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We continued this evening reading letter 13 to the young Anastasia. Theophan again wants her to understand that we do not live our faith out in isolation, but rather in a radical communion with God and with the angels and Saints. Beyond that he wants her to understand that nothing is hidden from the eyes of God or from the eyes of the saints and angels. Our souls take on the quality of the facts of our life. Virtue and love bring brightness to the soul whereas sin brings murkiness or complete darkness. Theophan tells her this not to frighten her but rather that she might understand her true dignity in Christ. By virtue of her baptism she is an heir to the kingdom of heaven and has access to the treasure of God’s grace. It is this reality that is bestowed upon her by virtue of her baptism and it is this reality that must come to bear fruit in her life through seeking God at every moment; seeking above all to embrace his will.  Theophan would seek to free us all from what the Fathers call prelest or spiritual delusion. We have an enormous capacity to lie to ourselves and to seek to protect our own sense of dignity and self-esteem independent from God. We must overcome this illusion by humility - by understanding that we are known in truth and seen with the eyes of love eternal.

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Chat texts from the group:

01:08:51 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: The term “prelest” is an Old Church Slavonic word (Greek: πλάνη - plani) which has come into English usage for lack of a precise equivalent, although it is often translated as "spiritual delusion," "spiritual deception" or "illusion," accepting a delusion for reality in contrast to spiritual vigilance and sobriety. Prelest carries a connotation of allurement in the sense that the serpent beguiled Eve by means of the forbidden fruit. Apart from its spiritual context, the word in Old Church Slavonic is often used in a positive sense of something charming, "lovely"; hence, in modern Russian it means: “Beauty”. People often struggle to understand what "prelest" is and how one would know if this is a problem in their life? What to do about it? That's the whole point – one doesn't know. But the Church teaches us practical measures to ward off this state. First, there’s having a good priest/confessor/spiritual director. Second, we practice the virtues: humility, etc.

01:09:23 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Third, we practice attentiveness to our own thoughts and feelings that offer temptation, which is called being neptic (sober and vigilant) or practicing nepsis (sobriety, vigilance). We are warned to beware of people who are very keen on directing or teaching others spiritually, as if they consider themselves to be experts. We avoid speaking or acting im-pul¬sively. We stay away from any desires, thoughts or feelings that make us agitated. We are to be¬ware of substituting dog¬ma¬tic certitudes in place of practicing the faith (for example: knowing all about a service or a custom, but never actually participating in it or allowing that participation to challenge our core to repentance: changing our desires, thoughts and be¬ha¬viors to bring them into line with God’s knowledge). We are strongly fore¬warned to be¬ware of anyone who claims to be humble and to beware of the sin of pride, as if thinking that we have found the truth while others around us have yet to arrive at what is called “our level”.

01:09:57 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Con¬verse¬ly, we are not to think that we are so bad a sinner that we are beyond forgiveness. The story is often told about a young convert who was so agitated about everyone else being in a state of prelest that it was he himself who became so obnoxious, overbearing, and neurotic, that he failed to notice that in the process he himself had become a liar, cheat and manipulator. So our Byzantine spiritual tradition tells us not to worry if someone else strikes us as being off track. Focusing on the sins of others is a surefire way of succumbing to prelest-self-delusion ourselves.

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Link to download the "cheat sheet" for understanding St. Theophan's anthropology in Letters 5-11

 

 

 

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As we know St. Theophan is writing to Anastasia on the feast of her patron, on her name day. He continues by wishing her well; wishing her health and happiness in this world. But, in his love for her, he wants her to understand that life goes beyond the grave, and that what endures is the love of God and the life of virtue. 
 
It is God and the spiritual life that must be at the center of our existence. All that we do, all that we say, all that we think, is freighted with destiny; because all of these things are opportunities to love and to give ourselves to God. 
 
Having been formed so well in her early life Anastasia must seek to guard and protect what is most precious - the life that God has given her and the virtue that his grace has brought to life. She must understand, as we all do, that God sees all things, as do his saints and angels. We must never think that anything is hidden from the God who loves us and knows every hair on our head. 
 
Finally we see in this short section the tenderness of St. Theophan. He offers her not simply cold direction but a fatherly love; desiring her to have the best of things – the eternal love of God. 
 
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Chat transcript from the group:
 
00:48:02 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Tenderness and spiritual sweetness: I don't know Russian but in Ukrainian, candy is called tsukorky from the word tsukor - sugar. And all candies and desserts fall under the category of solodoshchee - sweet things.
 
00:53:40 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: I believe that St John Chrysostom (+407) may have been the first one to coin the phrase that the Church is a hospital.
 
01:00:03 Joe and Larissa Tristano: Father, would you also think that the raiment is with regard to the putting on of Christ in baptism?
 
01:11:57 Edward Kleinguetl: Romans 7
 
01:13:51 Michael Liccione: "subject to futility" Romans 8:20
 
01:19:45 Adrienne DiCicco: Couldn't agree more re: Catholic schools!! -Phil DiCicco
 
01:23:52 Joe and Larissa Tristano: “Pray as you can, not as you think you must” & “Have a keepable rule of prayer” Fr. Thomas Hopko
 
01:25:55 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Most of us are used to speaking of body and soul. St Theophan presumed a tripartite understanding (aka trichotomy) of the human being: body, soul and spirit. If anyone is interested in discerning this a little more, please see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripartite_(theology)
 
01:26:41 Edward Kleinguetl: As St. Ignatius Brianchaninov advised, “Choose a rule for yourself in accordance within your own strength.” A Rule of Prayer consists of practices to follow daily, such as morning and evening prayer, time for contemplation, liturgy; the rule may identify the time of day for these practices. The purpose of the rule is to help a person grow spiritually. Accordingly, it should not be so burdensome that it is difficult to complete on a daily basis. Nor should it become a heroic effort that later becomes a source of pride that is used to criticize others who may have a lesser rule.
 
01:26:51 Eric Ash: In some ways I think St. Theophan's ether illustration is more natural to our 21st century imagination than it was to explain in the 19th. The Saint's and Angels can see the whole Earth from Heaven and focus their gaze not just on our earthly bodies but the state of our souls. If he was writing today he might rather compare it that infrared googles can see through the dark and focus on heat, or x-rays see through body to focus on bone. Heavens gaze permeates all, but focuses more on our eternal souls than frail bodies.

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Tonight we continued our discussion of letter 12. St. Theophan strives to help this young woman see her dignity and destiny as a person made in the image and likeness of God. He lays a foundation by emphasizing the subordination of all things to the spiritual. The carnal, the intellectual,  each have their place within our lives as human beings. St. Theophan, like the fathers before him, does not have a negative anthropology. In fact, just the opposite. He wants this young woman to be fully human, to be a real person. When the spirit no longer guides us our passions bring disorder to our lives and the fleeting happiness that we find in the things of this world quickly disappears.  
 
In letter 13, Theophan begins to address Anastasia about things that initially seem out of context. But in reality he is building up on the foundation laid in the previous letter. He simply asks her what he should wish for her on her name day. He begins by wishing her good health and in doing so establishes this as a natural good for us as human beings. We truly experience the pain of its lack or when our health diminishes overtime. 
 
He then wishes her happiness. He uses it as a prelude to asking and defining what happiness is. Everyone has their differing view. There is a definite happiness that comes through worldly things, from the carnal and the intellectual. However we can get caught up in these things and they can become a kind of opium for us. They offer a happiness that is passing or an illusion the covers the struggle and suffering of heart that we experience in this world. We are made for God and yet we are embattled and struggle with our own passions or temptations from without afflict us. True happiness, he tells her, is to be found in the spiritual life; for it is this life alone that endures beyond the grave. Even now God allows us to taste the sweetness of the invincible hope and joy He alone can offer.

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