EXPAND YOUR READING!!

"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Monday, 30 April 2018

LIVING EUCHARISTICALLY: THE KAVASILAS OPTION and DOROTHY DAY

The Kavasilas Option
by 
Fr. Micah Hirschy   
St. Nicholas Kavasilas


Much has been written in the last couple of years concerning the “Benedict Option.” People have found inspiration in it as well as a great deal to criticize about both the movement and Rod Dreher’s book. The historicity and theology of the book are questionable. The dire picture painted is difficult not to dismiss when every Orthodox Church echoes with Christ is Risen from the dead, by death trampling down death. However, what is perhaps needed is not another criticism or debate about the “Benedict Option.” Instead, the time has come to explore another “Option.” This Option is rooted in the Gospel and found in the 2nd-century letter to Diognetus as well as the novels of Dostoyevsky. In contemporary times, it has been incarnated by a diversity of people that include Mother Maria Skobtsova and St. Porphyrios. This is the Kavasilas Option.

St. Nicholas Kavasilas lived during the 14th century in the twilight of what has become known as the Byzantine Empire. The empire was besieged on the outside by the Muslims to the East and the Latins to the West. Within the empire were turmoil, civil wars, and uprisings. Religious controversies touched nearly every aspect of society. Nicholas was in the middle of it all. He was a scientist and theologian. He was a close friend to St. Gregory Palamas and was an advisor to emperors. He counted among his friends both Hesychasts and humanists. St. Nicholas wrote about the Liturgy and the Mysteries while contemporary scholarship is all but certain he remained a layman his entire life. Far from removing himself from society, there does not seem to be any area of society and culture with which he was not fully engaged.

The Kavasilas Option begins with the Liturgy. St. Nicholas was quite clear in saying that everything needed is given in the Liturgy; a person can add nothing to what Christ has given in the sacred Mysteries. At the same time, it is necessary and depends on the person to preserve what has been given. St. Nicholas believed that this was done by reflecting on Christ and meditating upon the Law of the Spirit which is love. Olivier Clement puts it quite succinctly when he writes that Kavasilas 

“recommends brief meditations to those living in his day, reminders in a way to remember, within the time it takes to put one foot in front of the other, that God exists and that He loves us” (Three Prayers, 32). 

Here there is no self-exile or removal from society. St. Nicholas teaches that these meditations can be done by all and in every place: 

“The general may remain in command, the farmer may till the soil… one need not betake oneself to a remote spot, nor eat unaccustomed food, nor even dress differently... It is possible for one who stays at home and loses none of his possessions to constantly be engaged in the Law of the Spirit [Love]" (Life in Christ, 173-174).

At first glance this might seem a bit simple if not naïve. Go to Liturgy and throughout the week reflect on Christ’s love? St. Nicholas distilling a thousand years of ascetic praxis explained that every action comes from desire and that desire begins with reflection. Christ’s love is reflected on and this turns into desire to be with Christ which leads to actions pleasing to Him. People will act not out of fear of punishment or desire for reward but out of love for Christ.

It is important to remember that these reflections and meditations on Christ throughout the days and weeks can never be independent from the Eucharistic gathering. It is the Ecclesial experience of Christ in the shared meal that is remembered in the midst of the world and daily life and in a very real sense is brought into the world through this remembrance.  The Eucharist is never independent of the world because it is carried into the world, relationships, politics, and encounters with culture. In fact St. Nicholas writes that the bread and wine offered in the Liturgy are themselves the fruit of human labor, culture, and are products of daily life.

The Kavasilas option is the “Eucharisteite in all circumstances” of St. Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians (5:18). From this remembering and reflecting, born of these meditations on Christ’s manic love and the experience of the liturgy a eucharisticizing of the world takes place. This is spoken of beautifully by Olivier Clement: 

“There is a particular way of washing, a way of dressing, of being nourished—whether through food or beauty—a way of welcoming one’s neighbor that is Eucharistic. It seems to me that there is also a Eucharistic way of fulfilling our dull, tiresome and repetitive daily tasks" (Three Prayers, 29).

What is the Kavasilas Option in the end? It is to be truly human. 

“It was for the new man [Christ] that human nature was created at the beginning…Our reason we have received in order that we may know Christ, our desire in order that we might hasten to Him. We have memory in order that we may carry Him in us" (Life in Christ, 190).
 The great wonder of Kavasilas’ teaching is that when people live as they were created to live they become, “as a people of gods surrounding God" (Life in Christ, 166). Because Christ:

Gives them birth, growth, and nourishment; he is life and breath.  By means of Himself He forms an eye for them and, in addition, gives them light and enables them to see Himself.  He is the one who feeds and is Himself the food… Indeed, He is the One who enables us to walk, He Himself is the way, and in addition He is the lodging on the way and its destination… (Life in Christ, 47).

Fr. Micah Hirschy is priest at Holy Trinity Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Birmingham, Alabama.

Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

Public Orthodoxy | April 27, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Tags: Benedict Option, Fr. Micah Hirshy, Nicholas Kavasilas, Rod Dreher | Categories: Church and Public Life | URL: https://wp.me/p6DEZQ-17I

ORTHODOX PASCHAL CANON


THEY KNEW HIM IN THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD: DOROTHY DAY AND THE EUCHARIST 

Jessica Keating
M.Div. Candidate, University of Notre Dame


The liturgy is not merely something one “does” or “performs,” but something one lives and embodies in the concrete circumstances of the world.  Pope Benedict XVI, in God Among Us, argues that the reality of the Eucharist makes pressing corporeal demands.

The Lord gives himself to us in bodily form. That is why we must likewise respond to him bodily. That means above all that the Eucharist must reach out beyond the limits of the church itself in the manifold forms of service to men and women and to the world. But it also means that our religion, our prayer, demands bodily expression. Because the Lord, the Risen One, gives us himself in the Body, we have to respond in soul and body. (Benedict XVI)

It is this eucharistic reality which Day strove to embody, convicted of the fact that one cannot go to church, sing with the children, hear the homily of the day, partake of the bread of life, the Word made flesh, hear the Gospel, the Word of God, without allowing what one has received to overflow in loving service for one’s fellows (Day, CW 1949, 5.8).  One’s entire corporeal existence is involved in worship and one is likewise obligated, through the grace poured out in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross at Calvary and made real and present in the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” through the “unbloodied repetition of the Sacrifice of the Cross” to inhabit the mystery of divine charity which is kenosis (Peter Maurin in Zwick 63; Corbon 241).  To say that God’s grace merely invites one to action is limpid, and lacks the bite of the Gospel.  Grace demands, shocks, and disorients.  Articulating these concrete demands, Day writes:

Every house should have a Christ’s room. The coat which hangs in your closet belongs to the poor. If your brother comes to you hungry and you say, Go be thou filled, what kind of hospitality is that? It is no use turning people away to an agency, to the city or the state or the Catholic Charities. It is you yourself who must perform the works of mercy. … Often you can literally take off a garment if it only be a scarf and warm some shivering brother. But personally, at a personal sacrifice, these were the ways Peter used to insist, to combat the growing tendency on the part of the State to take over. The great danger was the State taking over the job which our Lord Himself gave us to do, “Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. (Day, CW 1947, 1.3)



God’s grace pressed upon her compelling a personal response, one in which the “mystery of divine love” expressed and actualized in the liturgy became “coextensive” with her life (Corbon 241).  This love, which God extends to humanity, permeates “the depths of the heart […with] the power of the crucified and risen Lord,” and is fully realized “when it inspires us to enter into the depths of the world of sin, where love is not yet the conqueror of death” (241).

In The Wellspring of Worship, Jean Corbon remarks,
 “The kenosis of love is revealed to us in the Bible as a mystery of poverty…In his person as the Son Jesus reveals to us that God is poor; for Jesus ‘has’ nothing; he receives everything ‘from’ the Father” (241-42).  The Eucharist, therefore, quite literally “commits us to the poor” (CCC §1397). 
Day, witnessing to this reality, wrote:

The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him.  It is the only way we have of knowing and being in our love.  The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love. (CW, 1956, 2)

She distinguished, however, supernaturally efficacious poverty from “pagan poverty.” The former involves “putting on Christ” while the latter undertaken out of selfishness.  

Poverty is no good supernaturally if it is a pagan poverty for the sake of the freedom involved, though that is good, naturally speaking. Poverty is good, because we share the poverty of others, we know them and so love them more. Also, by embracing poverty we can give away to others. If we eat less, others can have more. If we pay less rent, we can pay the rent of a dispossessed family. If we go with old clothes, we can clothe others. We can perform the corporal works of mercy by embracing poverty.  If we embrace poverty we put on Christ. If we put off the world, if we put the world out of our hearts, there is room for Christ within. (Day, CW 1944, 1, 2, 7)

Day lived out the mystery of Christ in the poor, practicing the works of mercy.  During the 1971 interview on Christopher Closeup, when asked how the soup lines got started, Day matter-of-factly explained:

Our Lord left himself to us as food: bread and wine.  The disciples at Emmaus knew him in the breaking of bread and so it’s far easier to see Christ in your brother when you are sitting down and sharing soup with him.  You don’t any longer see the destitute, or the drunk, or the disorderly, or the unworthy poor. (Christopher Closeup, 1971)

Furthermore, 
 “[w]hen you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them.  God sees Christ in His Son, in us and loves us.  And so we should see Christ in others, and nothing else, and love them” (Day, Pilgrimage 124).   
She considered all her life as a meeting with Christ.  “In performing the works of mercy […] she met Christ in human guise.  In the Eucharist […] she met Christ disguised in word and human symbol [and] received him sacramentally, and was intimately transformed by him (Merriman 98).   Her imagination, so radically reoriented and shaped by the Eucharistic sacrifice, allowed her to see in the daily life of the homeless the laborious and lonely journey to Calvary: 

“Here starts their long weary trek to as to Calvary.  They meet no Veronica on their way to relieve their tiredness nor is there a Simon of Cyrene to relieve the burden of the cross (Day, Loaves 37).

The liturgical movement, which profoundly affected Day’s understanding of the unity of the life of worship and the life of work, advanced the idea that there was no bifurcation between the activities in which relate Christians to God, sacred actions on the one hand and secular actions on the other (Corbon 204).  Unlike the Old Covenant, in which “worship did not contain the saving events within it but simply remembered them [and] its morality aimed at conformity with the events but did not flow from them as from a present source,” the New Covenant celebrated in the liturgy “does not offer us a model that is then to be imitated in the rest of life”; rather the “Christ whom we celebrate is the identical Christ by whom we live”  (203-04).  There are not two radically heterogeneous realities; rather there is but one reality with two distinctive aspects, in which the mystery of Christ “permeates both celebration and life” (204).  The liturgical movement expressed the continuity between moral and cultic life, and Day adopted Fr. Virgil Michel’s attitude that “our responsibility for the poor, believer or not, flows from the fact that we are connected to one another in the mystical Body of Christ and the Eucharist (Day, Pilgrimage 36).  In other words, Day believed that one ought to live in conformity to the mystery of Christ’s kenosis and love expressed in the Eucharist.

This is the one whose body we eat and whose blood we drink; the one who, when we commune in the Eucharist takes us out of ourselves and assimilates us into him, so “that we become one with him and, through him, with the fellowship of our brethren” (Benedict XVI 78).  Pope Benedict explains that the Eucharist reverses what normally occurs when we take in nourishment.  “In the normal process of eating,” he remarks, “the human being is the stronger being.  He takes things in, and they are assimilated into him, so that they become part of his own substance.  They are transformed within him and go to build up his bodily life” (Benedict XVI).  But by taking in the Eucharist, Christ subsumes us into his Body, so that we might not merely imitate, but participate in his poverty, his self-emptying love.

For Day one did not live the liturgy individually in isolation from others.  In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, she recalls:

I had heard many say that they wanted to worship God in their way and did not need a Church in which to praise Him, nor a body of people with whom to associate themselves.  But I did not agree to this.  My very experience as a radical, my whole make-up, led me to want to associate myself with others, with the masses, in loving and praise God.  Without even looking into the claims of the Catholic Church, I was willing to admit that for me she was the one true Church. (139)

Like all human persons, Day had a deep and abiding desire for communion with God, which as the very nature of God reveals, is necessarily relational.  Her involvement with the radical movement and the “sense of solidarity” she experience therein enabled Day to “gradually understand the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ whereby we are members of one another” (149).  Partaking in the liturgy imbued her with the sense of “Eucharistic communion,” which she then extended to the entire human community (Corbon 205).  Thus, Day asserts that
 “[w]e cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.  We know him in the breaking of the bread, and we are not alone anymore” (Day, Long 285).
An Interview with Dorothy Day's Granddaughter 




Saturday, 28 April 2018

5th SUNDAY AFTER EASTER




GOSPEL                John 15:1-8
Jesus said to his disciples:  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.  He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.  You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.  Remain in me, as I remain in you.  Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.  Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.  By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER 

When I was a child in the pew at Sunday Mass, my mother would often warn us to “catch the blessing” when the priest was about to conclude the Mass. One Sunday, after I had become a server, I carried the missal to the priest for the solemn blessing, and as he extended his hands to bless the people, I caught the backside of one hand on my cheek. My mother exclaimed after Mass, “You really caught the blessing today!”

I often think of this humorous incident when a particular theme in the prayers and readings of a Sunday is as obvious as a smack in the face. This happens to be one of those Sundays. In the Collect we pray that the baptized may “bear much fruit.” Then, in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that great fruit was being born in the infant Church which “grew in numbers” through the Holy Spirit. Then, in the Gospel from Saint John, five times our Lord talks about “bearing much fruit.”

Ultimately the fruit that Christ spoke about was spiritual fruit – souls for God’s Kingdom. This presupposes Christian spouses being generous in welcoming new life into the world. One of the Prefaces in the Rite of Marriage prays, “By your providence and grace, O Lord, you accomplish the wonder of this twofold design: that, while the birth of children brings beauty to the world, their rebirth in Baptism gives increase to the Church.”

But spiritual fruit also depends upon men and women who embrace continence for the Kingdom of Heaven – men and women who forego earthly marriage and procreation in order to become spiritually fruitful. The ministry, prayers, works, and sacrifices of those called to virginity bears great fruit in the members of the Body of Christ – fruit that we will see clearly only on the Last Day. “We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end” (CCC 1040).

This is demonstrated most perfectly in the Blessed Virgin Mary. The fruit of her virginal womb – the Son of God made flesh – teaches us that virginity, like marriage, has an important place in God’s plan for His people. She was joined in virginal fruitfulness by Saint Joseph. Together they welcomed the Son of God into their midst. As St. John Paul II teaches, “Only Mary and Joseph, who lived the mystery of [Christ’s] birth, became the first witnesses of a fruitfulness different from that of flesh, that is, the fruitfulness of the Spirit” (TOB 75:2).

I remember being struck by this lesson about the spiritual fruitfulness of celibacy just a few years into my priesthood. I was traveling to a conference for priests in Dallas. Along the way, I visited former parishioners who had moved to Texarkana for a few days. Then I stayed with the relatives of another parish family in Dallas, before joining a number of other priests at the seminary for the conference. Lastly, I drove to Alabama to preach a retreat hosted by an order of religious sisters I had come to know on my first retreat after ordination. I would have known none of these people – nor been welcomed into their homes – had I not promised celibacy for the Kingdom on the day of my ordination. Already, after just a few years of priesthood, I already experienced the “hundredfold” that Our Lord promised to those who give up everything to follow Him (cf. Mt 19:28-29).


Marriage and virginity seem to rise and fall together. At the same time as the sexual revolution bore its ugly fruit in fornication, adultery, abortion, and divorce, numbers of priests and religious plummeted in our country. The good fruit of saints for the Kingdom of Heaven depends upon generous spouses and generous virgins. Let us pray for new, holy, persevering vocations to Christian marriage, priesthood, and religious life, for “by this is my Father glorified” (Jn 15:8).


Father David Skillman  is a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He serves as the pastor of St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church in Kirwood, Missouri. Father Skillman is a Certification student with TOBI and has attended numerous courses. You can access audios of Father Skillman’s homilies through: http://frskillman.podbean.com/


I AM THE VINE, YE ARE THE BRANCHES. FROM A SERMON ON HOLY AND GREAT THURSDAY
Hieromonk Pavel (Scherbachev)
my source: Orthodox Christianity
    
Today, brothers and sisters, on Great and Holy Thursday we remember the Last Supper, when our Lord Jesus Christ established the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and served the first Divine Eucharist, giving his disciples and apostles His Most Pure Body and Blood in the image of bread and wine.

The services of Great Lent are filled with Old Testament images and symbolic stories, many of which prophetically point to the great gift of Christ’s Holy Mysteries, through which mortal man, easily inclined toward sin, enters into communion, into the closest union with his Creator and Redeemer.

At the Vespers we have just served, we heard the story of God’s Prophet Moses’s ascent on Mt. Sinai. There God appeared to him in the sound of thunder and the flash of lightening. But the prophet and God-seer could not converse with God face to face, for the veil of the Old Testament had not been removed from his eyes. Nevertheless, as the prefiguring of the future Sacrament of Communion, to Moses and the people of Israel was sent manna—heavenly bread, which filled them in the desert.

According to the words of the Psalmist David, the Lord rained upon them manna to eat, and gave them the bread of heaven. Man ate the bread of angels (Ps. 78 23-25). And Christ speaks of old Israel: Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. And he continues about the new grace: This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die (Jn. 6:49-50).

Exegetists of Holy Scripture see in the bread and wine with which the mysterious priest of the Most High God Melchisedek, who was a sign of Christ, met Abraham, as the prefiguring of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

There are many other indications and prophecies.

Also the righteous Job, the chosen of God, about whom we heard in another Old Testament reading, prefigured Christ the Savior, so that his loving servants said, Oh that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied (Job 31:31). But, as St. John Chrysostom theologizes, this longing “was given to us by Christ, leading us to exceedingly great love, and He showed His love to us, allowing those who desire it not only to see Him, but also to touch Him, and take Him as food and be united with Him, fulfilling every desire.”

Today’s services call us as we come to the divine Sacrament to lift up our minds on high to God: “Come ye faithful and with minds uplifted, delight in the Master’s hospitality and the immortal table in the upper room.”[1]

Truly in coming, albeit not to the high mountain of Sinai but to the Christian church to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we depart from our usual spiritual rails and onto a certain paradoxical dimension. As mortal men, subject to the laws of space and time, we are as if transported into the next life, becoming communicants of the eternal trapeza in the never-waning day of the Kingdom of God. Although we are sinners, we enter into the highest degree of communion with the All-Holy Lord, uniting with Him as closely and inseparably as the body is united with the head. As sons of Adam according to flesh and blood, from our new progenitor, Christ, already here on earth we receive a supernatural image—in place of the corruptible flesh and blood inherited through the fall, we receive the Body and Blood that is divine and incorruptible.

Even the Sacrament itself does not fit into the ordinary logic of human comprehension. For, the Priest, the Great Hierarch Jesus Christ, in serving the Holy Eucharist brings Himself as a sacrifice—as the clergy read the secret prayer: He Who is both Sacrificed and Sacrificer.

The bishop or priest serves the Sacrament through God’s grace; he himself is praying as Jesus Christ Himself, the true Server of the Liturgy, and Christ works through him.

In approaching Christ’s holy Mysteries, let us remember that the exceedingly great gift given to mankind, the gift of union with God in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, is not acquired by human labors, it is not the fruit of ascetical labors, but a gift from on high, coming down from the Father of lights. And this gift is given freely through God’s ineffable love for the human race.

Of course, we must thank the Lord for His mercy to us sinners. Even the word itself, Eucharist, means in the Greek, “thanksgiving.”

At the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, in which we are participating now, the priests read certain prayers. In these prayers, the entire history of the world takes places before us. We thank God that He has created this world and man, that He has brought each one of us to life, that for the sake of each of us He became man, suffered and died on the cross. We thank God that He descended into hell, so that the Gospel would be preached there, in order to bring out those who were kept there. We thank God that He rose from the dead, so that together with Himself He would resurrect all of us, and that He served this Mystical Supper, in which in the form of bread and wine He has given us His Body and Blood for Communion.

We can preserve this divine flame that we have received in the Sacrament of Communion, by preserving this prayerful thanksgiving in our everyday lives. This will help us in our struggle with passions and sinful habits. Even when we are assailed by sorrows, sicknesses, and all kinds of unpleasantness in life, let us not forget to thank the Lord.

We remember Christ’s words, I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (Jn. 15:1-6).

If we are the branches of Christ’s Vine, it means that we are fed with the juices of this Vine, just as ordinary grapevines are fed by the juices they receive from their roots. We cannot live, we cannot exist without this mystical nourishment from the Vine of Christ, the branches of which Christ has vouchsafed us to be.

What are these juices of Christ’s Vine? They are His Blood, His Body, which He has commanded us to eat and drink. If we will not be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, then, as the Lord said, we will have no life in us, and He will not abide in us and us in Him.

Hieromonk Pavel (Scherbachev)


4/10/2015



The Vine and Branches


What is the job description of a vinedresser? The definition of vinedresser is “an agriculturalist who cultivates and prunes grapevines”. Pruning is one of the most important job of a vinedresser. A vinedresser is involved in daily pruning of grapevines, to help ensure that vineyard has a successful crop. Pruning is critical in the grape production system. The reasons for pruning include deadwood removal, controlling and directing the growth by pinching off the tip, reducing risk of falling branches by topping the larger branches etc – all resulting in increasing the yield or quality of fruits and flowers. 

In the Scripture, there are some interesting references to vine, vineyard, vinedresser and pruning. John 15:1-2 says

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

Here Jesus is making the last of the seven ‘I AM’ declarations recorded in John, the prior ones being

I AM the bread of life (John 6:35)
I AM the light of world (John 8:12)
I AM the door (John 10:9)
I AM the good shepherd (John 10:11)
I AM the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
I AM the way, truth and the life (John 14:6)
I AM the true vine (John 15:1)

The last declaration is recorded as an extended metaphor where Jesus is symbolizing the true vine to Himself, branches to believers, and fruits to Spiritual fruits and Father to gardener or vinedresser. Let us examine these symbolisms as applied to our daily life.

Vine and branches not bearing fruits

What does God expect from us as ‘branches’ in the vine? We are expected to bear Fruits of Spirit -  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5: 22-23). The branches which do not bear fruits are cut-off from the vine by the gardener. Those who are called to be Christians are given a stern warning here to check our lives and review our association with the vine - Jesus. The association with Jesus needs to be real and fruit bearing, by carrying Him in our hearts.



Vine and branches bearing good fruits

What about the branches that bear fruits? After talking about branches that bear no fruits, Jesus moves on to talk about the branches that do bear fruits.

Spiritual pruning will be done by the Father on the fruitful branches. This pruning might hurt, because it can come in the form of sickness, hardships, or loss of material assets. It could be persecution from non-believers. It can come in the form of losing loved ones or losing jobs or a combination of difficulties. If we look upon trials and problems as pruning done by our loving Vinedresser, then our approach to problems will be very different. We will not lapse into fear, disappointment, complaining or brooding if we consider the difficulties as techniques implemented on us to bear more spiritual fruits. In fact, hardships are the right of a Christian.

Vines producing bad fruits

What would a vinedresser do to a vine that does not produce the best fruits?  It will be removed to give space for a better vine to grow. In the Song of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5: 1-7), Isaiah explains this situation of bad fruits.

1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.  2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.  3 "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.  4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?  5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.  6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it."  7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
In the Old Testament, Vine is referred for the entire Israel and God is the vinedresser. Vines bearing bad fruits would face destruction was the warning given to Israel. Today, as followers of Christ, we are already protected from that destruction. The vine for Christians is already there, established by God by sending his only son Jesus.


We – as branches – should just abide to Jesus, accept the continuous pruning techniques applied on us by Father and keep producing the best Spiritual fruits. During this, we will be subjected to variety of trials and hardships where Satan will use discouragement or disappointment or depression as the tools to turn us away from God. Joseph, Moses, Naomi, Job, David, Jonah, Elijah, Jeremiah are great examples of lives who came out of such tests successfully. Let us trust in the grace of God, go to Him in prayer, read His Word and choose to see hand of God in everything that takes place in our life.


Thursday, 26 April 2018

A VISIT FROM THREE SISTERS OF MERCY FROM MINSK and SUBSEQUENT THOUGHTS AND MEMORIES

Sisters Anna, Veronica and Helen with me

Last night and today we had the great privilege of a visit from three "Sisters of Mercy" from the Russian Orthodox Convent of St Elizabeth the Royal Martyr in Minsk, Belarus.   They were on a tour to sell products of St Elizabeth's Convent to support their work among physically and mentally handicapped children, handicapped adults, those who have come out of mental hospital, those out of prison and alcoholics.  I had been looking forward to their visit ever since my abbot, Fr Paul, gave me the news after I had returned from Peru.  I am still in a happy mood after their visit and am looking forward to the next time I visit Belarus.

Because God is Love and the Christian life is a sharing in his divine life, God manifests his life in the world where Christian love is exercised.  


"A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13, 35)"That they may be one, as thou Father in me and I in thee, may they be one in us that the world may know that thou hast sent me. (Jn 17,)"   

The Church is visible to the world only in so far as Christian love is visible: without Christian love, the Church plays power games like any other institution and is seen by the world as nothing special and so it renders God's presence opaque to the world.

It is the function of Christ's body on earth to make God's presence in Christ  visible but, in every generation, there are people for whom this is their special vocation.

 In the 19th Century, Father Damian did this by sharing his life with lepers in the leper colony of Molokai. 

Robert Louis Stevenson visited Molokai in 1889 shortly after Saint Father Damien’s death (April 1889). He spent eight days there assisting Sister Marianne Cope (also canonized) with the lepers (much to her chagrin, for the author himself then had TB and could have easily  contracted the disease in that weakened state). Not long afterwards (actually four years before his own death in 1894), Stevenson came to the defense of Father Damien in a scathing letter (well worth his literary skills and flair for righteous sarcasm), an Open Letter it turned out to be, to a Presbyterian Rev. Mr. Hyde of Honolulu.  Hyde had viciously calumniated Father Damien, soon after the saint’s death, in a letter to an inquiring fellow Presbyterian minister, a Rev. Gage, that was subsequently published that October, 1889, in an Australian newspaper, the Sydney Presbyterian. The reason that Gage had inquired of Hyde for information about Father Damien was that the whole world was then praising the deceased priest’s  charity and heroism. Stevenson (himself a Presbyterian) had read that letter while staying in Australia. That same paper refused to carry the famous writer’s rebuttal. That is why Stevenson published it as an Open Letter which, on account of his prestige, was read everywhere in the English speaking world. He affirmed that he had an obligation in justice to defend the good name of the priest of Molokai. (Catholicism.org)
 Father Damien challenged the anti-Catholicism of Mr Hyde by the quality of his love because it is the kind of love that manifests the presence of the Holy Spirit, and, as St Irenaeus tells us, "Where the Holy Spirit is, there is the Church."

The Sisters of Mercy also impressed the world and manifested the true nature of Catholicism by their incredible work in educating the poor, in and nursing the sick among the most disadvantaged and suffering.  In the 19th century no situation was too difficult nor job too dangerous for them.  In fact, Florence Nightingale  invited them to nurse the troops in the Crimean War. Their reputation as nurses under fire, as people of incredible strength of character, self-forgetfulness, courage and practical love, both at the front in the war and in the United States under the most adverse conditions, was an inspiration to others.  Soon there were Anglican Sisters of Mercy, Lutheran Sisters of Mercy and, later on, even Russian Orthodox Sisters of Mercy.  Like Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters in the 20th Century, they demonstrated to the world that the Gospel is not just words but a lived reality in which people on earth become a window into heaven.


Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, later Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia (Russian: Елизавета Фëдоровна Романова, Elizabeth Feodorovna Romanova; canonized as Holy Martyr Elizabeth Feodorovna; 1 November 1864 – 18 July 1918) was a German princess of the House of Hesse-Darmstadt, and the wife of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, the fifth son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia and Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine. 
She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and hence a maternal great-aunt of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the consort of Queen Elizabeth II.(Wikipedia)



 The young princess grew up to be very beautiful, and at the age of nineteen, married a Grand-Duke of Russia, Sergei Alexandrovich. Through Elizabeth’s marriage, her sister Alexandra was to meet and marry another Russian, the future Tsar Nicholas II. On moving to Russia to live with her husband, Elizabeth, who had always loved God, was soon drawn to Orthodox Christianity, intuitively perceiving the deep spirituality of the Russian Orthodox Church. Sorrowfully accepting the disapproval of her Lutheran relations, she converted in 1891.

In 1905, as civil unrest grew in Russia, Elizabeth’s husband was blown to pieces in an explosion by an anarchist assassin. Amazingly, the day after the murder, Elizabeth went to the prison and forgave the murderer, fervently urging him to repent of his crime. To the complete incomprehension of those around her she even tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to secure him a reprieve from execution. The tragedy was a turning point in Elizabeth’s life. Her husband’s death was a solemn reminder of the fragility of all human life, and she abandoned completely the luxurious life of a royal dignitary.

After much prayer and soul-searching, she decided to found a monastic community, the convent of Sts Martha and Mary at her estate in Moscow. The convent, which opened in 1909, was funded by the sale of all her precious jewels. It was a place of prayer and practical service, with two churches, a hospital and dispensary, lodging house, orphanage, library and soup kitchen. The sisters also worked with the poor and sick in the slums of Moscow. Elizabeth lived a very self-denying lifestyle, eating only bread and vegetables, and always rising in the middle of the night to pray, and to check her patients, so that she never had much of a chance to rest herself. 

The Russian Revolution in 1917 led to a terrible persecution of Christians. Churches and monasteries were destroyed and priests, monks and nuns tortured and killed. Against the advice she was given, Elizabeth chose to stay in Russia, and to face the inevitable fate of an abbess and member of the royal family- martyrdom. This came the following year, when she was imprisoned at Alapayevsk with other members of the aristocracy. One of the novices, Sister Barbara, would not leave her spiritual mother and stayed with the abbess despite being warned of the consequences. Thus Barbara chose death rather than desertion.

After four months on 5 July 1918, the night after the murder of the Tsar and his family, the prisoners were thrown into a shaft at a disused iron mine. None of them were killed by the fall, but were preserved by God to audibly sing hymns. Even the attempts of the soldiers to finally end their lives using hand grenades were unsuccessful, and the singing continued for some time, despite burning brushwood being thrown down the shaft.
© Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. 05 August, 2013

When the bodies were recovered a few days later by the White Army, Elizabeth’s was found to be incorrupt, the fingers placed together in the traditional position for making the Sign of the Cross. One of the other prisoners, John, was found beside her with her monastic veil wrapped around his injured head as a bandage. By this, the former grand duchess expressed her love and care for others, even in the last moments of her earthly life.

We now jump to the time when Communism collapsed and grace rushed in to fill the vacuum.  Reference to a fuller account of that story can be found here.

I suppose it all began in 1994 with a group of four pious ladies who decided to do something about a mental hospital in Minsk. The Soviet Atheistic Empire had come apart, and the newly independent state of Belarus was enjoying religious freedom and believers were trying to express their commitment to Christ in the quality of their love. Perhaps because of an atheistic philosophy which sees no value in the mentally sick, there were few institutions more inhuman in the Russian Communist territory than their mental hospitals. Even when they were well run, they were places where people abandoned their mentally handicapped relatives to a purposeless and boring existence, unloved and forgotten. This brings us to the pious ladies and their mental hospital in Minsk. This group of deeply Christian women decided to bring Christian love into the local mental institution. Some became constant visitors, some went to work there. They combined their commitment to the mentally sick with assistance at the Divine Liturgy and devotion to the Jesus Prayer. They called themselves "the Sisterhood of The Glorious New Martyr, the Grand Duchess St Elizabeth" or just "Sisters of Mercy" in remembrance of St Elizabeth.

 As their numbers swelled, so did their works. They widened their service to include other hospitals, care of ex-prisoners, children's orphanages, drug addicts etc. Quite obviously, they were being blessed by God.  There are now over 300 Sisters of Mercy, not bad for a community that only began in 1994!!


What is more: two sisters of mercy adopted the monastic habit in 1999 and they are now an abbey of around a hundred nuns with four impressive churches and the same number of liturgical and professional choirs that have made records and won prizes.  Very early on, the community opened a workshop for iconography and attracted painters of icons from all over Belarus, as well as from foreign countries.  Soon, some of the male artists put on the monastic habit, so there is now a small but growing community of monks.  If that were not enough, many lay people, men and women, married, single and celibate, have been attracted into the various activities of the convent and work and pray there permanently.  Some have gone on to the seminary and some have become deacons and priests attached to St Elizabeth's Convent, but many are content to remain ordinary lay people who, in their various ways and in different degrees are "brothers" and "sisters" of the convent.  
inmates of the home for ex-prisoners etc
after the Divine Liturgy in their church

As if this variety were not enough, there is a home for ex-prisoners, ex-mental patients, alcoholics and vulnerable adults.  One inmate was in prison for twenty eight years for multiple murders. On my visit I met a layman who lives as an inmate even though he belongs to none of the categories for whom the home exists: he just likes the simple life they lead. This community has its own beautiful church, and the Divine Liturgy is celebrated every Sunday with the opportunity for confession.  In the last two years, another home has started, this time for females who need such a place.   Its church is still under construction.   All these are "brothers" and "sisters" of the wider community that is St Elizabeth' Convent.

In this video, filmed at the 15th anniversary of the nuns' convent, already with a hundred nuns (called locally "black nuns" because of the colour of their veil) and a few monks - the "sisters of mercy" are called "white nuns" and are 300 in number and six years older.   They live at home with their families.  Some are married but most are not.  Wearing the habit obliges them to live a strict Christian life, and they work full time in the work of the convent.
15th anniversary of St Elizabeth's Convent


The Path of Love 
(An Introduction to the life)

The White Angel of Minsk

(Feast of St Elizabeth the New and Royal Martyr)



I did not knowThe Other Land: A Conversation with Fr. Andrei Lemeshonok
DMITRY ARTIUKH | 06 JULY 2013

On this land, in this transient world, we often look for something, we want something – but we ourselves do not know what. We grow confused, we get scared, we condemn others, we act out… Our soul goes through many such states. It’s good if these states pass quickly, without finding a place in our hearts. But something else can also happen: we begin to be led by sin, which cuts us off from the light. If we do not ask for God’s help in time, we can lose our minds. But just what is a “mind”? Who in this world is intelligent and who is bereft of reason? When do we act rightly: when we laugh or when we cry? These are difficult questions, and finding answers for them is also difficult, but we will try to do just that with the help of Archpriest Andrei Lemeshonok, spiritual father of  the St. Elizabeth Convent in Minsk.

Fr. Andrei, what is the “other land”?
Archpriest Andres Lemeshonok

The other land is Paradise, which man lost when he lost God. The church building is Heaven on earth. We might say that a church is that other land. If someone becomes a church himself, the land of his body changes. Look at the saints: their bodies are saturated with God’s grace, the source of life; we venerate their holy relics because they possess God’s love, which doesn’t die. The other land is one in which there is neither death nor sin, but where God is present and where God’s blessing is on everything.

Who lives according to the laws of the “other land” in this world?

At some moment, or at some period in his life, everyone probably comes into contact with this land. People who seek God also seek this land, this foundation upon which eternal life can already be built – life in which there is neither pain, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but where God will be in all things. For the time being, we’re battling with ourselves, with the world, and with this temporal land, which is constantly drawing us in and closing us off from Heaven and from one another as we wander in the shadow of sin. Unfortunately, that’s the way people live. Not many people can imagine that there’s anything else: another land, another life, different criteria and goals of life. Most likely, a Christian will find it: God will find him and reveal it to him. But later one has to fight for it, to work hard, and not turn aside or go with the crowd, which might be following the broad paths.

You have a great deal of experience providing spiritual care for people living in homes for the mentally disabled. Where do you see the “other land” in their lives?

When I first visited such a home, I felt that something was off. One breathes differently, hears differently, sees differently… there is some other dimension. And then I understood that there’s no evil in these people. There’s sin – but, you know, like the sin of children. Sin might manifest itself in a child and he might act up – but there is no cunning or deceit, no inner buildup of sin. He right away, forgets, forgives, and goes on playing. He doesn’t live with this sin. But with an adult, the heart grows callous and becomes filled with sin. One can’t overcome the passions one one’s own. One needs help, one needs the Holy Church, one needs the love that allows one to take a deep breath, to break free from one’s ego for at last a moment, and to visit that other land. That’s probably the most important thing.

How do people from that “other land” commune with God?

Like children ­– simply. In terms of development, many of them resemble children of the ages of five to seven. They aren’t bothered by the problems that cause stress for adults. Their behavior can be crude and one shouldn’t idealize these homes – these people are ill – but their illness has in a way preserved and shut them off from this world, while the walls of the homes give them shelter. They lead a different life, which is probably what keeps their souls from being damaged by sin.

They seem crazy to people, these unfortunate people, but for God they come first. If they believe, they believe sincerely, without analyzing or twisting things around, without thinking things up in the way that so-called “normal” people do, who are always getting confused and who torture themselves with doubts, conjectures, and a constant psychic tension that isn’t from God. This kind of life is temporal and human, but not real. For us to be like people who are ill, we need holiness. We need to evolve back into children, but not through primitivism or artificial simplicity, but through the labor of soul and mind. We think, struggle, and seek God; and, through knowledge of this world, we arrive at what we’ve lost by becoming adults, having gone off to a far country where this land is always trying to bury us, to close us off from God’s world and from one another. Therefore, of course, when God is present in someone, he becomes very simple.

How can one learn to do this?

I think that one needs to spend one’s entire life learning this. We have God as a physician, helper, and teacher; we have His love, which makes us capable of overcoming the attractions of this world and resolving all its problems, because in God is the fullness of life. One can’t claim that the first-created people before the Fall were philosophers or sages. They simply lived in God, and in this was the fullness of life they later lost. Unfortunately, they weren’t ready for simplicity, purity, and a right life. In order to arrive at it, humanity probably had to go through many generations in which people suffered and died in hopelessness.
Residents of a Home for the Mentally Disabled in Minsk.

One person says: “I want a car, I want to go to some resort, I want glory and health, I want…” But another person understands that this is all nonsense, and says: “I want there to be peace in my soul and light in my eyes. I want to live eternally. I want to become a human being!” Everything that is sinful and inauthentic is transient, artificial, and deadly. We’re not idealizing these homes. The illness is real. But this illness, this suffering, cleanses their souls and makes them different; it changes them.

But some people say: “Living is easier for people who are abnormal.” What can you say to this?

But here it’s hard to tell who’s normal and who’s abnormal. I think that a believer might have the experience of one minute when he was truly alive. If there was no such moment, then it means there was no life – no real life. It means we’re still clinging to illusions. There are people who spend their entire lives like that, not because God treats them differently than others, but simply because they don’t need it. At some point, their soul couldn’t respond, it couldn’t see the beauty; it became frightened, it hid and lost heart, because drawing nigh to God condemns one to suffering. There are few people who live in this world – who live on those “swine husks” on which the world feeds – that want to taste the life of the holy God-pleasers who suffered, struggled, and were always battling for another land.      

‘Would you like to pray day and night, to suffer for Christ, and to die for Christ?’

‘No. I do believe, but I don’t want to become a fanatic; that’s already too much, it’s not for me. My level of Christian life means lighting a candle, writing a commemoration sheet, perhaps fasting and receiving Communion occasionally. I’m a simple person…’

There used to be a Soviet person; now there’s some other unknown kind of person, but still someone of this world. But when God touches someone, he can no longer be like everyone else. He understands that there’s another life and another land, but you’re digging around in your earthly affairs and problems like a mole. These, too, are necessary, but what does the Lord say? But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33). What does the Church do? It says: “Let us lift up our hearts!” The Church tries to lift us out of this garbage dump in which we’re trying to find something. We’re like bums rummaging around, trying to find something in this trash, some piece of metal. People think of themselves as being strong, rich, noble ­– but this entire life is a garbage dump. The emperor has no clothes! But everyone’s applauding and saying: “Everything is find and good!” Isn’t this some kind of show? Isn’t this a crazy house in which we’re living? But this is acceptable; everyone lives like this. This is what people are taught from generation to generation, so breaking out from this world is very difficult, if not impossible. But God gives man grace, by which he moves and breaks out. There’s no other way we can break out. Sin lives in me, in my every cell; I’ve been taught by sin, I’ve been taught by this world. How can I live?

One needs to repent… 

Real repentance is a revolution, an inner revolution; it’s a change of life, when one becomes different.

It is probably at such moments that the soul wants to give thanks to God. But how? How can one give back to God? 

Create in me a clean heart, O God… Everything that God gives him, he can give back. One can’t give back anything of one’s own. One doesn’t own anything, not a stitch. Not everyone understands that to love someone is a gift of God; that to believe is a gift of God; that humility and patience are also gifts of God. One can only give one’s ego, which nobody needs. What can we give back? Our heart. What condition is it in? God gives so much to us, but we lose it and do not give thanks. We’re at war with God; we argue with Him, we want to prove our point to Him. But God humbles Himself, because He loves us. If we want to love someone, we need to look at how God treats us, and then treat our neighbors likewise.

Can we actually do this? Of course not, so long as we’re egotistical and self-absorbed. We want people to feel sorry for us, to love us, to value us; we want God to give us presents. “Lord, help me! I want this, and this, and this…” But we rarely hear these words: “Lord, take my life and do with me as Thou wilt; only do not leave me!” One almost never hears of people who say: “I am so grateful to God for everything; I’m so happy that I found Him!” Hundreds of people come and grumble: “Everything’s wrong; nothing’s the way it’s supposed to be; everything’s awful.” In this world, in this land, everything’s become so twisted and distorted by sin! But we don’t see this, because we’re part of this sinful life. Breaking away from this part and opening our eyes is difficult, because we’ll turn into idiots. After all Dostoevsky’s “Idiot” was a good character! This person seemed to be saying normal things, but everyone thought he was an idiot.

This is not unlike our life. One can view Christianity as a kind of tradition, or one can view it as something entirely different: as a new life, a new land. But then you’ll be superfluous in this world; the world won’t accept you; it will fight you. Is it worth the fight? “Perhaps I’ll just put up with it. Why should I bother more than anybody else? Everyone’s being rude – why shouldn’t I? Just think, no one can see what I’m thinking.” But a believing person suffers for every thought because he sees how dark he’s become. He sees how a thought has entered him – now how will he get rid of it? He feels pressure, and the further one goes the more pressure there is. Is this easy? No. But one doesn’t want to live any other way. The Lord gives us everything: His love and beauty. The Church gives us everything that is beautiful. Everything that’s inspired has a timeless quality. We need to inspire our life; but we are tired and faint-hearted; we feel sorry for ourselves and therefore we’re all standing in place – but let’s hope for Pascha!

Interview conducted by Dmitry Artiukh.


Father Andrew Lemeshonok celebrating with adults in need at their hostal



A "selfie" of Anton, a lay associate, white sister Olga, and myself 
during my visit in September, 2012

Anton is preparing to go to Canada in May to spread the taste of Orthodoxy by singing in a Minsk choir and selling products from St Elizabeth's Convent.


White Sister Tatania (left) organised my wonderful visit
 with another sister



(On the left) Ivan Nichoporuk, a lay associate, who helped me a lot on my visit, has since married and entered a seminary and has about a year to go.  Very bright indeed, one of his favourite authors is G.K. Chesterton.  We keep in touch.  (He is in the vestments of an altar server)

I believe that the most significant component of the "New Evangelisation" is not what we do but what we allow Christ to do through us by our humble obedience.  One of the chief means is to allow Him to build Christian community with us as his instruments because, where we gather in His Name, there He  is in our midst.   What He does then is up to Him and, once more, we obey.  St Elizabeth's Convent is a stunning example of the "New Evangelisation" at work.  Like the Sisters of Mercy and Fr Damien building community among the lepers in the 19th Century, like Mother Teresa and Taize in modern times, the hand of God is visible to the eyes of faith in this Belarusan convent.






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