Tag Archives: spiritual struggle

Father Alexander’s voice for our time.

In this audio clip of less than two minutes you can hear a few pointed and encouraging words from Alexander Schmemann about how to navigate “the sea of this world” and the crisis – on many levels — that we are living in.

Fr. Alexander taught at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York State and was dean of the seminary from 1962 until his death. For 30 years his voice was broadcast beyond the iron curtain on Radio Liberty, and the seminary has recently published the first volume of those talks in the book A Voice for Our Time.

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.

Ascension – a poem and a prayer

I decided to post the prayer below, and not an hour later I finally found the poem. I say finally, because I had moved the small volume in which the poem is found, from the bookshelf in one room, to the top of a trunk in another, to a dresser and then a table, over the course of several months, in an absentminded effort to get it downstairs. One morning I managed to carry it down, and another day I followed through on my longstanding desire to open it.

To me the prayer and the poem share the same hope and desire. Doubtless when we get to know our true selves, we will find that we all share this. Richard Wilbur has said that he began writing poems in earnest while a soldier in the Second World War: “One does not use poetry for its major purposes, as a means to organize oneself and the world, until one’s world somehow gets out of hand.”

The older I get, and considering all the ways that my inner and outer worlds have required strong “organizing” by means of writing, the more I might wish I were in the habit of writing poetry. But writing anything and having it come out right is hard enough, at the same time it becomes more necessary.

Wilbur’s wife died when they had been married 65 years. Earlier, after only 50 years of marriage, he had said: “My wife was the first person it occurred to me to marry, and I was really quite stunned that she felt the same about me. I know that I would be capable of great disorder and emotional confusion if I were out of my wife’s orbit; she really has greatly steadied me.” In this poem he wrote after her death I think it’s significant that he is conscious of setting out for the place, not merely the person whose vision urges him on.

THE HOUSE

Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.

What did she tell me of that house of hers?
White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door;
A widow’s walk above the bouldered shore;
Salt winds that ruffle the surrounding firs.

Is she now there, wherever there may be?
Only a foolish man would hope to find
That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.
Night after night, my love, I put to sea.

-Richard Wilbur

The prayer that inspired this post to begin with is in a book newly published by St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press. It contains many familiar prayers from previous Orthodox prayer books, but also some that aren’t as well known, and a few specially conceived for modern times, such as a prayer “Before Using the Internet,” and a “Prayer Against Insomnia.” One section is titled “The Glorious Majesty of the Lord.” Yes!

I hope to share a few other selections from this collection of Orthodox Christian Prayers, which is beautiful in its binding and formatting as well as its content, but for the first one, it seems fitting that is attributed to the patron saint of the oldest Orthodox monastery in America; their publishing arm gave us this book. It is in a section titled “Prayers for Spiritual Struggle.”

About a month ago ? — hard to say, time is strange right now — when I began to struggle myself with what you might call tormenting thoughts, driven by the social and economic upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic, I also opened this prayer book for the first time, and came upon this entry. In the words of Richard Wilbur, it speedily helped me to organize myself and my relationship to this world. It mentions the feast of Christ’s Ascension, so I waited to publish it now, 40 days after Pascha, when we are remembering that event.

A PRAYER to INHERIT HEAVEN
by St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

With my flesh I worship thine Ascension into heaven, and I pray to thee, my Lord, raise my mind from what is earthly to that which is on high, strengthen my infirmity, and make up for what is lacking and small in me, leading me heavenward unto a good and saving end, unto thee who art in heaven, which is our true home, our fatherland, inheritance, property, wealth, honor, glory, comfort, joy, and eternal blessedness. Amen.

When You did fulfill the dispensation for our sake,
And unite earth to Heaven:
You did ascend in glory, O Christ our God,
Not being parted from those who love You,
But remaining with them and crying:
I am with you and no one will be against you.

–Hymn for the Feast of Ascension