OrthoAnalytika

A homily on the Parable of the Sower (St. Luke 8: 5-15).  Fr. Anthony encourages us to cultivate habits that sustain and our relationships.  Enjoy the show!

Direct download: Homily_-_Habits_for_Sustaining_Strong_Connections.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 8:17pm EST

Our Faith: Orthodox Christianity

Asceticism II: on fasting

 Review.  Last week we talked about Christ’s prayer and use of Psalmody (Psalms 21-30); remember that we can also imitate His fasting.  We also talked about kenosis (self-emptying) and that doing good is not just a sign of grace, but the way we open ourselves to it.  Lastly, we talked about why we work; what is work’s purpose?

Warm-up I.  We are made to worship God and serve others.  Learning humility, patience, and the other virtues are necessary for us to do that well.  But in kenosis, we do not disappear.  We are not joining the Borg or some Universal Consciousness.  Nor are we becoming possessed, like puppets; that is NOT what St. Paul meant when he said that it was no longer he who lived but Christ who lived in him. 

Warm-up II.  Who is our neighbor?  Whom are we to love as much as him?  Asceticism doesn’t just allow us to love and serve others well, it allows us to love and serve ourselves.  If this is selfish, then we are doing it wrong (although self-care can feel selfish, especially if we are not well balanced). Self-care is NOT just about maintaining the tool so that it can serve (it is that and more).   

Do Not Fast

  • If it will harm the physical health of you or another
  • Without prayer; without alms-giving; without humility
  • With judgment against those whose rigor is different than your own
  • According to your own will without guidance from your spiritual father
  • Hoping to please God or out of fear of His wrath

Do Fast

  • In imitation of Christ; in His love and with His purpose
  • According the teachings of the Church, with the guidance of a spiritual father
  • In conjunction with prayer, simplicity, almsgiving
  • Other suggestions?

What You’ve Been Waiting For: THE RULES FOR FASTING
Remember that these are an ideal to strive for.  For many, absolute adherence would be counter-productive. Fasting related to foods has many different degrees.

  • The Standard Ascetic Fast (an aside on the role of hunger):
    • No meat (anything with a backbone, so this includes fish)
    • No dairy (or eggs)
    • No olive oil
    • No wine
  • The Standard Eucharistic Fast: abstention from partaking of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ
  • Complete Fast: totally abstaining from all food and drink

Outside of Lents and Feasts

  • We follow the standard ascetic fast on Wednesdays and Fridays
  • There is no Eucharistic fast (we can take Communion any and all days of the week)
  • Complete fast from midnight until Communion on Sundays and any other days we plan to receive

Additional Fasting Periods (Lents and Fasting Days)

  • Great Lent follows the standard ascetic fast (with modifications)
  • The Nativity Feast (Advent) two periods (11/15-12/19; 12/20-12/24) that vary in strictness
  • The Apostles Fast (from Monday of All Saints until the Feast of the Apostles on 6/29)
  • The Dormition Fast (8/1- 14)
  • Eve of Theophany (1/5), Beheading of St. John the Baptist (8/29), Elevation of the Holy Cross (9/14)

Special Fast-Free Periods           

  • Afterfeast of the Nativity of Christ to Theophany Eve (12/25 – 1/4)
  • The first week of the Lenten Triodion (after Publican and Pharisee)
  • Bright Week (week after Pascha; this extends to the Ascension for the Antiochians)
  • Trinity Week (week after Pentecost)

Questions?                                                                   

Next Week: Asceticism III – the work of silence

Direct download: Class_-_On_Fasting.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EST

Homily on the Demoniac at Gadarenes (St. Luke 8:26-39).  Enjoy the show!

Direct download: Homily_-_Infactuation.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 3:52pm EST

Homily on 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1. 
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.  And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.  Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Direct download: Homily_-_A_Call_to_Holiness.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 7:50pm EST

Our Faith: Orthodox Christianity

Prayer as a Mystery and Medicine for Pride

Questions for consideration: what happens when we pray?  What is the purpose of prayer?  How does pride (noetic effect of the fall!) affect our prayer? 

Background.

  • Pride divides us from one another and from God.  It makes honest communication and healthy relationships with even people who love us and whom we love difficult (much less everyone else).  How can you communicate and have relationship with someone we “see” so poorly?
    • The absurd puppet show in our mind (with us as the star and hero or victim…).
    • Unless we are willing do some serious work, God is just another puppet in that show.
    • “Work?!  We aren’t saved by works?!”  Becoming “perfect as God as perfect” is more than being forgiven, redeemed, and saved.
  • How do we get to know our family and friends?  How can we get to know God?
  • How SHOULD we communicate (and commune) with our family?  How SHOULD we communicate with God?  Wouldn’t it be great if there was an instruction manual for prayer?

An Apology for Prayer… and for using a Prayer Book

  • Prayer is one of the best ways to develop and maintain our relationship with God. “Reading” these prayers (is reading the right term? It’s not like reading a novel!) does that for us.
  • Prayer is the way we thank God for blessings and ask for His help. These prayers do that well and in the proper way.
  • We CAN use our own words, but these were the words of saints preserved and passed down (and tested and confirmed) through many, many generations (note that they are often labeled according to the saint). These can serve as models even for when we use “our own words.” These prayers teach us how to pray! “And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father…” St. Luke 10:1-2a).
  • “Rote” prayer trains our minds (and this also speaks to REPITITION!).
    • Train the reasoning brain. Teaches us words, phrases, and approaches that pattern our thoughts and responses. It also crowds out immature and self-centered approaches to prayer.
    • Train the passions. For the next ten to fifteen minutes, I am going to focus on THESE things and nothing else. This is a controlled arena; a weight room; a rifle range. Humility must be earned.  This helps us deal with the problem of pride!
    • Train the nous. Humility, awe, and thankfulness; these are the only rational responses to being a human in the presence of God. More on this in a future class.
  • Back to repetition. Why is this not “vain repetitions” (St. Matthew 8:6)?  What keeps us praying as the Publican and not the Pharisee?    Submission.  Love (we MUST have love; that’s complicated).
    • Requires repetition of scales arpeggios, and practice pieces to 1) learn how the musical world is structured and 2) how to attune your senses and your actions to it; first self-consciously but over time more automatically.
    • Without this, there is only what one hears… to the extent one’s “ear” is good, one might begin to intuit some patterns… but what about the voice? What about performing? What about composing?
    • This is the way it is with us and our moral actions. We will intuit some patterns from the world; this will forming our own “conscience” (DON’T “trust your feelings, Luke!”) and affect our ability to know and communicate (remember: the fallen world makes the problem of pride worse).
    • Repetition builds up a reliable pattern. It establishes a healthy order. It builds a wall around our minds to provide a safe place for us to interact with ideas and challenges. We need that sense of order and reliability.

Final point for tonight.  We begin prayers; “In the Name…”  This is scriptural, but what does it mean?  We are God’s imagers.  We re-present Him.  We act in His name.  Done with confident humility.  Here’s a mind-bender: the Logos prayed to the Father (a witness of them being “One” as we should be one)!

Next week:  Asceticism as training for perfection.   

Direct download: Class_-_On_Prayer.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EST

Homily on St. Luke 7:11-16. 
"At that time, Jesus went to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!""

Direct download: Homily_-_The_WIdow_of_Nain.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EST

Adult Education, Class Two: Pride
Our Broken Moral Psychology
(and how to heal it… and the world)

Some Scripture to get us started:

Proverbs 16:18.  Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Romans 12:3.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

1 Corinthians 13:4.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

Galatians 6:1-3. Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.

Philippians 2:3.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

James 4:6   But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

James 4:10. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

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Pride: A Noetic Effect of the Fall.

What effect do we have on others? Is it like St. Peter’s? Do we walk in the midst of broken people bringing them healing? Do others, recognizing the potency of our peace, go out of their way just to be in our shadow? Have we achieved any degree of the kind of purity and goodness – the kind of peaceful spirit – that will, as St. Seraphim of Sarov intimates, lead to the salvation of thousands?

I have to be honest with you, even when that honesty might be troubling: when it comes to everything that is important on this earth, when it comes to the things that really matter in our daily lives, in the life of our families, this parish and this community, and in the entire course of cosmic history, there are only two types of people in this world:

  • Those who are part of the problem
  • Those who are part of the solution

Saint Peter was part of the solution (healing of Aeneas; raising of Dorcas; his shadow!). That wasn’t always the case. There was a time when he was more affected by his own pride and the expectations of others than a commitment to do what was good and right; but by the time the events described in Acts 5 & 9 roll around, he wasn’t just occasionally doing what was good and right (as he had before), he had become good and right. So good that Christ and the Holy Spirit worked amazing miracles through him.

Don’t we want to be part of what Peter had? To bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the hurt, and life to the dead?

If so, then we must give our lives to Christ. We must open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. We must train our feelings, our minds, and our wills to want only those things that are holy and good. All other things will pollute us and make unsuitable for salvation – much less for the salvation of the creatures and creation around us.

The polluted person is not part of the solution. Pollution is the thing we need to end. The polluted person is part of the problem. Pollution comes in many forms (here I speak not of factories and cars and the like, but of the soul); and the great difficulty of living in this world is that it celebrates impurity, makes it seem normal, even good.

We have to keep ourselves pure. We have to keep our families pure. We especially have to keep our parish pure. The Church is where people come to be healed. But what good is a hospital that is full of germs? Whose doctors and nurses and orderlies have not washed their hands? The Church is where people come to be cleansed, but what kind of cleansing comes when the parish water has been fouled? The Church is the palace of the Prince of Peace, where people come to calm their souls and bring an end to divisions, but what kind of peace can we offer if we war among ourselves?

It is so easy to become part of the problem. Our pride is set up for it. The brilliance of our minds works overtime justifying our selfish motivations and excusing our bad behavior. Our minds are the best PR guys we could ever get, the kind of salesman that could sell snow to eskimos. The kind of guy that every elected official wants around to explain why his policies and actions are the very best. The problem is that our minds use this skill to convince us that we are saints, that our every motivation is noble, and our every action was required by the situation at hand.

Psychologists and neuroscientists have found that this is the default setting for our moral “decision making”: we instinctively do things, then our minds kick in to explain why we do (or rather, should do!) them. Very few moral decisions are the result of choice or discernment – no matter what the PR guy in our head tells us. This is bad because our instincts are often flawed. They must be trained. This requires humility and effort. It’s a lot easier to just let the cheerleader in our brains tell us how great we already are.

But if we take the easy way, we will be part of the problem and we will make it harder for those who are actually trying to help (the ones who, unlike us, are not part of the problem) to do their job.

This can even happen in our parishes. The description of the power of St. Peter’s shadow came right after the condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira, the two who threatened to contaminate the Apostolic Church with their selfishness. The indicator of the problem in their hearts was that they gave some money to the church, but held more back (unnecessarily). Today’s reading comes right after Simon Magus tried to buy the Holy Spirit so that he could do the same kind of wonders that the apostles did.

Can you imagine the way the PR people in their heads spun their motivations and actions? Ananias and Sapphira probably considered themselves so generous! I am sure they had all kinds of sweet-sounding justifications for not supporting the ministry of the Church with all their time, talents and treasures. Don’t we all? And yet the truth condemned them and they died in their sin. Simon Magus’s mind may have told him that he only wanted this power to help others; that he would use it to ease people’s pain. Don’t we all? And yet the truth condemned him. His error was so great that he is one of the greatest arch-villians in the history of salvation. He even has an entire category of sin – Simony – named after him.

We have good intentions.  We want to be part of the solution. We want to do good. That is why we are here. But we cannot trust our instincts – even if we call them beautiful names like “my conscious” or “my heart” or “my feelings” (we cannot trust your instincts!) – to guide us. Nor can we trust our brains to discern what is right. Our instincts will point us in the wrong direction and our minds will convince us we are exactly where we should be and right around the corner from where we are going. The PR guy in our brains will tell us how good we are and provide all kinds of infallible evidence to support this claim.

But we are not good. There is only one that is good, and that is Christ. We must trust Him (not ourselves). We have to let go of our instincts and justifications and start over. Let the Holy Spirit – found so powerfully not in our feelings but actually manifested in the teachings of the Church – strengthen and guide us.

This is important. You are here today, and that is a good beginning. But it is not enough. Through humility, let the Lord’s peace and power replace your pride. Through your prayer rule and study, let the wisdom of God retrain your mind to be an advocate for truth rather than a cheerleader for sin (and not just a way to learn new words to write your own hagiography), and then, let the peace and power that passes all understanding transform your life, and from there to transform this world.

If we do this, then we will become – as St. Peter was - a part of the solution.

Direct download: Class_-_On_Pride.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EST

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