Saint Alexander Nevsky

Alexander Nevsky

Starring: Svetlana Bakulina, Igor Botvin — Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes

This is a movie worth seeing!

It has good acting, action-packed battle scenes, and characters who are unashamed of the Orthodox Christian Faith. This film is currently available on Amazon.com for only five dollars. The movie is introduced thus:

Forged in war, cast in heaven; the legend will live forever. Both a ruthless warlord and a canonized saint, the legend of Prince Alexander, the Warrior Saint, is an incredible tale of strength, courage and military genius.

The dialogue is all in Russian, but a version of the movie is available which has English overdubbing.

Here are today’s readings from the Prologue of Ohrid, regarding St. Alexander Nevsky:

A knight of Christ, St. Alexander,
A prince of the people and servant of the Lord-
Ruler on earth and slave of the Almighty-
This was the life of Nevsky.

On the outside opulence, on the inside weeping;
On the outside struggle, on the inside serenity;
On the outside illusion, on the inside truth.

Christ was the prize of this hero,
Both in war and deceptive peace.
In torment, Christ was his joy,
In suffering, Christ was his assurance,
In victory, Christ was the victor,
And in death, Christ was his Resurrector!
To him, in both worlds, all was Christ!
He was the end; He was the living goal.

The pious prince was an exemplar to his people,
Of how one should serve the Lord.
O holy Prince, help us also,
By your brilliant power, by your holy prayers!

~

Alexander was the son of Prince Yaroslav. From childhood, his heart was directed to God. He defeated the Swedes on the river Neva on July 15, 1240, for which he received the appellation “Nevsky” ["of the Neva'']. On that occasion, Saints Boris and Gleb appeared to one of Alexander’s commanders and promised their help to the great prince, who was their kinsman. Once, among the Golden Horde of the Tartars, he refused to bow down to idols or to pass through fire. Because of his wisdom, physical strength and beauty, even the Tartar Khan respected him. He built many churches and performed countless works of mercy. He entered into rest on November 14, 1263 at the age of forty-three. On this day, November 23, the translation of his relics to the town of Vladimir is commemorated.

~ The Prologue of Ohrid – November 23

 

St. Alexander, pray for us!

St. Alexander, pray for us!

Posted in Prayers to Angels & Saints | Leave a comment

Seeking the Salvation of my Neighbor

“We cannot be saved by seeking just our own individual salvation; we need to look first to the good of others. In warfare, the soldier who takes to flight to save his own skin brings disaster on himself as well as on the others, whereas the good soldier who takes up arms on behalf of his comrades saves his own life along with theirs. Our life is a warfare, the bitterest of battles. So in loyalty to our King, let us draw up the lines of battle, ready for blood and slaughter, with our eyes on the salvation of all, encouraging the stalwarts and stirring up the laggards. Many of our brothers and sisters have fallen in this battle, wounded and covered with blood, with no one to care for them. There is no one to look after them, no layman, no priest, no comrade, no friend, no brothers, because we are all of us seeking our own individual salvation and thereby spoiling our chance of attaining it. True freedom and glory come from not being concerned with ourselves.”

~ St. John Chrysostom

Posted in Humility, Missions and Evangelism, Spiritual Living, The Orthodox Christian Family | Leave a comment

Pious Kings and Right-Believing Queens

Orthodox Royal Saints

Finally, let us discuss briefly the nature of monarchical rule. The throne of a Christian Emperor, King, or ruling Prince, is not an earthly contrivance but is of a much higher order. It is ordained and blessed by God and belongs to Him. It is written in the Old Testament that, “Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD.” The throne, thus, was not Solomon’s but was God’s. The thrones in all Christian monarchies are the same; they belong to God and are occupied by God’s anointed.

In the Orthodox Church, the monarch is anointed in a Mysteriological (or “Sacramental”) act. At the coronation of Saint Edgar the Peaceable in 973, for example, “[t]he climax of the ceremony was not the crowning, but the anointing with holy oil which conferred near-priestly status….” Precisely the same was true of the coronation of Saint Nicholas the Tsar Martyr in 1896, almost a thousand years later. As Bishop Nektary of Seattle (1905-1983) writes, “The Tsar was and is the anointed of God.” After the anointing, the monarch’s person is sacred and, consequently, to lay violent hands on an Orthodox monarch is a grave sacrilege; in fact, among the worst sacrileges possible.

Conversely, a monarch is held by God to a much higher standard than ordinary men and women, for the monarch holds, by God’s Grace, special powers in his hands, which powers he is sworn to use in a God-pleasing manner. He is also an example to his subjects, on which, if his example is a wholesome one, those subjects should model their own lives, to the extent possible. Monarchs, consequently, must use their powers with fear and trembling, not arbitrarily, and must be mindful that the eyes of God and of His people are ever upon him. The monarch’s purpose or role is to uphold the law of God in his country, to protect his country and people from adversaries, to shelter the poor, widows, and orphans, to contribute to the prosperity of his people, and to provide, through the Church and in cooperation with the Church, spiritual sustenance, thereby guiding his subjects to eternal salvation.

Protopresbyter James Thornton, Pious Kings and Right-believing Queens: An Encyclopedia of the Royal and Imperial Saints of the Orthodox Church (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 2013), Preface.

Read a Sample:
http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/pious-kings-and-right-believing-queens-fr-james-thornton.pdf

This book on Amazon.com:
http://www.amazon.com/Pious-Kings-Right-believing-Queens-Encyclopedia/dp/1884729983

Posted in Church History, Monarchy | 1 Comment

A Spiritual Pharmacy

RxFather, are the teachings of the Saints to be strictly followed?

Luke, you have known me for many years. What have I taught in the past?

Father, I have always been very grateful for your firm teaching. Without wavering, you have always taught us to follow the teachings of Scripture. And whatever the Saints have consistently taught, this is what you have taught us. You also set a good example with your own life, following the teachings of the Fathers.

Then why ask about whether to follow the teachings of Scripture and the Saints?

Father, please forgive me. I trust you. I’m just trying to understand. My friend Stuart recently converted to Orthodoxy, and he was telling me about some spiritual direction that you gave him. He said you talked to him about fasting, about prayer, about marital intimacy, and several other things. And while you have always publicly taught that we should follow Scripture and the Fathers, it seemed like the spiritual direction he received was perhaps not “full strength”. It just seemed like maybe you were a lot more lenient on him than you have been on me in these areas.

Did you tell him that?

No, I didn’t say anything to Stuart. I didn’t want to sow any seeds of doubt or disrespect. But since that conversation, I have to admit I’ve been scratching my head, wondering what you’re up to.

Have you ever been to the doctor, Luke?

Sure.

Why did you go to him?

Because I was sick, and I wanted to get better.

Did he give you a prescription?

Yeah.

Does he give exactly the same prescription to every patient?

Of course not. Not everyone is sick with the same thing. And some people are allergic to certain medications.

Well, the Church is a hospital, and spiritual direction works the same way. Everyone is infected with sin, but it infects different people in different ways. Some people have great struggles with gluttony. Some people have difficulty opening up and telling the truth. There are some who have to battle sloth and laziness. Others have to overcome sin in their marriages. Each condition presents its own challenges, and requires different forms of spiritual medication.

That makes sense, Father, and I can see where that would apply to a point. Fasting might help a person with gluttony, but might not directly contribute to a cure for laziness. And instruction on proper intimacy could really help a marriage, but might not help a person control food intake.

Precisely.

But that only answers my question just so far, Father. It still seems to me that there ought to be some real underlying consistency in the spiritual direction that is offered by the Church.

What do you mean by consistency?

Well, I just mean that similar symptoms ought to call for similar medications. If two people have problems with gluttony, it seems like they ought to receive the same fasting rules. If two different couples are having marriage problems, it seems like they should receive the same advice for how to approach marital intimacy. I totally understand that the Church needs to offer many different forms of spiritual medication. But it confuses me when two people with identical problems are given two totally different prayer rules, or different fasting rules, or different instructions for what intimacy is acceptable within a marriage. It is as if two people went to the doctor because of migraine headaches, and yet the doctor still prescribed two totally different medications to them. It just looks inconsistent.

Well, it’s funny that you use that analogy, because my wife and I recently had that very experience.

You both had migraines?

Yes.

And the doctor gave you two totally different prescriptions?

Yes.

Why would he do that? I mean, whatever medication is the best for getting rid of a migraine, why didn’t he just prescribe that to both of you?

Well, as you yourself said earlier, people have different allergies. The doctor gave my wife the most powerful medication currently on the market. It works really well for her. But I have a thyroid condition that makes it dangerous for me to take my wife’s medication. So the doctor prescribed something different for me. It takes longer for it to get rid of my migraine. But over time, it still works.

Interesting.

Luke, let me ask you a question. Do you believe my doctor is guilty of “going soft” on me, and “watering down” my medication, so to speak? Do you think it would be better for him to give me my wife’s full-strength medication, so that I could get rid of my migraine headaches more quickly?

Well, no.

Why not?

Because, Father, it would be medically dangerous for you. Like you said, your thyroid wouldn’t be able to handle your wife’s medication. There is more to you than just a migraine headache. A good doctor has to take the whole person into account.

Exactly. And spiritual direction is no different. When I preach, I preach the full-strength medicine. Without wavering, I teach exactly what Holy Scripture says. And when I see that the Saints have consistently taught something, I make no apology for teaching exactly the same thing. But in one-on-one counseling sessions, I have to take the whole person into account. If I sense that a person is ready and willing to receive the Church’s teaching full-strength, then I give the prescription at full-strength. But if I can tell a person isn’t ready to handle that yet, I do what I can. I prescribe whatever medication I believe they will be able to swallow.

Well, that kind of makes sense. But it still makes me a little uncomfortable. If the Saints have consistently taught us that the goal is to drink a full tablespoon of medicine, I can’t see the point of giving them half a teaspoon of it. I mean, even if it is super difficult for a new convert to bear it, wouldn’t it be better just to prescribe the full tablespoon of medicine right off the bat? Give them the Church’s teachings at full strength, including all the fasting rules, prayer rules, church attendance rules, rules for wise stewardship of finances, rules for marital intimacy, etc. If they are truly dedicated to Christ, then they will stick with it, no matter how hard it is.

Any good doctor knows it doesn’t matter how much medicine you swallow. It only matters how much of it you actually absorb into your body. Luke, if the doctor forces a person to swallow a full tablespoon of medicine, and the patient’s body is so shocked that he vomits it all up, how much benefit will that person receive from the medication?

None.

Right. And what is better, to absorb half a teaspoon of medicine, and to get a little bit better, or to absorb nothing because all the medicine has been vomited out onto the ground?

Well, in that case, half a teaspoon is better. At least they are getting a little something to help them.

Exactly. When I prescribe “half a teaspoon” of Orthodoxy to someone, it’s not because I’m trying to water down the Faith. I’m not trying to give Stuart less medication than I give to you. Rather, I am giving Stuart as much medication as I believe he can handle. Once I see his condition improve, then I will increase his prescription.

Posted in Fasting, Humility, Preaching, Spiritual Living | 1 Comment

Unequal Judgment

equality 02As we saw in a recent article, God is no fan of equality. He rewards people differently, in different ways, in different amounts. And if we truly love our brother, this is a cause for rejoicing. This surprises some people.

People may be even more surprised when they find out that God’s unequal judgment not only applies to material things; it also applies to eternal things. Two people may have a similar list of sins, and a similar list of virtues, and God still may judge them differently.

According to Scripture, there are at least four things which can influence the judgment of God, either making it more lenient, or more strict:

1) If you know the truth, you will be judged more strictly than those who are ignorant of it.

And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare
himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes,
shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given,
from him much will be required . . .
(Luke 12:47-48)

2) If you presume to be a teacher, you will be judged more strictly.

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers,
knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
(James 3:1)

3) If you are unmerciful to others, you will receive judgment without mercy.

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has
shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
(James 2:13)

4) If you do not forgive others, you will not be forgiven.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father
will also forgive you.
 But if you do not forgive men their
trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
(Matthew 6:14-15)

And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers
until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly
Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart,
does not forgive his brother his trespasses.
(Matthew 18:32-35)

God does not judge everyone equally. According to Holy Scripture, God’s judgment is sometimes gentle, sometimes strict.

This is one of the reasons why we should never judge our brother. We should never arrogantly assume that we are close to God, and that our brother is far away from Him.

Do we know for sure just how much spiritual knowledge our brother has?
Do we know for sure just how much teaching our brother does?
Do we know for sure just how merciful our brother is towards others?
Do we know for sure just how fully our brother has forgiven others of their sins?

Unless we have perfect knowledge of our brother’s heart in all of these areas, we cannot even begin to judge our brother in the same way that God will judge him. While we pat ourselves on the back for living righteously, and while we look down our nose at our brother’s sins, it may be that our brother is ushered into heaven because of his merciful and forgiving heart, even while we ourselves are condemned because of pride.

For the Lord does not see as man sees;
for man looks at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart.
(1 Samuel 16:7)

Posted in 1 Samuel 16, Humility, James 2, James 3, Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 18:21-35, Matthew 6:14-15, Particular Judgment, Reconciliation, Spiritual Living | Leave a comment

Ungodly Equality

equality 01A person works on your property for an hour, and you pay him $100 for one hour of work.

Another person works the same job for you, all day, putting in ten hours of hard labor. You pay him $10/hour for his work. 

Is this fair? Scripture says yes.

According to the world, “equality” is one of the chief virtues.
According to Holy Scripture, equality is not even desirable.

The world always contradicts the Church. Always. It is to be expected. They are two different Kingdoms, run by two different Kings. Jesus is the King of the Church. Meanwhile, Scripture tells us that Satan is the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Thus, it is not possible to love the world at the same time as you love Jesus. You have to follow either one or the other. If you love the world, then the love of the Father is not in you (1 John 2:15).

According to Scripture, God does not judge people equally. Nor does he reward them equally. Nor does He have any desire to do so. And Scripture says this inequality is perfectly fair and just and lawful and right.

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a field where a certain number of workers go to work long hours in the heat of the day. Some workers show up later, and only work half a day. Finally, some latecomers only work in the field for an hour or so.

Does the owner of the vineyard pay the same hourly rate to every worker?

Nope! Not at all.

He gives the same amount of money to everyone, regardless of how many hours they had worked. For those who only worked an hour, he gave a full day’s pay. For those who worked all day, he gave a full day’s pay.

It is as if Jesus pays $10/hour to the people who worked all day,
while he pays $100/hour to the people who showed up late and only worked an hour.

Not surprisingly, the people who had worked all day were a little miffed. Since the latecomers had received a full day’s wages, they assumed their extra work had earned them extra pay. Not so, says Jesus.

. . . they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’

But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:11-16)

Jesus says, “I am doing you no wrong. . . . Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?”

It is good and right for Him to reward people as He desires. He never gives people less of a reward than they deserve. But if He decides to be particularly generous to someone else, that places Him under no obligation to extend the same special gifts to everyone.

Meanwhile, modern society is enamored with catchphrases such as “equal rights”, “affirmative action”, “equal pay for equal work”, and many other slogans which reveal an underlying addiction to the concept of “equality”. It is like a self-centered child who is given a delicious cupcake, and then complains because his cupcake only has 15 sprinkles on it, while his brother’s cupcake has 20 sprinkles. Like selfish children, modern society sees inequality and whines, “It’s not fair!”

A preoccupation with “equality” is merely a thin veil for greed, revealing a lack of love for one’s brother. No matter how many sprinkles are on your cupcake, you are greedy because your brother’s cupcake has more sprinkles on it. No matter how well your own needs are met, you turn green with envy because your brother has a bigger house, or a nicer car, or a bigger bank account.

According to the world’s mantra of “equality”, we should become angry anytime another person receives an abundance of blessings beyond what we ourselves have received. The world urges us never to rejoice at the prosperity of a brother.

Meanwhile, the God of Love bids us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Truly, our brother’s prosperity is no occasion for greed, envy, or a demand for “equality”. Rather, it is an occasion for rejoicing, because we love our brother.

Posted in 1 John 2, 2 Corinthians 4, Humility, Matthew 20:1-16, Money, Romans 12, Spiritual Living | Leave a comment

Pride Speaks

I once caught this mad imposter (pride) as it was rising in my heart, bearing on its shoulders its mother, vainglory. Roping them with the noose of obedience and thrashing them with the whip of humility, I demanded how they got access to me. At last, when flogged, they said:

“We have neither beginning nor birth, for we are progenitors and parents of all the passions. Contrition of heart that is born of obedience is our real enemy; we cannot bear to be subject to anyone; that is why we fell from Heaven, though we had authority there.”

“In brief, we are the parents of all that opposes humility; for everything which furthers humility, opposes us. We hold sway everywhere, save in Heaven, so where will you run from our presence? We often accompany dishonors, and obedience, and freedom from anger, and lack of resentment, and service. Our offspring are the falls of spiritual men: anger, calumny, spite, irritability, shouting, blasphemy, hypocrisy, hatred, envy, disputation, self-will and disobedience.”

“There is only one thing in which we have no power to meddle; and we shall tell you this, for we cannot bear your blows: If you keep up a sincere condemnation of yourself before the Lord, you can count us as weak as a cobweb. For pride’s saddlehorse, as you see, is vainglory, on which I am mounted.”

But holy humility and self-accusation laugh at both the horse and its rider, happily singing the song of victory: Let us sing to the Lord, for gloriously is He glorified: horse and rider hath He hurled into the sea (Exodus 15:1) and into the abyss of humility.

~ St. John Climacus, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), Step 23: On Mad Pride, and, in the Same Step, on Unclean Blasphemous Thoughts

Posted in Humility | Leave a comment

Lighten Our Darkness

But when the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of a person, He shows him all his inner poverty and weakness, and the corruption of his heart and soul, and his separation from God; and with all his virtues and righteousness. He shows him his sins, his sloth and indifference regarding the salvation and good of people, his self-seeking in his apparently most disinterested virtues, his coarse selfishness even where he does not suspect it. To be brief, the Holy Spirit shows him everything as it really is. Then a person begins to have true humility, begins to lose hope in his own powers and virtues, regards himself as the worst of men.

And when a person humbles himself before Jesus Christ Who alone is Holy in the glory of God the Father, he begins to repent truly, and resolves never again to sin but to live more carefully. And if he really has some virtues, then he sees clearly that he practiced and practices them only with the help of God, and therefore he begins to put his trust only in God.

~ St. Innocent of Irkutsk, Indication of the Way Into the Kingdom of Heaven

Posted in Humility | 1 Comment

Humility is Required for Salvation

Having fallen from his heavenly rank through pride, the devil constantly strives to bring down also all those who wholeheartedly wish to approach the Lord; and he uses the same means which caused his own downfall, that is pride and love of vainglory. These and similar things are the means by which the demons fight us and hope to separate us from God.

Moreover, knowing that he who loves his brother loves also God, they put into our hearts hatred of one another – and this to such degree that at times a man cannot bear to see his brother or say a word to him. Many have performed truly great labors of virtue, but have ruined themselves through folly. It would not be surprising if the same thing were to happen to you too; if, for example, having cooled towards active work, you begin to imagine that you already possess virtues. For there you have already fallen into that devilish disease (high opinion of yourself), thinking that you are close to God and are in the light, whereas in actual fact you are in darkness.

What made our Lord Jesus Christ lay aside his garments, gird himself with a towel, and, pouring water into a basin, begin to wash the feet of those who were below Him, if not to teach us humility? For it was humility He showed us by example of what He then did. And indeed those who want to be accepted into the foremost rank cannot achieve this otherwise than through humility; for in the beginning the thing that caused downfall from heaven was a movement of pride. So, if a man lacks extreme humility, if he is not humble with all his heart, all his mind, all his spirit, all his soul and body – he will not inherit the kingdom of God.

~ St Anthony the Great, “Early Fathers From the Philokalia,” by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, (London: Faber and Faber, 1954), pp. 45-46

Posted in Humility | Leave a comment

Seeing Yourself

Stephanos had once described to me how, one day, during a state of deep prayer, he foolishly asked God to reveal to him how he actually looked spiritually. That invocation triggered in Stephanos a negative mystical experience that led him into great despair. It plunged him into a nightmare. Erato explained to us that he almost went mad and could not keep from weeping continuously for six months. A sociable man with a wide circle of friends, Stephanos could not even appear in public because he could not control his ceaseless crying and weeping. He told me that he felt like the foulest garbage dump. He rushed to Father Maximos, who, after hearing what had happened, reprimanded him for making such a request of God. “Not even the most experienced hermits of Mount Athos would dare ask God such a thing,” he told Stephanos. It took months of close and constant monitoring and guidance from Father Maximos before Stephanos came back to his senses.

Kyriacos C. Markides, Gifts of the Desert: (New York: Doubleday, 2005), pp. 210-211.

Posted in Humility, Prayer | Leave a comment
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 230 other followers