-awareness.
A seventeen year old said she learned recently that, "Silence is my friend."
Abba Pastor tells us that any trial which comes to us can by conquered by silence.

Contemplation has been described as clear awareness without words. Contemplation is a "seeing clearly." We lay aside thoughts, not to lead to a vacuum or drowsiness, but to inner plenitude. We deny to affirm. Wordless contemplation is not an absence, but a presence, a God-awareness. The aim is to bring us into a direct meeting with a personal God, on God's terms.
Inner silence, inner stillness, called hesychia, is experienced by wordless sitting, imageless contemplation. When consciousness strays, a phrase like "Lord Jesus" can be used to bring the mind back, and then the person sits quietly in the presence of the Lord. The desire of wordless sitting awareness is to open oneself to God, to listen to God.
Some teachers suggest that if we are able, we spend a half hour of wordless sitting, begun by asking God to teach us to pray, or a Bible quote. Usually this is best done in the morning, upon rising or before noon. If the person is able, a block of the some quiet time is also recommended for the evening. Hopefully, all this is worked out with the direction of a spiritual guide.
Both the Jesus Prayer and contemplation make us single-centered, concentrating upon the here and now, focused, one-pointed. The point is God.

Changing the Universe 
Every prayer changes the entire universe. Our every prayer, each prayer, actually changes history, the way God created the world, and all else. God is outside time. God is not "waiting up there" for our prayer, and then He acts. All has already occurred in God.

Intercessory Prayer 
St Therese, a Roman Catholic saint, had difficulty knowing that God heard her prayers for others. As a youth, she decided to put God "to the test" once and for all. Perhaps only a saint can "test" God. She prayed fervently for the salvation of a callused serial killer of women, Henri Pranzini. Pranzini was caught, found guilty and sentenced to the guillotine. During this time, Therese prayed that he be saved, and that she be given a sign that a conversion took place. Pranzini became more arrogant. Therese persisted. On the execution day, Pranzini walked up the steps, put his head onto the block, still jeering. Then, unexpectedly, he lifted up, grabbed the crucifix hanging from the side of the nearby priest, and Pranzini kissed the feet of Christ three times. Pranzini publicly repented. He then put his head back down onto the block, and the guillotine fell. Therese claimed that her prayers were answered. She claimed that her intercessory prayers saved a hardened criminal.
Is this really the way intercessory prayer works? In a word, yes. How? The answer to that rests somewhere in God's mysterious ways. What we do know, for certain, is that every prayer for someone else is heard, and in God's goodness, answered, for the other person's good. Every single prayer for another helps that other person, and helps us.
The lives of the saints are replete with examples. St Monica, mother of St Augustine, prayed day and night for her son when he was living a wild life. Augustine had, among other activities, fathered a child out of wedlock. Monica was told by her Bishop that "no child of so many tears (prayers) could be lost." Monica's prayers were instrumental in saving Augustine.
We are each called to pray, ardently, for our children, family, priest, the Church, country, world. We have a noble and royal vocation, to pray and make an untold difference in the entire cosmos.

How Does It Work? 
Like swimming, we are to "jump in" and just begin. There is a world of difference between thinking, or talking, about quiet prayer, and actually praying. Like beginning swimmers , we only learn by getting wet.
The Fathers tell us that, often, the first thing that happens is an experience of darkness and resistance. Then, when we persist, peace begins to replace the darkness. The temptations may become more severe, even temptations to stop the praying, but we sin less. The Fathers tell us that, as we continue to pray and live the commandments, go to Church and listen to our spiritual Father, we can expect to become freed from indecision, upset and hesitation. Our will becomes stronger. We can expect to be available to others in ways we otherwise would not have been, and we will become more effective and creative.
Bishop Kallistos Ware says that by spending only a few moments invoking the Divine Name each day, we actually transform all the other remaining moments of the day.
In the beginning, there may be no new insights and no pleasant feelings. Was it a waste of time? Not necessarily. By faith, the Christian believes that spending time wanting to pray, and actually praying, does touch a Merciful God. God hears. And, in turn, Divine Truth is known through direct experience, sometimes called intuition. Something is happening, and changing at a deeper level of consciousness, unnoticed.
We can expect invisible, subtle snares, sent from Satan, precisely because we have upscaled our efforts, and are turning to God. In a sense, we rouse the enemy to action. St. John Chrysostom says that when we begin to pray we stir the snake (living within us) to action, and that prayer can lay the snake low.
There is no ascetic effort more difficult, more painful, than the effort to draw close to God, Sophrony tells us.
When we begin to pray, we expend desire and effort. The results are up to God. Real prayer is a gift from God, not the payment for our perspiration.
Prayer works in the Unseen Warfare as a power/gift from Jesus, given as a function of our ability to receive it. We increase our ability to receive by asking for the increase, and God grants it as He sees fit, in His tender, all sweet and merciful manner.

Not Yoga 
Sitting, saying the Jesus Prayer, or in wordless contemplation, is not Yoga or any far Eastern practice. The difference is the Christian encounter with the living God, Jesus.
The postures, techniques and outer form may be similar, but the content is unique in Christian prayer. The content of Christian prayer is Jesus.
Sometimes the difference is likened to a priceless painting. We might admire the exquisite frame of the painting, and rightly so. But the frame is not the masterpiece. The similarities of Eastern Yoga and Sufi practice in prayer are the frame, but Christ is the masterpiece, the insides, of the prayer of the Christian. And, that is all the difference in the world.

Techniques & Psychosomatic Issues 
The Orthodox understanding of the role of the body in prayer rests upon a sound anthropology. The body, soul and spirit act as a single unit, not divided or split up. Therefore, the body has a role in prayer.
How we involve the body can be understood in three ways. Sometimes this is called psychotechniques. 1. Breathing, 2. Inner Exploration, and 3. Posture. Across the centuries, these issues have been explosive.
  1. Breathing. Bishop Kallistos Ware says that if we pray the Jesus Prayer for short periods, ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning, then there is no problem matching the words of the prayer to our breath. We are to breath naturally, without playing with the rhythm of the breath. On the inhale, we can say, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God." On the exhale, we can say, "have mercy on me, a sinner." We are to breath and pray slowly and reverently and attentively.

  2. Inner Exploration. Inner exploration usually means following our breath into the nostrils, down into the lungs, around the insides, and out. This is unquestioningly, forbidden. The dangers involved in all this cannot be exaggerated.

  3. Posture. The usual position, as recommended by Bishop Kallistos Ware, is a comfortable sitting position in a chair. Sometimes standing is recommended. Usually the eyes are kept closed. Posture can take many forms, as long as the postures are reverent.

Modern serious and enlightened authors, such as Bishop Ware, St Igantius Brianchaninov and Sophrony all agree that "the fullness of the Jesus Prayer can by practiced without any physical methods at all."
In summary, it can be said that physical methods are optional and not at all necessary. Physical techniques are more suitable for beginners, says St Gregory Palamas. Physical techniques are potentially dangerous, and not to be used without a guide. St Theophan suggests, "Make a habit of having the intellect stand in the heart, but not in a physical way."

Prayer Rope 
Orthodox prayer ropes are usually soft and made of wool. The purpose is to help us concentrate, not necessarily to count. In the famous book, The Way of the Pilgrim, the pilgrim said the prayer 2,000, then 6,000, then 12,000 times. Is 12,000 Jesus Prayers better than 2,000? Absolutely not. Quantity has nothing to do with love, and a living relationship with Jesus. The pilgrim did 12,000, no more and no less, as an act of obedience to his spiritual father, not because he was "making progress." He also prayed much because that was his "heart's desire." Every prayer is an act of love, made to the Author of Love, Who is waiting expectantly for our desire, and our acceptance of His Love.

The Jesus Prayer as Psychotherapy 
As medicine, the Jesus Prayer is destructive of the passions and altering of conduct. Just as a doctor places a dressing on a patient's wound, and the dressing works without the patient's knowing how, calling on the Name of God "removes the passions" without our knowing how and why, according to Barsanupius and John.
The Holy Name, when repeated quietly, penetrates the soul rather like a drop of oil, spreading out and impregnating a cloth.
Our modern translation of "mercy" is limited and insufficient. "Mercy" comes from the Greek eleisonEleison has the same root as elaion which means olive and olive oil. In the Middle East, olive oil provides physical healing for many sicknesses, particularly respiratory. "Have mercy" means to have "healing oil" on my soul.
The Fathers tell us that praying the Sacred Name changes our personality, from overstrain to joy. "Hitherto you have asked nothing in my Name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (Jn 16:24).
The Jesus Prayer functions as therapy, much like healing oil, transforming our personality from overstrain to joy, and by continuing to pray, these changes become permanent.

Results of Prayer 
We don't say the Jesus Prayer, or enter wordless contemplation, to get "some benefit." We don't pray to reduce our stress, or strengthen our immune system, or lose weight, or add years to our life. On the contrary, we enter prayer to follow Christ, to become open to Him. His way is the Way of the Cross.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

60th Anniversary of Orthodox Church in Menlo Park, California

Priest Hermogen Holste guides Russian Orthodox church in Menlo Park past its 60th anniversary

the Rev. Fr. Hermogen Holste of Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church in Menlo Park
You spend your childhood overseas, the son of Southern Baptist missionary parents whose posts are mainly in southeast Asia. You, too, hear the call of God, but in a very different form, so convert to Russian Orthodox and attend St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. After ordination, your first parish assignment is Menlo Park at the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church, housed in a local historical building.
“I did a lot of reading and came to feel that it was important to have a greater connection with the historical church,” explains the Rev. Fr. Hermogen Holste, standing in the recently expanded church building. “Based on what I learned, I believe the Eastern Christian churches have preserved certain things better.
“From my perspective, the Western church has a somewhat legalistic approach with its view of sin. In the Eastern church, sin is seen as illness, and the church a place of healing. Being healed into the life of God encompasses our entire lives, not just salvation in the after life.”
Fr. Holste says his church is best known in the wider community for its annualChristmas Bazaar, but in the Orthodox community, it’s known for being very welcoming. “We are a growing and diverse community,” he says. “We are a mix of converts and those who were born into the Orthodox church. Worshippers come from Russia, Romania, Bulgaria as well as those born in the US. We’ve really come together as one community and not disparate groups.”
Hermogen Holste of Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church in Menlo Park
The parish recently celebrated two milestones, its 60th anniversary and the completion of a three-year renovation of the church building, including expanded floor space and the addition of a choir loft. With that project completed, Fr. Holste is hoping to increase resources for continuing education and to establish a book store with both English and Russian titles.
“My hope is that we continue to grow,” he says. “We keep serving the people God sends to us, and He works out the rest.”
Photos by Scott R. Kline

Orthodox Christian Couple Married 80 Years!

Antiochian Couple Receives Award for 80 Years of Marriage

John and Ann Betar (Photo: M. Barone)John and Ann Betar (Photo: M. Barone)A Connecticut couple, lifetime members of the Antiochian Archdiocese, have been named the longest married couple for 2013 by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a Christian group based in San Bernardino, CA. John (101 years) and Ann (97 years) Betar shared their story with the Hearst Connecticut Media group: how they eloped and married in New York when Ann's father arranged for her to marry another man, and how they subsequently sustained their long and happy marriage.
John and Ann had already celebrated their 80th anniversary at St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, in Bridgeport, CT on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Additionally, the Worldwide Marriage Encounter Group presented them with a plaque and other gifts at their granddaughter's home in Fairfield on Saturday, February 9, 2013.
A photo gallery of the couple, along with the news post, can be found here.

Time to Get Ready for Lent:Homily for the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican in the Orthodox Church

St. Luke 18: 10-14             
             When we hear the gospel passage about the Pharisee and the Publican, we know that Great Lent is not far away.  We are now in the first Sunday of the Lenten Triodion, the pre-Lent period when we begin to prepare for the spiritual journey of repentance and renewal that will soon begin.  This year Lent begins on March 18; so it’s time to get ready.
            The first thing that the Church reminds us of in the pre-Lent period is the danger of pride, of raising ourselves up too high.  That’s what the Pharisee did.  He followed all the laws of his religion.  He prayed, fasted, and gave alms.  But he fell into the self-righteous judgment of others.  Standing prominently in the Temple, he actually thanked God that he was better than other people:  extortioners, the unjust, adulterers, and even the tax-collector who happened to be in the Temple that day also. He exalted himself, but God humbled him, for the Lord did not accept his prayer and he went home unjustified.
            But the complete opposite was true of the tax-collector also known as the publican.  Like Zacchaeus, this man was a traitor to his own people and a thief who made his living by charging more than was required in taxes and keeping the difference for himself.  Unlike the Pharisee, he was not proud of himself; instead, he was ashamed.  So much so that he would not even raise his eyes up to heaven, but beat his breast in mourning for his sins, saying only “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  He humbled himself, but God exalted him, for the Lord accepted his prayer and he went home justified.
            As we begin to prepare for the year’s most intense time of spiritual discipline, we must keep this gospel text squarely in mind.  For it is possible to pray, fast, and give alms in ways that do us more harm than good.  It is possible to view these and other good deeds as our own accomplishments that somehow raise us high in our own eyes and become a justification for looking down on others.  It is possible to think that God is some kind of score keeper who gives us points for good behavior such that we save ourselves by obeying the rules.
            Well, the Pharisee followed all the rules, but completely missed the point.  The publican broke all the rules, but still opened his heart and soul to the mercy of God.  That’s because he got the key point:  namely, that God’s mercy is never earned or deserved; that we never impress God or earn His blessings by anything that we do; that we share in the life of our Lord by His mercy, which we receive through the true humility of repentance.
            For that is the one saving virtue of this tax-collector:  he humbly confessed the truth about where he stood before God.  “Be merciful to me a sinner,” the man said with a bowed head and beating his breast in sorrow for the mess that he had made of his life.  He humbled himself; he made no defense or excuse for anything; he hid nothing and threw Himself completely upon the mercy of the Lord.
            Our spiritual journey in Lent should be focused on becoming like this humble, repentant publican.  But in order to do that, we have to have to stop being Pharisees, which is hard for many of us.  After all, we are respectable people who go to church and lead what appear to be upright lives.  We also pray, fast, give alms, and do other good deeds.  And we have to admit that, at least from time to time, we look down upon others.  We criticize and judge them, magnifying their weaknesses and ignoring our own.  Though we may not pray with the self-righteous boldness of the Pharisee, we sometimes come close in our thoughts, words, and deeds concerning other people.
            If we allow that spirit of pride into our Lenten observances, we will do more harm than good to ourselves.  It would be better not to fast, pray, and give alms than to do so in ways that lead us to worship ourselves and condemn other people.  The worst criminals have more hope for receiving God’s mercy than those who convince themselves that they are perfect, that they are so exalted that they are justified in pronouncing judgment on others.  That’s why the publican went home justified, but the Pharisee did not.
            As we begin to discern how we will pray, fast, give alms, and undertake other spiritual disciplines this Lent, I hope that we will all remember that these blessed practices are wonderful teachers of humility.  It’s all too familiar for most of us.  We set out to pray and our mind wanders.  We try to fast and we immediately want to stuff ourselves with rich and delicious food.  We set out to give even a small amount to the needy or the church and are overwhelmed with our financial worries or desire to buy things we don’t really need.  We do our best to forgive, but some painful memories still come on strong.  We intend to read the Bible or help a neighbor, but end up falling prey to our old habits.
            When we struggle in these ways this Lent, we should take heart, for we are in the perfect place to open ourselves to the mercy of Jesus Christ.  When we acknowledge that we are weak and self-centered, we gain at least some of the spiritual clarity of the publican who knew that he had nothing to brag about, who knew that he had failed spiritually and morally in life, who knew that his only hope was in the mercy of God who stopped at nothing to bring healing and forgiveness to sinners.   He said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  This must be our constant prayer when the disciplines of Lent reveal truths about us that we don’t like, that are uncomfortable and depressing, and we are tempted simply to give up.
            Even worse, we may be tempted to the fantasy world of the Pharisee, who was blind to his own weakness, his imperfection, his sinfulness.  The sad reality is that it’s really not very hard to lie to ourselves and even to God.  It may seem easier and less painful than admitting the truth.  But the more self-righteous dishonesty we allow into our souls, the weaker and more confused we become; and the harder it is for us ever to escape from self-imposed slavery to our own lies and delusions. 
            The fourth-century saint Macarius was a monk in the Egyptian desert.  Satan once complained to him, “Macarius, I suffer a lot of violence from you, for I cannot overcome you.  Whatever you do, I do also.  If you fast, I eat nothing; if you keep watch, I never sleep.  There is only one way in which you surpass me:  your humility.  That is why I cannot prevail against you.”
            Let us all use this Lent to grow in the one characteristic that will enable us to overcome all the temptations of evil:  humility.  Fasting, almsgiving, prayer, forgiveness, and all the other spiritual disciplines are of no use at all without it.  But with true humility, they shine brightly with the light and holiness of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Even if we are lousy at fasting, inattentive in prayer, and inept at forgiving others, there will still be hope for us in the Lord who justified a rotten, crooked tax-collector,  a man who acknowledged the sad truth about himself and called from the depths of his being for mercy.  Like him, we must humble ourselves.  Like him, we must make no excuses.  Like him, we must judge no one but ourselves.  If we do so, we—also like him—will return to our own homes justified, not by our good deeds, but by the unfathomable mercy of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus.   May this be the outcome of our Lenten journey this year.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Letter on the Plight of Syrian Christians from Metropolitan Saba

A Letter from Metropolitan Saba of Bosra-Hauran + February 2013

His Eminence Metropolitan Saba of the Archdiocese of Bosra-Hauran in Syria writes to Dn. James Kallail on February 8th, 2013:
Dear Dn. James,
I hope my words find you and all the church of the diocese very well.
We as Syrians and especially Christians are living in a very critical time. The tragedy in my country is terrible. The conflict is not just internal one but it is the conflict of the new world poles on my country land.
The archdiocese is not so bad until now (in comparison of Homs and Aleppo). I cannot guess what may be happened after one hour or tomorrow. So we still living by God's protection. He is our only refuge.
The archdiocese is two parts now: Hauran and the mountains.
I cannot visit Daraa since 13 months ago. The last visit to Izraa was in the first week of the last holy Lent. The roads are not safety because many groups of Al-Qaeda (from all the world countries) who are fighting the Syrian army. They want to establish Islamic regime in Syria. The majority of our parishioners had left Rakham village after killing two men of them. While all the parish of Maarbe are living in different villages as refugees (8 families of them are living in Bethany monastery of Kharaba). Maarbe is a center of two groups: Al Qaeda and the free army, while many of gangster groups kill, kidnap and steal cars and houses. While Khraba is in danger because of some armed groups who have no leader or source. Also 600 Moslem refugees are living in the parish halls of its churches since the last summer. They are from Maarbe.
The Arabic and Western media are making events not transmitting. There is a real media war against Syria.
The project of the diocese stopped but thanks be to God not destroyed. St. Paul host, the campus of Daraa, the nursery and the pastoral activities do not work any more. Alsweda is in peace in comparison to Daraa so the only project is still working is the campus there. Its income is the only we have during the last two years. I could add some apartments in the last year by the donations of Hauran Connection and some other friends. Its capacity is 140 students now.
We still hope that our country can overcome this global crisis. While the process of the Patriach election gave the people more hope that God does not want his church to be kicked out the mother Antioch land.
Thank you for what are doing for us in the diocese. Please do not forget us in your prayers.
My thanks and love to every sister and brother in Wichita diocese.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Homily for the Sunday of the Canaanite Woman in the Orthodox Church

            Gospel According to St. Matthew 15: 21-18  

             We have all had the experience of being ignored, left out, and made to feel that we weren’t included or recognized by others.  Whether at school, among friends, at work or wherever, that can be painful, no matter what our age or life circumstances.  No one likes to be rejected or overlooked.   But sometimes, what seems to be rejection really isn’t; sometimes it is testing and preparation for a deeper relationship in which we learn more about ourselves, our neighbors, and God.
            Such was our Lord’s conversation with the Canaanite woman. She is a Gentile with a demon-possessed daughter, and probably at the end of her rope.  So she calls out to Christ, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!”   But He doesn’t answer her and says to the disciples that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to the Jews.  When the woman persists with her cries for help, He tells her that it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.  In other words, God’s blessings are for the chosen people of the Old Testament, the Jews, not for the Gentiles.  The woman doesn’t disagree with that answer, but says that “even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Christ praises the woman’s faith and her daughter is healed.
            We may find it hard to understand this passage.   Why doesn’t the Lord heal her daughter immediately?  Why does He seem to exclude the Gentiles from His salvation?  Why does He call her a dog?
            To answer these questions, we have to remember that the Jews of that time typically believed that their Messiah was for them only, that God’s blessings were for the Jews to the exclusion of the rest of the world.  This Gentile woman knows enough about Christ to call Him “Son of David,” a Jewish term for the Messiah, and that He is a healer.  But when her conversation with the Lord begins, it’s not clear what kind of faith she has in Him.   By the end of the conversation, however, it’s quite clear that she has a faith in Him that surpasses that of most of the Jews and of the disciples.  For she knows that in Jesus Christ God’s blessings extend to all people who believe in Him, that through Him the crumbs of the table of Abraham spill over to feed and bless the whole world.
            The Lord’s apparent exclusion of the Gentiles from His ministry is a teaching tool to help her and the disciples see the truth about God’s salvation and blessing.  She didn’t deny that, in the story of the Old Testament, the Jews are the Chosen People, the children of God.  She didn’t balk at being called one of the dogs, one of the unclean Gentiles; she must have known that that was how the Jews thought of her and her kind.  But she knew the message of the Scriptures even better than the Jews, for God told Abraham that through him and his family all the nations of the world would be blessed; and Hebrew prophets envisioned the day when all the nations would come to the mountain of the Lord.  And now in Jesus Christ, Jew and Gentile alike become beloved children who share fully in God’s blessings.
            Our Savior’s apparent delay in healing her daughter is also a teaching tool designed to strengthen her faith, to bring her belief in Him to maturity.  We have probably all learned important lessons through patience, by having to persist in getting what we want.   The same is true for this woman.   Her final insight in this conversation is like that of St. Simeon when the forty-day old Christ is presented in the Temple:  “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word.  For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people:  A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of the Thy people Israel.”  Simeon’s life of patient waiting for the Messiah came to fulfillment when he held the baby Jesus in his arms in the Jerusalem Temple.  God’s anointed, the Savior, had finally come.  And that is good news both for the Jew and the Gentile, for the whole world.  The patience of the Canaanite woman and of St. Simeon was rewarded, for both received the Messiah with faith.  
            Many of us admire teachers, coaches, parents, or other mentors and instructors who tested us, who did not make it easy because we grew through their tough guidance and high expectations.  We became stronger, more mature, more capable and confident people by overcoming challenges that at first may have seemed insurmountable.  The same is true of this woman’s relationship with Jesus Christ.  He challenged her to see clearly where she stood before Him.  Had she been full of pride, she would have walked away.  Had she been impatient or insincere, she would have left.  But she knew that in this man she encountered the salvation of God for her daughter, and she let nothing deter her.  She refused to be denied.   
            This Canaanite woman is a tremendous model for us as Christians, for we so easily give up on the Lord and on ourselves.  We are tempted to think that we are who we are, that there is no point in trying to change, and that even God can’t heal and transform us.  Now it certainly would have been less stressful for this Gentile woman to have stayed home that day and not made a scene about Christ healing her daughter.  She could have said “I’m a Gentile and this Messiah is a Jew.  Why should I even ask Him to help?” But then her life and that of her daughter would have remained miserable and without the Lord’s blessing.
            The same is true of us.  We can assume that we are like the Gentiles of old, cut off from salvation, from God’s blessing and transformation in our lives because of our failings, our weaknesses, and whatever mistakes we have made in life.  Yes, we have all sinned against God and neighbor in thought, word, and deed.  Yes, we may find it less stressful simply to give into our habitual sins, our passions that have been with us so long that they have become second nature.   But if we accept the lie that the new life in Christ isn’t really for us, that we are defined by our sins, that we’re better off just accepting who we are than growing into the full stature of Christ, we will end up choosing misery over joy, death over life, and despair over hope.
            This woman learned that she, too, is called to be a temple of the living God.  God’s promises extended even to her, and the same is true for us.   Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, except for our own refusal to accept His love, to open our lives to Him as did this woman in humility, faith, and persistence.
            She could have stayed away from the Lord on the grounds of her identity as a Gentile.  That would have been an easy excuse, but she pressed on nonetheless.  She didn’t take an easy out, but persevered in opening her life to Him beyond what anyone in that time and place would have expected.
 We all need to follow her example in our own lives.  With patience, humility, and persistence, we must call upon the mercy of Christ for His healing and transformation.  We must not be paralyzed with guilt or shame, no matter what we have done at any point in our lives.  We must refuse to be distracted by our fears and reject the temptation to take the easy way out by making excuses.  And then, like her, we will come to know that God’s salvation really is for us, that there are no limits to His presence in our lives other than those we set by our own sins and lack of faith.  Like her, let us refuse to be conquered by fear and instead throw ourselves upon the mercy of Christ with courage, patience, and perseverance.   For this alone is the path to the Kingdom of God.   

Saint Vladimir's Seminary Has Great Food!

Chef Nat Fasciani's Delicious Fare Sustains Faculty, Students, and Staff

A member of the community at St. Vladimir's Seminary recently wrote a note to Chef Nat Fasciani, who caters and prepares all the food served at SVOTS, whether it be for special events or refectory meals. "Your delicious food is becoming famous among our guests!" she enthused, and anyone who has visited the Seminary in recent years would have to agree. While he works behind the scenes, Chef Nat is nevertheless recognized as being one of the Seminary's chief assets. Watch for the upcoming release of his SVS Press cookbook titled When You Feast, which will be a companion title to the best-selling cookbook, When You Fast: Recipes for Lenten Seasons.
Recently captured a few moments with Chef Nat while he was working in his beautifully appointed office in the Germack Building.
November, 2012: Cardinal Dolan thanks Chef Nat for his delicious cuisineNovember, 2012: Cardinal Dolan thanks Chef Nat for his delicious cuisineTell us a little about your family and your professional background.
I was born and raised in Abruzzo, Pescara, on the eastern shores of Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea, and I lived there until I was 11 years old. Family and work brought my father to Yonkers, New York, and he is now living in New Rochelle (a neighboring town).
After college I began my career working in the banking industry, but throughout my school days I had always worked in restaurants, first waiting tables then working my way up to cooking in the kitchen. My whole family is into food, and I come from a background full of good cooks. I started to really like working with food, and at some point, turned it into my career! My first business was called Cosmos Deli and Catering; I eventually sold that business and opened up Adriano Catering, which I still own. There is always something to do and I love being busy—busy is good!
How did you come to be here at St. Vladimir's, and what is the scope of your job?
My company was doing a job here, and the people at the Seminary loved my service and food! One conversation led to the next. The Seminary wasn't happy with their cook, which they'd obtained through an agency, so they made me an offer: I tried it, I loved it, and in May 2006, we signed the contract.
My obligations at SVOTS are varied. I am the food administrator for the refectory, but also the caterer for all the special events, from the beginning of semester through the end of June. I am responsible for all the refectory meals, all the functions, meetings, special, anything that has to do with food on campus!
I do hire people as needed, and my wife and family help me too. Of course we have a large kitchen crew consisting of the students who live at Germack, usually the ones in their first year. We have a breakfast, lunch, and dinner crew, plus students who clean up, so the kitchen crew is about 20 people. I don't have to physically be here for all of breakfast, lunch, and dinner—it's more an administrative job for some meals, since I'm not cooking every meal.Chef Nat with his signature pie, Thanksgiving 2011Chef Nat with his signature pie, Thanksgiving 2011
I get the new students every year, and every day we work together. We become friends and it's like a family here. It can be challenging to break them in at first, because they are all different ages and nationalities, whether Russian, Polish, from the Middle East or Serbia, or from all parts of the U.S.
What kinds of food is on the menu at St. Vladimir's?
I find it satisfying and challenging to please everyone, so we try different foods for all the different kinds of tastes: Japanese, Chinese, French. When there are special requests, I try to please when I can. I do plan all the menus—A to Z, they have to go through me! Food is so important and is the source of energy for everyone on campus, so I make sure that everything is fresh and good, from Sunday to Saturday.
Of course, I keep the church calendar handy to help me plan. There are a lot vegetarian and vegan days, especially during the Lenten season. Then people also have allergies and other issues, so it can be complicated!
Several people who graduated several years ago and have come back to visit campus, have said, "It wasn't like this when I was here!" Giving everyone good nourishing food is my top priority.
There are many events in the course of the school year—which have been some of your most memorable?
I've had the pleasure of meeting Cardinal Dolan when he was here, and we had the feast for the whole community after Hurricane Sandy. Before him, I met Cardinal O'Connor when he was on campus, and Archbishop Rowan Williams was an interesting man to meet. Ed Day has been a big event: all the food is finished in my kitchen under my supervision, and it requires a a week of prep work. We serve international food to 1500-2000 people in the tents. For Pascha, all day Saturday is prep work. I go home, come back around midnight, and the food is pumped out at 3 a.m. It's fun—after such a long time of Lent, they look forward to all the meat!
The Thanksgiving dinner is a big job—what's nice about that is that the faculty are serving the students, we have a great time during that. Every year we host several cookouts with the entire campus, including faculty and staff. We do them outside on the lawn, and everyone plays outdoor games. Everyone is friendly and the neighborhood beautiful and well maintained. It's one huge family here!
What about your role as St. Vladimir's Chef and Caterer is especially stressful, or especially rewarding?
I work better under stress, so I have no problem dealing with the last minute changes. When events are getting rained out, for instance, I step back, refocus, and just make it work! Like a captain of a ship I have to stay calm—if a captain of the ship panics, what happens with the rest of the crew? When you have 20, 30 people working for you, someone has to be in charge and take over.
I think my favorite thing about working here is the environment and these people. I also enjoy the fun events like the cook off fundraiser we had a few years ago between Fr. Alexander Rentel and Bishop Benjamin. The installation of Fr. Chad Hatfield and Fr. John Behr as Chancellor and Dean was also memorable—I fed 300 people dinner during that event. After all, good food is what people remember, and what makes the best first impression!