Excerpts on Prayer

Archimandrite Sophrony (Elder Sophrony was born in Russia in 1896.  He was a priest, a monk, a disciple of St. Silouan of Athos, and was himself a spiritual guide to many. Sophrony fell asleep in the Lord on July 11, 1993. The following brief excerpts are from a book, “On Prayer,” published by St. Vladimir Seminary Press.  “On Prayer” contains writings by the Elder, and was originally published in Russian following Sophrony’s repose.)

Prayer as Communion and Life:

Through prayer we enter into communion with Him that was before all worlds.  Or, to put it in another way, the life of the Self-existing God flows into us through the channel of prayer…(p. 9).

Prayer assuredly revives in us the divine breath which God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and by virtue of which Adam “became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7).  Our spirit, regenerated by prayer, begins to marvel at the sublime mystery of being.  The mind is filled with wonder…And we echo the Psalmist’s praise of the wondrous works of the Lord.  We apprehend the meaning of Christ’s words, “I am come that (men) might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10). (p. 10).

True prayer to the true God is contact with the Divine Spirit which prays in us.  The Spirit gives us to know God.  The Spirit draws our spirit to contemplation of eternity…(p. 12).

God Honors Man’s Freewill:

The life-giving Divine Spirit visits us when we continue humbly, open to Him.  He does not violate our freedom…He envelops us with His tender warmth. He approaches us so softly that at first, we may not notice Him. We must not expect God to force His way in, without our consent.  Far from it.  He respects man, submits to Him.  His love is humble – He loves us not condescendingly but tenderly, as a mother ached over her sick baby.  When we open our heart to Him we have an irresistible feeling that He is our “kin,” and the soul melts in worship. (p. 14).

God does not violate our freedom.  He will not force Himself into our heart if we are not disposed to open the door to Him.  “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock:  if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him.” (Rev. 3:20).  And the wider we open our hearts, the more abundantly does the Uncreated Light flood into our inner world. (p. 66).

Difficulty and Fluctuations in Prayer:

St. John Climacus (St. John of the Ladder) says that it is possible to familiarize oneself with every form of science, of art, and every profession, and practice it without any special effort.  But no one has ever been able to pray without toil – particularly if it is a case of the concentrated prayer of the mind in the heart…(p. 67).

Time after time we experience an eager upsurge towards God, followed repeatedly by a falling away from His Light…(p. 9).  The struggle for prayer is not an easy one.  The spirit fluctuates – sometimes prayer flows in us like a mighty river, sometimes the heart dries up.  But every reduction in our prayer-strength must be as brief as possible…(p. 12).

This world contains no source of energy for prayer. If I eat well, so that my body may be strong, my flesh will rebel against prayer. If I mortify the flesh by excessive fasting, for a while abstinence favors prayer, but soon the body grows faint and refuses to follow the spirit.  If I associate with good people, I may find moral satisfaction and acquire new psychological or intellectual experience, but only very rarely will I be stimulated to prayer, in depth.  If I have a talent for science or the arts, my success will give rise to vanity and I shall not be able to find the deep heart (Ps. 64:6), the place of spiritual prayer.  If I am materially well-off and busy wielding the power associated with riches or with satisfying my aesthetic or intellectual desire, my soul does not rise up to God as we know Him through Christ. If I renounce all that I have and go into the desert, even there the opposition of the cosmic energies will paralyze my prayer.  And so on, ad infinitum…(p. 11).

Like grace coming down from on High the act of prayer is too much for our earthly nature and so our mortal body, incapable of rising into the spiritual sphere, resists.  The intellect resists because it is incapable of containing infinity, is shaken by doubts and rejects everything that exceeds its understanding.  The social environment in which I live is antagonistic to prayer – it has (its own) organized life with other aims diametrically opposed to prayer:  hostile spirits cannot endure prayer.  But prayer alone can restore the created world from its fall, overcoming its stagnation and inertia, by means of a mighty effort of our spirit to follow Christ’s commandments. (p. 12).

Prayer for the Neighbor:

Christ’s love inspires compassionate prayer for all men – prayer in which soul and body take part together.  Grieving over the sins of one’s fellow (man) in prayer of this kind links us with the redeeming passion of the Lord…Our Heavenly Father “favors” us when we grieve over our brothers who stumble.  In the spirit of the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves we are bound to have pity one for one another; we must establish a kind of mutual responsibility to link us all together before the face of God our Creator. (p. 19).

Historic Visit to Azle, Texas by Archbishop Alexander of the Orthodox Church in America: Tuesday, Sept. 19

Pastoral Visit:

Archbishop ALEXANDERWe are pleased to announce that on Tuesday evening, September 19, His Eminence the Most Reverend Alexander, Archbishop of Dallas and the South, Orthodox Church in America, will make a pastoral visit to the new OCA Mission of Archangel Gabriel in Azle, Texas. The tentative schedule is as follows: 6:30 pm Greeting of the Archbishop; 7:00 pm Vespers followed by an open reception and meeting of His Eminence with mission members.

Archangel Gabriel is a sister mission to St. Barbara Orthodox Church in Ft. Worth. Members have been worshipping in a beautifully renovated rental space since the start of the year at 1157 S.E. Parkway (Jacksboro Highway). The chapel will comfortably hold over 60 people and there is plenty of parking in the evening and on weekends.

We invite interested people to join us for this historic first “official visit” of an Orthodox Hierarch to the city of Azle. Driving directions and contact information may be found on our Archangel Gabriel Mission page.

Further Information Concerning Archbishop Alexander:

(Much of the following may be found on Elected by the Holy Synod of Bishops on Tuesday, March 26, 2016 at its Spring Session, Archbishop Alexander succeeds His Eminence, the late Archbishop Dmitri, as only the second ruling Bishop of the Diocese since its establishment in 1978.

“Bishop Alexander [Golitzin] was born in Burbank, CA in 1948 and was raised at Saint Innocent Church, Tarzana, CA. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley and a Master of Divinity degree from Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. He spent seven years pursuing doctoral studies at Oxford University in England under His Eminence, Metropolitan Kallistos [Ware]. During this time, he also spent two years in Greece, including one year at Simonos Petras Monastery on Mount Athos.

“After receiving his D.Phil. in 1980, Bishop Alexander returned to the US. He was ordained to the diaconate in January 1982 and to the priesthood two years later. In 1986, he was tonsured to monastic orders. He served OCA missions in northern California and headed the Diocese of the West’s mission committee.

“In 1989, he accepted a position with the Theology Department at Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, a position that he left at the end of April 2012. While teaching at Marquette, he had been attached to Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, Milwaukee, WI. For 22 years, he preached, taught and served at Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, and witnessed to the Gospel and to Orthodox Christian theology at Marquette University. He helped attract a dozen Orthodox Christian students to doctoral work in theology at Marquette.

“In June 2010, the Bulgarian Diocese initiated a search for a candidate to succeed His Eminence, Archbishop Kirill [Yonchev], who reposed in the Lord in 2007. In October 2011, the Holy Synod of Bishops elected Archimandrite Alexander as Bishop of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese. He was consecrated to the episcopacy as Bishop of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese during a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at Saint George Cathedral, Rossford, OH on May 5, 2012… During the 2017 Spring Session of the Holy Synod, he was elevated to the rank of Archbishop.”

The Land of the Free

by Fr. Lawrence Farley From my happy home north of the forty-ninth parallel, I look southwards with appreciation for the American vision of freedom. The American national anthem says it well: its star-spangled flag waves over the land of the free and the home of the brave. Anyone that has labored under political tyranny, whether in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, or other regimes that took draconian steps to curtail the freedom of its citizens, can easily appreciate the American vision as well.

Certainly all the disciples of Jesus Christ can appreciate and love freedom. In a sense, the Gospel is all about freedom—so much so that certain books about the life of St. Paul highlight this aspect of the Gospel. Books bearing the title, “Paul, Apostle of Liberty” (by Richard Longenecker), or “Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free” (by F.F. Bruce) testify to this centrality of freedom in the life of the Christian. St. Paul himself writes that this freedom is both the goal of the Christian life, and also the proof that the Spirit is at work. In Galatians 5:1 he says, “For freedom Christ has set us free”, and in 2 Cor. 3:17 he affirms, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Any preacher of this Gospel will cry out, “Let freedom ring!” The Church might even be described as “the land of the free.”

Freedom, however, is not simply a political reality. It is a spiritual one as well. Moreover, the spiritual aspect of freedom transcends and transforms the political aspect. Take, for example, St. Paul’s teaching about slavery in 1 Cor 7:20-22.  In this passage St. Paul urges his readers not to worry about the state they found themselves in when they were baptized—including the state of slavery. None of these external things mattered ultimately. If they were circumcised, that didn’t matter. If they were uncircumcised, that also didn’t matter. And if they were slaves (as many of them were), that didn’t matter either. Slavery, for St. Paul, was primarily a matter of the heart, a spiritual condition, and whether or not one was externally a slave was largely irrelevant to one’s spiritual progress and inner life. If one was externally a slave, one was still a freedman of the Lord. If one was externally free, one was still the slave of Christ. Concepts of external slavery or freedom thus had been radically relativized. What really and eternally mattered was whether or not was one a Christian—whether or not there was freedom in the inner heart. The outer condition would one day pass away. Only the internal condition would abide eternally.

This was not simply the approach of St. Paul. The apostle here simply echoed the teaching of his Lord. In John 8:31f, we read that Christ spoke to those who outwardly had become His disciples and who had given Him a hearing, and He told them that the truth would set them free. They took this very badly (perhaps because they were smarting under the Roman yoke, and yearned for liberty from such external slavery and tyranny), and they said, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in slavery to anyone.” Christ responded that they were indeed slaves even so. He said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Here we learn that true freedom depends ultimately not upon the political reality in which one finds oneself, but rather upon the state of one’s heart. Rome, or Nazi Germany, or Soviet Russia might oppress and enslave the body. If Christ has liberated us from the power of sin, we remain free nonetheless. The opposite is also true: if Christ has not liberated us from sin, then we remain slaves, whether or not we enjoy political freedom. True freedom therefore depends not upon one’s external condition, but upon the inner condition of the heart.

This truth presents a challenge to America, Canada, and to the political west, for it poses the question, “Are we truly free?” Enjoying unencumbered and free elections, enjoying the liberty to protest the decisions of one’s government, and enjoying the freedom of the Press to write according to conscience and desire, these are all good things. But they do not constitute the essence of freedom. True freedom is not political, but spiritual, and it consists first and foremost in freedom from the chains of sin. In many ways, we in the west are not free from these chains.

Consider the spiritual state of the west as a whole: we are the most affluent of nations, consuming far more per capita of the world’s resources than anyone else, and suggestions that we curb our rate of consumption often produce indignation—a clear sign that we are slaves to our appetites. The west consumes most of the pornography produced—a multi-million-dollar industry. At home, we slaughter our unborn at a horrific rate, and jealously guard this practice as if it were a human right. Drug addiction and the crime associated with it flourish and grow unchecked. Our streets are violent places, and this violence continues to escalate. Even our schools suffer violence, and children go there carrying weapons. The west might be the home of the brave, but as a culture we still wear the chains of sin, and chains are no less real for being invisible. As a culture, we have departed from God, and have found that this departure does not produce inner liberation but slavery.

This is hardly surprising, for only Jesus can give real freedom. Only Jesus can free us from bondage and guilt and the power of sin. Only Jesus can break the chains of addiction and selfishness. If those in America and the west remain bound by these fetters, they do not live in the land of free. True liberty only comes with the righteousness and the spiritual power bestowed by Christ. He alone makes us dwell in the land of the free. Let freedom ring. Let all people everywhere run to Christ our liberator. He alone can strike off our chains, and bestow the glorious liberty of the children of God.


(Fr. Lawrence Farley, converted to Orthodoxy in 1985 and then studied at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania.  After ordination he traveled to Surrey, B.C. to begin a new mission under the OCA, St. Herman of Alaska Church.  Fr. Lawrence is the author of a number of books concerned with Orthodox Christianity and is a regular contributor to the OCA website.)

“All My Angels Praised Me!”

(The Bodiless Powers of Heaven according to Tradition)

by Archpriest Steven Kostoff

Recently, I was speaking with one of our parish’s Church School teachers about the nature of angels and how we convey this to our children. One of our first tasks, I believe, is to overcome the caricature that has developed over the centuries over the appearance and role of angels. (Do adults also need to be liberated from this same caricature?)

That caricature imagines angels to be puffy and fluffy “cherubs” that are basically rosy-cheeked floating babies. Cupid-like, they carry bows and arrows that appear harmless enough. They are often naked, but at times they appear to be covered in what can only be described as a celestial diaper. How these Hallmark card fantasies, based on Renaissance and Baroque-era deviations from the sacred and profound iconography of the earlier centuries both West and East, can be associated with the “Lord of Sabaoth” and the celestial hierarchy of angels that surround the throne of God with their unceasing chant of “Holy, Holy, Holy!” is something of an unfortunate mystery.

The Scriptures and the Holy Fathers only describe powerful celestial beings that serve God and fulfill His will for the well-being of the human race and our salvation. Angels are not eternal or immortal by nature. They are creatures, coming forth from the creative Word of God perfected by His Spirit. Saint Basil the Great teaches that angels were created before the visible world, based on Job 38:7 – “When the Stars were made, all my angels praised me with a loud voice.” These genderless beings are described by Saint Gregory the Theologian as “a second light, an effusion or participation in God, in the primal light.” And whenever a human being is visited by an angel and receives this heavenly messenger’s revelation, his or her first impulse is to bow down and worship this celestial visitor as a divine being! Warm and fuzzy feelings with any impulse toward cuddling and kissing are hardly implied in the biblical texts. Actually, our use of the term “angel” – based on the Greek angelos or “messenger”—is a generic term used to describe all of the many kinds of heavenly hosts described and named in the Scriptures. In fact, this celestial hierarchy, according to Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, is comprised of a triad of ranks, three angelic orders in each rank. The names are scriptural, but the triads have been conceived of by Saint Dionysios:

  • First Rank: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones
  • Second Rank: Authorities, Dominions, Powers
  • Third Rank: Principalities, Angels, Archangels

This structuring of the celestial hierarchy has had an enormous influence on the angelology of the Church.

Actually, Saint John Chrysostom tells us that even these names and “classes” do not exhaust the heavenly ranks of angelic beings. “There are innumerable other kinds and an unimaginable multitude of classes, for which no words can be adequate to express,” he writes. “From this we see that there are certain names which will be known then, but are now unknown.”

With his great ability to summarize and synthesize the Church’s living Tradition, Saint John of Damascus (+749) gives us this description of what an angel actually is in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. “An angel, then, is a noetical essence, perpetually in motion, with a free will, incorporeal, subject to God, having obtained by grace an immortal nature. The Creator alone knows the form and limitation of its essence.”

I hope that even this very brief description of the true nature of the bodiless hosts of heaven – based on the Scriptures and the Fathers – will restore a genuine sense of awe and veneration before these incredible beings that only further amaze us with the creative power, energy and will of God.

(Father Steven Kostoff is the rector of Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also a member of the adjunct faculty of the theology department at Xavier University in Cincinnati, where he has taught various courses on Orthodox theology).

Let God Arise

Archpriest Daniel Kovalak

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

In God’s “strategic plan” for the life of the world and its salvation, He decisively intervened, in Person, “trampling down death by death.” In the radiant light of Jesus’ glorious resurrection, darkness is overcome, creation is renewed, disappointment and despair no longer have the final word, sorrow is turned to joy and death has lost its sting. There is hope for all because Our God lives!

In his youth, the popular Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, boastfully declared his belief in no religion, saying they were all myths created by man. Years later, as he considered the implications of Christ’s resurrection, he experienced a heartfelt conversion. In a reflection entitled Surprised by Joy, he wrote, “No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word interference. But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a ‘transcendental Interferer.’ There was no region even in the innermost depth of one’s soul which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice: ‘No Admittance.’ And that was what I wanted; some area, however small, of which I could say to all other beings, ‘This is my business and mine only.’”

Here, Lewis expresses the sentiments of many today which are seldom spoken.  We all want to feel independent, safe and secure in ourselves; to fence ourselves in and say to others and even to God, “Back off! Don’t bother me. Leave me alone.” Indeed, we have the right to say this.

But our crucified and risen Lord—the “Transcendental Interferer”—also has the right to step into our human situations, relationships, circumstances, schedules and plans to pursue us with His divine Love and persistent mercy. As He says to the self-satisfied Church of Laodicea, so He says to us: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelations 3:20).

Are we willing to open the door and invite into every aspect of our lives Him Who is incessantly knocking, knowing full well His Almighty presence will “rock our worlds,” challenge our status quos, and interfere with our personal agendas?

After Our Lord raised His friend Lazarus from the dead, His critics posed a significant question to one other: “What shall we do, for this Man works many signs?” (John 11:47). This is a question with which every generation—indeed every soul—must wrestle. How do we welcome and respond to “this Man;” this “Transcendental Interferer?”

The early Church knew exactly what to do! Not only did they invite the Knocking Christ to fully enter and transform their personal lives, but as the new “Body of Christ,” they proceeded to preach, teach and invite all to do likewise. And their enthusiastic and resolute conviction bore amazing fruit; the Lord multiplied the believers and added to the Church, daily. So persuasive and convincing was the testimony and living witness of the apostles that they were accused of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

This is the faith we must each rediscover and apply to our busy lives and troubled times—the Paschal faith that rolls away the stones from our self-imposed tombs and shouts with David, “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered.” This is the faith that responds eagerly and joyously to the incessant knocking of the Transcendental Interferer and opens the door to His Divine Love and persistent mercy.

By His abundant and amazing grace, the Risen Lord is still knocking. He stands ready to fill us with faith, light, hope, forgiveness, mercy and love—to interfere in our lives in wonderful and extraordinary ways—if we but open the door!

“Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

(Archpriest Daniel is rector of Holy Cross Church, Williamsport, PA, a Missionary, an Instructor at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary, and a frequent contributor to many publications).

Love for our Neighbor: A Means of Attaining Love for God

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
      (St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807-1867), was a bishop of the Church of Russia. The present article is an excerpt from his chapter on Love as found in his classic work, "The Arena." Since the Lenten Season began with a strong liturgical emphasis on "the neighbor," the following may be seen as providing additional insights to this all important topic.)
      The Savior of the world summarized all His particular commands in two main, general commandments: "You are to love the Lord your God, He said, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You are to love your neighbor as yourself. The whole of the Law and the Prophets depends on these two commandments."
      Although the commandment of love for God is as far superior to the commandment of love for God's Image (man) as God is superior to His image, yet the commandment of love for our neighbor serves as a foundation for the commandment of love for God. He who has not laid the foundation labors in vain to construct a building: it cannot possibly stand without the foundation. By love for our neighbor we enter into love for God. A Christian's love for God is love for Christ, and love for our neighbor is love for Christ in our neighbor. By loving our neighbor -- by loving him in the Lord, that is, as the Lord command us -- we acquire love for Christ, and love for Christ is love for God.
      The union of love for God with love for our neighbor is superbly explained in the epistles of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian. It is impossible to love God, according to St. John's teaching, without first loving one's brother. And love for one's brother consists in carrying out the Lord's commandment in this regard. (2 John 1:6)
      The same teaching is given by the holy (fathers). Saint Anthony the Great said: "On our neighbor depends life and death (of the soul). By winning our brother we win God; by offending our brother we sin against Christ." St. John Kolovos, one of the greatest fathers of the Egyptian Skete, said: "It is not possible to build a house by beginning from the top, but the structure must be begun from the foundation and built up to the roof." When asked what the foundation meant, he replied, "The foundation is our neighbor. We must win him and begin with him. On him are based all the commandments of Christ." Saint Mark the Ascetic said: "It is impossible to be saved otherwise than through one's neighbor." This is what is held and taught by all the holy fathers; this is the general Christian teaching, the teaching of the Church, the teaching of Christ.
      Direct all your attention to the acquisition of love for your neighbor as the basis of your life...Love your neighbor according to the dictates of the commandments of the Gospel, not at all according to the dictates and impulses of your heart. The love planted by God in our nature was damaged by the fall and cannot act correctly...Love your neighbor in this way: Do not get angry with him and do not bear resentment or a grudge against him. Do not allow yourself to say to your neighbor any reproachful, abusive, sarcastic or caustic words. Maintain peace with him as far as possible. Humble yourself in his presence. Do not try to have your revenge on him either directly or indirectly. Whenever possible, yield to him. Get out of the habit of arguing and quarrelling, and reject it as a sign of pride and self love. Speak well of those who speak evil of you. Pay good for evil. Pray for those who cause you various offences, wrongs, temptations, persecutions (Matthew 5: 21-48). Whatever you do, on no account condemn anyone; do not even try to judge whether a person is good or bad, but keep your eyes on that one evil person for whom you must give an account before God: yourself (Matthew 7: 11).
      Treat your neighbors as you would like them to treat you (Matthew 7: 1-12). Forgive and pardon men their offences against you from the depth of your heart, so that your Heavenly Father may forgive you your countless offences, your terrible debt of sin that can easily cast you down and confine you for all eternity in the prisons of hell (Matthew 18: 23-25)...
      Finally, do not harm your brother by talkativeness, gossip, close acquaintance and familiar conduct with him. If you avoid these pitfalls in regard to your neighbor, you will show and acquire for him the love commanded by God and pleasing to God; thereby you will open the way for yourself to the love of God...

Forgiveness Sunday: Feb. 22

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

     In the Orthodox Church, the last Sunday before Great Lent – the day on which, at Vespers, Lent is liturgically announced and inaugurated – is called Forgiveness Sunday.  On the morning of that Sunday, at the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words of Christ:
"If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses..." (Mark 6:14-15)
     Then after Vespers – after hearing the announcement of Lent in the Great Prokeimenon: "Turn not away Thy face from Thy child for I am afflicted! Hear me speedily! Draw near unto my soul and deliver it!",  after making our entrance into Lenten worship, with its special memories, with the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, with its prostrations – we ask forgiveness from each other, we perform the rite of forgiveness and reconciliation...
     What is the meaning of this rite?  Why is it that the Church wants us to begin the Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation?  These questions are in order because for too many people Lent means primarily, and almost exclusively, a change of diet, the compliance with ecclesiastical regulations concerning fasting.  They understand fasting as an end in itself, as a "good deed" required by God and carrying in itself its merit and its reward.  But, the Church spares no effort in revealing to us that fasting is but a means, one among many, towards a higher goal:  the spiritual renewal of man, his return to God, true repentance and therefore true reconciliation.  The Church spares no effort in warning us against a hypocritical and pharisaic fasting, against the reduction of religion to mere external obligations. As a Lenten hymn says:
     In vain do you rejoice in no eating, O soul!
     For you abstain from food,
     But from passions you are not purified.
     If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast.
     Now, forgiveness stands at the very center of Christian faith and of Christian life because Christianity itself is, above all, the religion of forgiveness. God forgives us, and His forgiveness is in Christ, His Son, Whom He sends to us, so that by sharing in His humanity we may share in His love and be truly reconciled with God.  Indeed, Christianity has no other content but love. And it is primarily the renewal of that love, a return to it, a growth in it, that we seek in Great Lent, in fasting and prayer, in the entire spirit and the entire effort of that season. Thus, truly forgiveness is both the beginning of, and the proper condition for the Lenten season.
     One may ask, however:  Why should I perform this rite when I have no "enemies"?  Why should I ask forgiveness from people who have done nothing to me, and whom I hardly know? To ask these questions is to misunderstand the Orthodox teaching concerning forgiveness. It is true, that open enmity, personal hatred, real animosity may be absent from our life, though if we experience them it may be easier for us to repent, for these feelings openly contradict Divine commandments. But the Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love.  These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them;  in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being "polite" and "friendly" we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for one minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual "recognition" which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.
     On that unique evening... we are called to make a spiritual discovery:  to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love.  We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood. As l advance towards the other, as the other comes to me,  we begin to realize that it is Christ Who brings us together by His love for both of us... We know why we shall fast and pray, what we shall seek during the long Lenten pilgrimage.  Forgiveness Sunday:  the day on which we acquire the power to make our fasting – true fasting;  our effort – true effort;  our reconciliation with God – true reconciliation.

Putting St. Tikhon's Words and Vision into Action

The 18th All American Council

Archpriest Daniel Hubiak

(The following is a further reflection in preparation for the upcoming 18th All American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, to be convened July 20 -24, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. The author, Fr. Daniel Hubiak, has been a tireless worker for the Orthodox Church in this country for over four decades.  He served as Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America for 15 years. In 1970, he was a member of the official delegation sent to Moscow to receive the Tomos of Autocephaly. For several years in the 1990s, he served as the OCA’s first representative in Moscow and Dean of the OCA Representation Church of the Great Martyr Catherine. Now retired, but still very much active in serving the Church, he and Matushka Dunia reside in Ocean Pines, MD.)

In 1907, the First All-American Sobor (Council) was convened at Saint John the Baptist Church, Mayfield, PA in conjunction with the Russian Orthodox Mutual Aid Society’s Convention. Because of this dual gathering, the Sobor was limited to one morning and three evening sessions primarily dedicated to establishing legal and financial structures. Therefore, the theme of the gathering found expression not in the working sessions, but in Archbishop (Saint) Tikhon’s talks at the sessions and at the farewell meal with the clergy.

As the gathering was ending, the Archbishop said, “We are strong… only in one thing – in possessing the True Orthodox Faith… the gift of God… Strengthen your brethren in the Faith and the love of Orthodoxy.”

In his last sermon before departing for Russia, Archbishop Tikhon stated,  “Guarding the Orthodox Faith sacredly and loving it is not enough.  Christ the Savior said that lighting the candle, one does not put it ‘under a bushel, but on a candlestick’ (Matthew 5:15), and the light of Orthodoxy is lighted not for a small circle of people.  No, the Orthodox Church is catholic;  she remembers the will of her Founder:  ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, teach all nations.’ (Matthew 28:19; Mark16:15). We ought to share our spiritual wealth, truth, and light with others…. Thus, each of us should consider this task of propagating the faith as his own task, dear to his heart.”

 The Archbishop indicated that, in order to expand the mission, a three-pronged approach was needed.

     Thank God daily for the gift of Orthodoxy.

     Strengthen each other in the Faith and in the love of Orthodoxy.

     Propagate the Faith by living it.

In his talks, Archbishop Tikhon encouraged the convening of more gatherings to share and offer initiatives. He said, “From the beginning, I gave my colleagues wide room for initiative. As long as the work got done, it was not important to me whether it began with me or others.  And the consequences of this were not slow in being told: parishes began to multiply, new churches were built, the number of parishioners grew, new institutions were established.”

The Archbishop understood that time brings change.  “I think that those things in which I was useful here for a while – for which I was perhaps even sent here – have now passed and are no longer needed, that you need something different, a different worker with a different approach and character.”

Things are different today. We have instant contact and the means for instant information sharing. We must be careful not to use these means for conflict and tearing down unity. Instead, we should be working to Expand the Mission by augmenting the modern techniques for information sharing with the three points proposed by the Archbishop:  Thanking God daily, strengthening each other in faith and love, and Living our faith.

In addition to instant information sharing, personal contact is of vital importance. We strengthen each other in the Faith and in the love of Orthodox Christianity by personal contact and by seeing each other as images of Christ. The kiss of peace cannot be accomplished via the internet. It is accomplished person to person, and by greeting one’s fellow parishioner or parish visitor.

The need to Expand the Mission of the Orthodox Church in America continues to be the sacred task and duty of each of us. By all means, let us use modern techniques of sharing and disseminating information and promoting programs, but let us really SEE each other, STRENGTHEN each other, LOVE each other and TALK to each other, that those around us might say, “Look how they love one another” (Apology of Tertullian).

A New Year: A New Bishop

Fr. Basil Zebrun
On March 31, 2009, at his request His Eminence Archbishop Dmitri was granted retirement from his duties as ruling hierarch of the Diocese of the South, Orthodox Church in America.  He fell asleep in the Lord two and half years later on August 28, 2011 (Old Calendar Dormition).
His Eminence was the founding bishop of the Diocese, established in 1978 by our Holy Synod of Bishops.  During his tenure Archbishop Dmitri's unique charm, modest approach to life, as well as his love of people and various cultures, and his faithfulness to Christ,  helped to lead thousands to Orthodox Christianity and to a better understanding of the Faith itself.
To this day the Archbishop remains the only resident ruling hierarch that the Diocese of the South has ever known.  His legacy of mission and evangelism -- consistent with the efforts of other beloved Church leaders -- defines the principles upon which our Diocese was established and by which it functions to the present day.  This year, members of the Diocese have the formidable task of nominating the next Bishop of Dallas and the South, who will help continue the vision and groundwork laid 37 years ago.
On Monday, February 16, clergy and lay delegates meeting at Christ the Saviour Orthodox Cathedral in Miami, Florida will convene for this sacred task during a Special Nomination Assembly called for by our locum tenens, His Eminence Archbishop Nikon.  On that day a Divine Liturgy will be celebrated in the morning, followed by the start of the Assembly itself at 1 pm.   The one day Assembly will precede a two and a half day Clergy Conference.
Christ the Saviour Cathedral was chosen for this event in light of its past and present position of leadership within the Diocese. Because the new bishop will be consecrated in Dallas, the city of Miami is important symbolically -- for the sake of history and continuity -- as the location for the Episcopal Nomination.  This choice also helps economically,  given the travel that will be necessary for the faithful on the East Coast at the time of the new hierarch's enthronement later this year in Dallas.
Basically the nomination process will be as follows, in accordance with our Diocesan By Laws. These may be found on website.  The following is a slightly edited version of the section of the By Laws which addresses the nomination of a bishop for the Diocese of the South.
'The Chancellor of the Diocese, Archpriest Marcus Burch, will present the name(s) of the Diocesan Council's recommended candidate(s) to all those present. There is to be no debate ordiscussions of proposed candidates.  Following Fr. Marcus' announcement, the names of other vetted candidates will be announced to the Assembly. 
Blank ballots will then be given to all delegates and one name only shall be written on each ballot.  Any ballot with more than one name will be discarded.  If a single candidate receives 50% or more of the votes then he will be declared the nominee.  His name will be sent to the Holy Synod of Bishops (meeting in March) for their approval and canonical election.
If no one receives a majority of votes, then a second vote will be taken, choosing from the two top candidates on the first ballot. The man receiving the most votes on the second ballot shall be declared the Assembly's nominee and his name will be sent to the Holy Synod of Bishops.
If the candidate whose name is sent for consideration proves unacceptable for any reason to the Holy Synod then the Synod itself will elect a diocesan bishop for the South, in accordance with the Statutes of the Orthodox Church in America.  A date will then be set for the consecration and enthronement of the new bishop.'  At present the tentative month for the consecration and enthronement will be May 2015.
Since the retirement and subsequent repose of Archbishop Dmitri there have been people confused over the time taken to "vet" Episcopal candidates and call a Nomination Assembly.  At the same time there are those who see six years as acceptable and not unusual for the Orthodox Church generally, as well as for this particular situation, given the shoes that have to be filled by the incoming Bishop.
The legacy of His Eminence, as well as the distinct character of our diocese, require  a unique man having ideally, love for the people, a sensitivity to various cultures, a grasp of Orthodox theology as it compares with other Christian traditions, and a burning desire to make Orthodox Christianity known throughout the South. He must also have the relative strength to travel across a fourteen state diocese overseeing 70  established communities while launching additional Churches, monasteries, and perhaps a pastoral school or two.  Administering the Diocese of the South is a formidable task:  administering any Diocese is a difficult calling. The responsibility carries with it high expectations from the flock. If six years is the time given us by God to discern and elect the most appropriate candidate for the South then this period is relatively brief in light of the work that is to follow.  If more time is needed then so be it.
In February, as we gather in Miami for the nomination of our next ruling hierarch, we will call upon the Holy Spirit for enlightenment and discernment. Indeed we pray even now for such illumination. The Nomination Assembly will place itself under the providential care and guidance of God, as previous assemblies have always done. Whatever the outcome and whoever is presented as our next bishop we will celebrate his nomination. At the same time we are grateful now, as well, for the oversight given by His Eminence Archbishop Nikon during this transitional period. He has been a patient and loving father in Christ, encouraging the faithful to continue in their Christian endeavors, preparing us for this momentous occasion in the history of our Diocese.

The Real St. Nicholas

By Fr. Lawrence Farley
     One of the things I hate about going shopping during the season of the Christmas rush is the music that is piped in over the mall sound system.  I would happy with traditional renderings of the old carols, but instead, my ears are assaulted with the latest auditory atrocity, celebrating Christmas as a time of consumerism, indulgence, and fun in the snow.  And often, to make matters worse, we have St. Nicholas forced to preside over all this—or, as he is described by these contemporary songs, “jolly old St. Nick”.
     Some of the transformation of St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, into jolly ol’ St. Nick (aka “Santa Claus”) can be laid at the door of the old 1822 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” attributed to Clement Clark Moore.  It is more popularly known as the poem “Twas the Night before Christmas”.  Many details from the poem have become part of the popular mythology of Santa Claus and his secret gift-giving on Christmas eve.  Stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and the children were nestled all snug in their beds.  St. Nicholas appeared on his miniature sleigh full of toys, pulled by his eight tiny reindeer.  This St. Nick came down the chimney with a bound, the stump of a pipe held tight in his teeth, his little round belly shaking when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.  Not a lot of holy reverence here; he was a right jolly old elf, and the householder laughed when he saw him, in spite of himself.
     I think it is worth comparing this St. Nicholas, who lives at the North Pole, with the real one, who lives in heaven.  The main contrasts are three in number.
     First, the real St. Nicholas, as found in his icons, is a lot thinner.  That is, he points us toward asceticism and self-denial as the prescribed path to fulfillment.  The real St. Nicholas is not portrayed iconographically as having a “little round belly,” nor does he appear as “a right jolly old elf” who provokes involuntary laughter.  He appears as a man of God, a hierarch in the holy Church, someone of a serene countenance who comes from much prayer and fasting.  Jolly ol’ St. Nick calls his followers to eating and spending sprees, to buying more and more, even if they go into debt to pay for it, and his pre-Christmas feast day is known as “Black Friday.”  St. Nicholas the wonderworker of Myra in Lycia calls his followers to take up their cross and follow Christ, and his pre-Christmas feast day is marked on December 6, in the middle of a fast.  It is not characterized by a mad scramble to buy, but by worship of the living God.  But some festivity is allowed at a feast:  we love St. Nicholas so much that even on this fast day we are allowed fish, oil, and wine.
     Secondly, the real St. Nicholas carries a Gospel, not a bag full of toys which seem to be liberally distributed whether or not one is naughty or nice.  Santa Claus is rarely without his sack of loot; St. Nicholas is never without the Gospel.  As a bishop, his main task was preaching and rightly defining the Word of Truth, so of course he carries that holy Book.  It contains the words which are the most precious to him, and which he constantly preached to his flock in Asia Minor.  As his icon shows, it is his message to us today as well.  And this message of St. Nicholas is identical with that of his Lord:  “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
     Finally, the real St. Nicholas knows that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), whereas Santa Claus would have us believe that it is more blessed to receive than to give.  Santa is about receiving—that is why young children do not traditionally ask each other, “What did you give others for Christmas?” but rather, “What did you get for Christmas?”  Santa is the patron saint of consumerism.  The authentic St. Nicholas knows that while it is important to receive graciously, almsgiving still results in receiving more grace.  Obviously Christmas morning knows both giving and receiving, and parents will attest that the real fun is watching their children receive.  There is good in both giving and receiving.  St. Nicholas knows this and can keep the two in balance; Santa tends to forget and focus mostly on receiving.
     None of the above meditations are offered in a Scrooge-like spirit.  Contrasting the true St. Nicholas with the false one does not imply that “Christmas is a humbug,” as the pre-conversion Ebenezer thought.  I like Christmas:  the tree-decorating, hearing from long-absent friends through Christmas cards, the Christmas day turkey.  I even like the gift-giving.  I am not much threatened by Santa Claus; I simply don’t mistake him for St. Nicholas.  That is, I think that however much (or little) we enjoy the pre-Christmas season, we must discern that there are in fact two kinds of Christmas celebrated concurrently in our culture.  One is about consumerism and over-indulgence, pure and simple.  Jesus has little to do with it, which is why in some places the public display of a crèche or saying “Merry Christmas” provokes opposition.  The other Christmas is our own Christian feast, the commemoration (as the service book says) of “The Nativity according to the Flesh of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ.”  We can partake of both, so long as we remember which one has priority.  The contrast between jolly old St. Nick and the true St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia reminds us of the differences between the two Christmases.
     ("Fr. Lawrence Farley, formerly an Anglican priest and graduate of Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada in 1979, converted to Orthodoxy in 1985 and then studied at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, Pennsylvania.   Fr. Lawrence is the author of many books including the Bible Study Companion SeriesLet Us Attend: A Journey through the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, and A Daily Calendar of Saints.")