"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

Friday, 1 May 2015



In the Orthodox Church saints emerge. No central office in an institution checks, qualifies and certifies a person as a saint. On one reading, we are all saints. The word simply means "set apart" and that's how Christians have understood themselves since ancient times: set apart for service to God in, but not of, the world. "He who truly loves God considers himself a wanderer and newcomer on earth, for in him is a striving towards God in soul and mind, which contemplates God alone." Certain people emerge as standouts in the church. Their chief characteristic is the search to live in the presence of God with every fiber of their being, and to recognize God's presence in creation and humanity.
Such a saint was Seraphim of Sarov, author of the saying quoted above. Seraphim was born Prohor Moshnin in 1759 in Kursk, Russia, to a merchant family, and he showed strong spiritual sensitivity from childhood. After recovering from a childhood illness, he entered the monastery at Sarov in 1778. In 1786 he took final vows to become a monk and received the name Seraphim, which means "fire" or "burning," in part because of his zeal at prayer. After 1793, the year he was ordained a priest of the church, he moved to a forest hermitage five miles north of the monastery, and began to see people as a starets, Russian for "elder," meaning a spiritual director. People flocked to him over the last decades of his life. Early in this period he sustained a severe beating at the hands of robbers, which left him with a hunchback for the rest of his life. At the trial for these men, who had been captured, Seraphim offered them words of forgiveness.
The animals in the forest especially loved Seraphim, and he fed them even as legend says that they fed him, too. Among his animal friends was a bear often depicted with him on one of the icons that commemorate his life. Our annual animal blessing at St Anthony of the Desert Mission this Saturday is in honor of St Seraphim.
St. Seraphim says about faith: "Faith, according to the teachings of St. Antioch, is the beginning of our union with God: the true believers are the stone of the church of God, prepared for the edifice of God the Father, which is raised up to the heights by the power of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Cross and help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). The works of faith (fruits of the Spirit) are love, peace, longsuffering, mercy, humility and bearing one's cross. True faith cannot remain without works. One who truly believes will also surely perform good works."
Central to Seraphim's approach to the faith was the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, which he called the "true goal of the Christian life." He gave his life over to this acquisition through prayer and discipline and he urged the same practice on his visitors. His most remembered saying is, "Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved." Prayer, ascetic discipline and acts of mercy achieve this, over a long time. Seraphim said, "Only deeds performed for Christ give us the fruits of the Holy Spirit."
The Orthodox Church in Russia recognized Seraphim as a Saint in 1903, the 70th year after his death. Orthodox churches around the world held a centennial celebration of his recognition as saint in 2003. People continue to come to pray at the grave of St Seraphim and to experience his presence in their lives in many ways for counsel and healing.
By Fr. Gabriel Rochelle

Fr. Stephen Freeman
Saint Seraphim of Sarov (carved in wood by Aidan Hart
who is Father Alex's teacher)

“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” This is perhaps the most famous quote of the great Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov. Many of his icons have this saying on them. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it. On the other hand, I think there are many who do not understand it. And understanding what he meant can take you to the very heart of Orthodoxy.

“To acquire the Spirit of Peace,” has a wonderful ring to it – and most of us assume that it is the fruit of the great saint’s long years of strict monastic practice. Doubtless many of the gifts of St. Seraphim were manifested in such a powerful fashion on account of his years of silence and prayer.

But his statement on acquiring the Spirit of Peace is not nearly as complicated or mysterious as some might think.

In many ways it is simply an expansion of the Gospel parable of the talents:

For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property;to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, `Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, `Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, `Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, `You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth’ (Mt. 25:14-30).

This very familiar parable is quite odd. Christ is alluding to something in the imagery of the “talents” of silver (or gold). Whatever it is, it has been given freely to the stewards – but the stewards are expected to do something with the gift. It is to be given back, with a profit.

First, the parable is not about talents: piano-playing and the like. Nor is it about public-speaking, or even being a good teacher of children. It is not about talents. It is about a sum of money – but is not a “stewardship” parable in the sense that Christ is not trying to tell us to be sure and make money.

It is a parable about grace, about the Holy Spirit.

St. Seraphim, in his own teaching, would be almost crass. He told his disciples to “acquire the Holy Spirit,” and used the gross comparisons of a businessman investing his money in order to make more. His own father was a merchant. He knew what he was talking about – but the imagery was carried over to the spiritual life – and its goal was supremely described as the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit.”

The larger question then (and it applies to the parable as well): How do we acquire grace – or the Holy Spirit?

Please note that I am not speaking about earning more grace and performing works in order to gain the Holy Spirit.

Grace is nothing other than the Life of God. In proper theological terms (of the Eastern Church) grace is the uncreated Divine energies. But that phrase, unless correctly understood can be all to confusing. I prefer to speak either of grace or of God’s own Life, freely given to us.

First, grace is a gift. You don’t have to go anywhere to get what you already have been given. What we need to do is allow the grace of God to work in us what God intends.

St. Paul would urge: “We entreat you not to receive the grace of God in vain! (2 Corinthians 6:1)

Each of us (certainly in our Baptism and Chrismation) have been given the grace of God for our salvation – that is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit and to conform us to the image of God in Christ. The question is what do we do with it?

This is a question particularly about the small things of the day. Do we pray? Do we begin the day by crossing ourselves before our feet ever hit the floor? When tempted to grumble do we refrain and give thanks instead? Do we condemn others, even when we could have been silent? Do we forgive when we could have nursed a grudge?

There is grace for each of these things and thousands more. We are able, because God has made us able. Grace that is put to use in our lives produces dividends of grace. St. Seraphim did not become what he was through a momentary gift, but through a lifetime of ascesis and “reinvesting” the grace given him.

Some words from the great saint for the little things of the day:

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.

All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other…instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace.

Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

This is what St. Seraphim meant.

Fr. Stephen Freeman

Priest Andrew Ludovic

This is what happened to me once. I was then still a very young priest serving near Thessaloniki. At the same time, I was assistant to a famous theologian, studied theology, and was preparing to defend my doctoral dissertation in a theological university. I was deeply troubled by the disparity between what I taught and what I encountered as a priest. On the one hand, in the university I had partaken of everything best and great that theology has to offer, the incomprehensible and most deeply meaningful, while on the other hand I tried to convey it all to people as the priest serving ten villages that had been assigned to me by the local bishop. In three of them I regularly preached to the people and saw that they don’t understand me—or at least that is how it seemed to me at the time. I felt absolutely alone.

In my sermons I would touch upon some theme, give a little speech, see that people were thoughtfully hanging their heads, and then observe that they would go and live as they always had, as if nothing had happened and they hadn’t heard anything I said. This loneliness was a burdensome feeling and I said to myself: what should I do as a priest in such a situation, what sense does it make to go again every Sunday to church and talk with these villagers… I am not saying that this is easy—as I have already explained, I had not chosen the simplest style of sermon, but I am convinced that my listeners were quite capable of understanding what I tried to convey to them. And although I have learned much since then, at that time in my life this was a serious problem for me. Until the following miraculous incident happened to me, by which the Lord taught me a good deal more than what I knew.

One Sunday after the end of the Divine Liturgy, I was approached by a priest, a very simple man, and two church guardians—the simplest, most uneducated people—who said, “Don’t just leave without talking with us. Okay?” The Liturgy ended and I, as always, remained alone with my sorrows. We went to drink coffee in the café on the village square. We sat there drinking coffee, when suddenly one of the church guardians turned to me, looked at me attentively and said, “Listen, father—me and Mr. Yannis (Yannis was the second church guardian) had great doubts. Since our church had not yet been consecrated by the bishop, were the Sacraments served in it canonical, or not?”

I said to them, “Oh, oh, what is going on here?” Their degree of perplexity had produced a great impression on me. He went on: “Do you know what we did? We decided to fast for three weeks so that the Lord Himself would settle our doubts. We started fasting, and truly, one Sunday, even before the bishop had come to consecrate the church, at the Liturgy we saw the light again.” I starting speaking loudly, “What light? What light are you talking about?” “You know, that light—it’s not like the sun, you look at the sun afterwards and it seems to you that you’re looking at darkness. That light, when it comes down, you start seeing everything completely differently. You start seeing completely different things, different events, different states, present, past, and future in it,” he tried to explain.

I was so taken by this. I was sitting amidst simple folk who had experiences similar to those of St. Gregory Palamas and St. Simeon New Theologian! And of course, they had been blessed by the priest who served the Liturgy, and who was sitting there with us. This absolutely uneducated father just nodded his head in agreement: “Yes, yes, we were all there, that is how it was…” Filled with tender admiration, I of course began to probe for the reason why these folk in particular had this experience and I questioned this exceedingly simple, uneducated man.

“Tell me, how do you live?” (I asked him the question because I had felt a shock that would follow me many years afterward.)

“Eh, how do I live? I am poor.”

“No that’s not what I mean. How do you spend your days? What extraordinary thing do you do?”

“Ah, I don’t do anything out of the ordinary. I just love God and endure a little. I just endure.”

He had patience. Do you know what patience is? Patience means carrying your cross voluntarily, and it embraces all other people. And God is revealed to you in that cross.

This was a remarkably great proof of the fact that hesychasm is a natural science of life; and don’t think, you theologians, that hesychasm is a personal attainment like some states achieved in Hinduism, or the attainment of those who annihilate their own will in order to see visions. It is through this real path of hesychasm that there have been many revelations—which I, a master of theology, have not been vouchsafed from that moment on, nor am I likely to be so in the future.

Priest Andrew Ludovic
Translation by OrthoChristian.com

02 / 10 / 2014


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