Category Archives: church

The darkness has not overcome it.

And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

Today is the commemoration of the Beheading of John the Baptist, which we Orthodox Christians who use the Gregorian Calendar remember on August 29 every year.

John was the Forerunner of Christ, and his preaching of repentance prepared many hearts to receive Christ.  You might say that John intruded into (family) politics when he spoke up about the governor Herod’s unlawful relationship with his brother’s wife Herodias. It doesn’t appear that they had asked for his opinion, but Herodias was angry enough about it that she asked Herod, via her dancing daughter Salome, for John’s head on a platter, which was granted. In the Gospel of Mark is one passage that recounts these events.

The hymns lament that Herod and Herodias missed their opportunity to repent and gain eternal life, but rejoice that God was glorified by the prophet’s death as well as by his life, and speak of John continuing to preach repentance even to the souls in Hades.

Icon Reader tells in depth about the iconography of John the Baptist, who is often pictured with wings. These symbolize the fact that he was a prophet or messenger from God. He is also called an “angel of the desert,” because like angels he was not involved in normal mundane things. John is holding his own head on the platter; some Orthodox do not eat anything from a plate, or from anything round, on this day, and we all keep a fast in St. John’s honor.

I have a particular interest in the Glorious Forerunner’s beheading because the saint whose name I bear, Joanna, was married to Chuza, Herod’s steward, and used her connections to retrieve the head so that it could be given an honorable burial.

This is a repeat of most of my post from five years ago. This morning I attended Divine Liturgy for the feast and was more awed than ever by the life of Jesus’s cousin John who was imprisoned for speaking the truth. Then he was killed because, though Herod was “sorrowful” about this unexpected outcome, he was a coward and wanted what he wanted, no matter that he seemed to like talking with John about spiritual things. As we heard in today’s homily, the rulers of this world always operate on the terms of their power above all.

But The Forerunner went joyfully to his reward, as do all martyrs; what they want more than anything is to be with Christ. That’s why we celebrate their deaths, which are glorious as the Cross of Christ is glorious. On this feast day we also fast, because it is to us a sort of Holy Friday; and to help our prayers for strength to have courage ourselves, to live and die in the spirit of the martyrs, in bright contrast to whatever darkness is currently trying in vain to extinguish the inextinguishable Kingdom of God.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4-5

Revolutionaries and conservatives are always wrong.

Vladimir Lossky:

“Revolutionaries are always in the wrong, since, in their juvenile fervor for everything new, in their hopes for a better future, and a way of life built on justice, they always base themselves on theories that are abstract and artificial, making a clean sweep of living tradition which is, after all, founded on the experience of centuries.

“Conservatives are always wrong, too, despite being rich in life experience, despite being shrewd and prudent, intelligent and skeptical. For, in their desire to preserve ancient institutions that have withstood the test of time, they decry the necessity of renewal, and man’s yearning for a better way of life.

“Both attitudes carry within themselves the seeds of death. Is there, then, a third way? Another destiny for society than of always being subject to the threat of revolutions which destroy life, or reactionary attitudes which mummify it? Or is this the inevitable fate of all terrestrial cities, the natural law of their existence?

“In fact, only in the Church can we find both a Tradition that knows no revolution and at the same time the impetus towards a new life that has no end. Her theory (understood in the true sense of the word, namely ‘vision’) is based on a constant experience of Truth. Which is why she is in possession of those infinite resources upon which may draw all who are called to govern the perishable cities of this world. “

From Seven Days on the Roads of France

Father Stephen Freeman posted this quote recently from Lossky’s “account of his flight from the invasion of the Nazis into France in 1940.”

Healing in all directions.

“There is never a pain as deep as that inflicted by someone who is supposed to love you. Such injuries echo through the years and the generations. The face that stares back at us in the mirror is easily a fractal of someone whose actions power our own insanity. We can hate a parent, only to be haunted by their constant presence in us.”

The first part of Father Stephen Freeman’s post for today, “Every Generation,” is about that dark side of our human connectedness. But the reality of it works positively, also, as we all know, if not from our own families, then from others who might seem to have received a better legacy.

The older I get, the more time I spend considering all of the people who have gone before who have contributed to my physical and/or spiritual well-being. The Orthodox Church trains us in this perspective by bringing us very close to the saints throughout time whose names we do know, and closer to this earthly home, we often remember in our thankful prayers the “founders of this holy temple.”

No doubt the prayers of my Sunday School teachers and other adults protected me as I grew up; the teachers and friends, my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles gave me so much, in particular behaviors and actions that must remain in large degree a mystery to us who can only see the outward.

In many cases I’m sure that their gift to their descendants was to struggle… and fail; but having struggled, their defeat was not as much of a failure as it would have been. God only knows how they tried, how hard it was just to keep going day after day. If their minds were ignorant of the significance of their lives to the whole of humanity, they were nevertheless contributing:

“If we inherit a burden within our life, so our salvation, our struggles with that burden, involve not only ourselves but those who have gone before as well as those who come after. We struggle as the ‘Whole Adam’ (in the phrase of St. Silouan).

“There is an Athonite saying: ‘A monk heals his family for seven generations.’ When I first heard this, my thought was, ‘In which direction?’ The answer, I think, is every direction. We are always healing the family tree as we embrace the path of salvation, monk or layman. Our lives are just that connected.”

What does all that have to do with Christ’s mother? In her prophecy Mary said, “All generations shall call me blessed.” There is a lot packed into that statement. As Father Stephen writes:

“In her person we see all generations gathered together. Her ‘be it unto me according to your word’ resounds in the heart of every believer, uniting them to her heart whose flesh unites us to God.”

Read the whole article. I didn’t quote quite all of it! When I started to write this post it was still the Feast of the Dormition of Mary, which is a fitting day to think about these things. Now we have passed liturgically to the next day, but that’s okay, because every day is good to remember family and be thankful.

The elder’s pain and love.

I don’t know who all will be in my class when my parish’s church school program begins again next month. But I think I know what I’ll be teaching, and it includes gleanings from this book that I haven’t read yet, With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man. The arrangement of our classes and students and how and where they will meet is one more realm of decisions that has been affected by the coronavirus situation, and that is why I didn’t know until this week to get busy and start reading; I had expected to be using a different curriculum.

This big book was first published in Greek in 1996, as the first of several volumes of the monk’s teachings. Over the course of 28 years his spiritual counsels were carefully recorded in notes and on tape, by the sisterhood of St. John the Theologian monastery in Souroti, for whom he was a guide and helper. In the preface they tell about his response at the beginning of their project:

“When Elder Paisios realised what we were doing, he was rather irritated: ‘Why are you taking notes?’ he asked. ‘Are you saving them for an emergency? You should put my words into practice; put them to work! Who knows what you are saying in these notes! Let me see them.’ When we showed him a sample, particularly the notes of one Sister, his expression changed. He seemed comforted and reassured, and exclaimed with satisfaction, ‘My goodness! She is like a tape recorder! She wrote it exactly as I said it!'”

St. Paisios of Mount Athos: InjusticeThis man, who in 2015 the Orthodox Church formally recognized as a saint, was in 1924 born Arsenios Eznepidis, in Cappadocia in Asia Minor. This was just after the Greco-Turkish war, and just before those governments mutually agreed upon a population exchange that forced more than a million people to become refugees; his family was among them, and they moved to Greece. You can read all about his life here: St. Paisios, and in other articles and books. I just wanted to tell you a little bit in introduction, because I’m planning to share at least a few quotes from the saint as I go. For now I will leave you with this that I found elsewhere:

“What I see around me would drive me insane
if I did not know that no matter what happens,
God will have the last word.”

— Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain
1924-1974