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Archive for October 2020

Tonight we began reading letter 31. Theophan begins to speak to Anastasia about ways of increasing and encouraging her sense of desire for God and her urgency about the practice of the spiritual life. He could already see that there were those around her who were calling into question her practices. So he begins to speak with her about means of keeping herself focused upon God. She must take hold of the fact that we are not long for this world and we will have to give an account for our life. All of this must heighten the sense of urgency she must have and the weight of her actions. He encourages her to engage in spiritual reading and prayer every morning as a means of nourishing herself for the day; just as a person nourishes herself with food. Such reading does not have to be extensive but just enough to hold within the mind and the heart; to act as a spiritual balm that not only brings healing but also protection. Finally, Theophan speaks to her about keeping watch over all of her thoughts. Fundamentally this is where the ascetical life rests and where spiritual battles are fought. Many thoughts come to us throughout the course of the day. We must be attentive to them and how they affect us;  if they do not lead us to God they must be set aside or redirected. He also gives her a simple counsel about keeping a notebook. In this way she will be able to mark down the things that inspire her in order that they might later encourage her when she is struggling. Such a practice also allows one to gauge where the struggle is the greatest and also to see where there has been growth.

 

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Test of chat during the group:

00:25:21 Eric Williams: When you mentioned watching news first thing in the morning, I was reminded of these wise words: "Let listening to worldly news be bitter food for you, and let the words of saintly men be as combs filled with honey." - St. Basil

00:28:12 Eric Williams: There is solid psychological and neurological research supporting the superiority of handwriting over typing for long-term retention of information.

00:28:23 Wayne Mackenzie: In the Eastern Tradition you are encouraged to have a morning and evening Prayer Rule."

00:29:20 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: … handwriting over typing …. Hmmm very interesting

00:29:58 Jennifer Parisi: Eric, do you have a link to that research? I would like to share it with someone I know.

00:35:47 Eric Williams: A quick search dug this up: "Handwriting shown to be better for memory than typing, at any age" https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/handwriting-memory

00:38:24 Eric Ash: Witness is often better than teaching and always better than arguing 

00:38:37 Jennifer Parisi: Thank you 😊

00:52:08 Mark Cummings: I have closer to the 4 thoughts than the 50,000 thoughts

01:03:27 Eric Williams: I find the Jesus Prayer tremendously helpful for diverting my mind from unworthy subjects.

01:04:16 Margie: How about some Gregorian chat?

01:04:18 Mark Cummings: Can we have some specific recommendations on the Russian music

01:04:28 Mary McLeod: Chants from Valaam!

01:04:40 Wayne Mackenzie: When the thoughts are out of control recite the Jesus prayer..

01:06:53 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: YouTube has the Jesus prayer sung by monks in the round I use it in the car on the phone on the desktop etc     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXmfvcOU340&list=PLpDitifO6zD8UBi0qUZ5fKYn9HYAzzxWC&index=1

01:08:38 Mark Cummings: Thank you!

01:08:56 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: the byzantine "angelic greeting" known in the west as "Hail Mary"   100 times   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5EaKrnn3_A&list=PLpDitifO6zD8gNGJ0XvCawWSfCk7jGfCF&index=2&t=659s

01:09:37 Wayne Mackenzie: yes I often will recite the Jesus prayer on you tube as I am involved in different acitvites

01:09:58 Consuelo Haynes: Wow those recommendations are wonderful, thank you

01:13:44 Eric Ash: I remember an anecdote I think from Theresa of Calcutta when asked what she prays for said "I don't pray for anything I listen." and when asked what God tells her in prayer said "He doesn't say anything, he listens." That really helped silence in prayer click for me.

01:13:59 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: these two links which I gave are sung in Old Church Slavonic albeit in Russian pronunciation.  For Ukrainians like me this is an act of double asceticism: to pray and to hear it "mispronounced"  by Ukraine's northern neighbor who is constantly telling us - and the rest of the world - that Ukrainians are nothing more than "Little Russians"..

01:14:56 carolnypaver: Awesome, Fr. Ivan!

01:15:47 Mark Cummings: Love the quote plus the anecdotes

01:16:37 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Thank you, Eric

01:19:07 Eric Williams: The prompting questions help A LOT.

01:20:25 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: thank you both Erics

01:20:37 Margie: Thank you! Have a wonderful week!

01:20:42 Cathy Y.: thank you!!!

 

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Tonight we concluded the final paragraphs of homily 72. It is as if Isaac is a bell, constantly ringing out to guide us through the darkness of this world and more importantly to draw us away from the wiles of the evil one. We are often oblivious to the subtle ways that the devil will hunt us down; in things concealed, or contingencies lying hidden in certain affairs, or in places.

In the face of this Isaac, the voice in the desert, cries out that there should be no limit to our willingness to toil for the things of the kingdom. We must start off the journey well and with clarity of purpose. We must ever be using our energy in the time given to us to pursue the life of virtue and to traverse the path of the Cross to its end. We must actively drive away from ourselves any kind of thinking that impels us toward repose. Zeal and eagerness must be fostered not in an equal but greater measure than that which we see given to the pursuit worldly glories or even to mere distractions.

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We continued our reading of letter 30. Once again St. Theophan seems to impress upon Anastasia the need for decisiveness in regard to her choice to live her life for God. Prayer and the pursuit of holiness must become for her an inviolable law. Despite the fact that she has been raised in a pious and faithful family, there are simply far too many things in this world that hold out the promise of comfort and false hope; let alone the temptation that comes to us daily to make ourselves the center of reality.

In order to free her from the grip of such thinking, St. Theophan emphasizes the importance of the remembrance of death and impending judgment. Such things foster the fear of God. This divine fear that inflames our desire for salvation and our desire for God, is the only thing that frees us from the fears and anxieties of this world. This is not an easy thing to embrace.  The traumas of life and the servile fear that form in us a false image of God make us reticent to “enkindle misfortune around ourselves” and rather leads us on a desperate search for worldly, albeit, temporary consolation.

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Text of chat during the group:

00:39:19 Margie: So true about losing sight.

00:49:08 Margie: Sad but true Father David.

00:49:24 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: agreed

00:56:48 Carol: Is it really “fear?”  Or is it “urgency?”

01:11:25 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: the fear of the Lord is born from love of the Lord.  if I truly love Him I am afraid of thinking, saying or doing anything that would hurt or diminish my love for Him, damage my relationship with Him.  And so this is not abject or servile fear of God, as in fear of spiders or some such thing.   the Hebrew has two different words one for fear and one for fear of God.   I believe the greek does also.

01:11:33 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

01:12:05 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky:  Proverbs 2:4-6 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)

if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures;

5  then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

6  For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

01:20:53 Margie: I'm having trouble finding the book

01:22:06 Margie: Thank you!

 

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We continued our reading of homily 72. Isaac presents us with a vision of life and the action of grace that is fierce and beautiful at the same time. The grace of God is constantly present to us and she teaches us and allows us to gain experience through the  temptations and trials that we face. She protects us and strengthens us in perfect measure while also letting us know and learn from our own weaknesses. Temptations and trials lead us to cling to God and seek his strength.  Weakness comes upon us when self-esteem leads us to think that we are the source of great things in our own lives. We must be taught by hardship, Isaac tells us.  It is tribulation and affliction that reveal the most to us in life, that draw us into the mystery of the cross and reveal to us the true nature of selfless love. Like Christ, through our suffering we are made perfect. Gradually we come to desire what God desires and will what He wills.

Ironically, it is desperation that reveals to us true hope. Only when we find no hope in the things of this world and we see its empty promises do we come to embrace the hope that comes to us from the hand of God. It is this alone that offers us comfort and it is this that drives us on to seek the Lord above all things.

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Tonight we concluded letter 29 and began letter 30. St. Theophan continues to emphasize for Anastasia how one must prepare oneself to act in the embrace of God‘s grace. One must count the costs, as it were, and be decisive; making an irrevocable choice to pursue the divine flame that offers nothing less than transformation or, more specifically, deification. It is only after this long period of preparation and the casting off of the passions that one is prepared to step forward. But once one has embraced the grace of God, holding nothing back, then one is propelled forward. Grace builds upon grace and one moves from glory to glory.

In letter 30, St. Theophan begins to describe for Anastasia the manifestation of this grace externally and internally. What does it look like when a person follows that desire for God to its end and holds nothing back? Theophan chooses not to write about this himself but rather makes use of Saint Marcarius the Great and his Homilies. God raises the soul up to experience something of His own nature, to taste something of the perfection of Love and the desire to draw others, good and bad, into it. It is the fulfillment of Christ’s call to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This is not only a command that has been given to us but a gift that we have received. And this gift is not far away and does not belong to an exclusive few but has been offered to everyone and has been received through the gift of baptism. The hidden treasure that is beyond all value lies within the human heart and we we only need to strike the shovel to immediately begin to see gold and silver of the glories and joys of heaven.

 

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Text of chat during the group:

00:45:15 Eric Williams: Free food suckered me into the Oratory. Little did I know my soul was going to be fed along with my stomach. ;)

00:47:25 Mark Cummings: What kind of free food are we talking?

00:48:54 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Ezekiel 3

00:49:05 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: 16 And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life. 20 Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live,

00:49:34 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: because he took warning; and you will have saved your life.”

00:57:10 Eric Ash: I think C.S. Lewis had a quote... something involving a bottle of port

00:57:56 Eric Williams: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” ― C. S. Lewis

00:58:39 Mark Cummings: Love it

00:58:57 Eric Ash: I knew the other Eric would dig it up

01:13:58 Eric Williams: The commodification and marketing of Christianity brings to mind "The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion" by Peter L Berger

01:21:00 Natalie Morrill: Geez, same!

01:22:28 Natalie Morrill: Thank you, Fr. David!

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After a long hiatus we returned to our reading of the Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. We picked up on page 501, about halfway through Homily 72. Isaac has been speaking about the nature of faith and humility, and how, when they are perfected by the grace of God, they bring us to a place where we are prepared for the experience of contemplation.  Let it be noted that it is preparation; it is only by the grace of God that one is elevated to contemplate God as He is in Himself. As we move from the multiplicity of deliberations and thoughts, God brings us to a state of simplicity of mind. We must become like little children, letting go of the limitations of intellect and merely clinging to He who is the Lord of life. It is then that His grace begins to act upon us and reveal to us things both in a manifest fashion and in more hidden ways. We begin to see how God‘s grace instructs us but also protects us from so many evils and dangers. The more that we begin to see this grace active in our lives, the more she reveals to us the hidden things in the ambush of the demons; how they manipulate our thoughts and guide us into a state of agitation and anxiety. We must see this as a temptation not simply as a result of the natural state of our existence in this world. Surrounded by chaos we must keep our eyes fixed upon the Provider of all things. When we do so, all anxiety and fear drifts away and we find ourselves resting in the ever present arms of God. 

This is such a timely teaching in an age of upheaval, where men and women have lost a sense of what to hold onto or what offers security and stability. Isaac reminds us with a clear and bold voice that it is God alone that we must trust.

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In our discussion of letter 28 and 29 with St. Theophan, we learn that the embrace of the life of Grace is not something that is done by impulse or passively but involves an unyielding decision to give oneself over to the pursuit of it, enkindling the desire for it, laboring to maintain it and helping it bear fruit. We must see Grace as the most treasured thing and most valuable thing we could possibly possess. This involves acknowledging its presence within us, comprehending the value of grace, desiring with all of our strength to adapt our lives to it, resolving to achieve whatever God desires to accomplish through it, and carrying our decision to reality. We must forget the self and have God and his will as our sole desire. This, St. Theophan tells Anastasia, is only the beginning of the spiritual life. Great patience and constancy are needed; for we are involved in a spiritual warfare that extends to the end of our life. We must have the courage to wage the battle at every moment.

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Tonight we began by reading the remainder of letter 27. St. Theophan continues to describe the effects of God’s grace upon a person both spiritually and materially. One is transfigured by the grace of God much as Christ was transfigured on Mount Tabor. Theophan gives examples of saints whose visage was transformed when speaking about God or when praying.

At the end of the letter and in letter 28 Theophan moves to consider the effects of our negligence. Our failure to embrace the gift of God cannot be equated to our setting aside worldly gifts. To fail to embrace the grace of God is tantamount to sacrilege. We are abusing the gift of God and rejecting God himself. Too often we allow ourselves to marginalize the life of faith, to treat it with the lack of desire and interest and not consider the consequence. This is something Theophan is unwilling to do. He’s very clear with Anastasia that our eternal destiny is in question. Like the five foolish virgins in the parable we can neglect to stir the grace of God into flame and keep it alight. The bitterness that we will experience when we see that which is most precious and that which has eternal value slip through our fingers cannot be calculated. The voice of the Bridegroom will pierce our hearts with sorrow when we realize his words of greeting are not for us. As a good spiritual father Saint Theophan does everything in his power to speak to Anastasia about the value of this grace - a value that stands above all other things.

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