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Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Forty-three

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Forty-three

February 25, 2021

This evening we moved on to letter 43. St. Theophan had been teaching Anastasia about reining in the thoughts; in particular, through the use of the Jesus prayer. We are not simply to allow our thoughts to draw us where they will but rather redirect them toward God. Here Theophan becomes more specific in his teaching and gives Anastasia three rules to follow. However, before this he begins by describing for her the inner movements of the thoughts, the heart, and the desires. Thoughts multiply and they hang within the mind like fog. But more than that - they swarm like mosquitoes. Thus, there is a constant movement among the thoughts. Beneath this is the heart and within the heart the thoughts constantly strike the heart and afflicted it. The passions are stirred and there is no order to be found. Emotions shake the heart like a leaf blowing in the wind. Emotion always engenders desire. And with this comes inner confusion and uncertainty. We can have contradictory desires at the same time. Out of this confusion grows kind of gloom and in the gloom the demons will enter to afflict us and whip up things even more. Anastasia then must recommit herself to work for the Lord and belong to Him alone. She must seek with all of her strength to destroy this inner disorder. The first rule is to engender that unceasing remembrance of God. The constant thought of God decreases the confusion and embracing this habit conscientiously within a few months time will help still things in great measure. The second rule is always to obey the conscience which must be well formed. When obedient to it we will seek the things of God and seek to please Him.

As one would expect much discussion ensued about the spiritual life. Theophan draws Anastasia forward and in doing so he takes us with her and shows us the path into the depths of the heart where God dwells - and where peace alone is found.

The Evergetinos - Vol. I, Hypothesis I, Part II

The Evergetinos - Vol. I, Hypothesis I, Part II

February 23, 2021

What an extraordinary reading!  We’ve been considering Hypothesis I about repentance and not falling into despair. Tonight we began with the writing from the life of St. Synkletike. She’s one of the Desert Mothers and considered by many as equal to Saint Anthony the Great. The counsel she offers is psychologically subtle and spiritually beautiful. She encourages us always to support others, especially neophytes, and encourage them in the struggle for the good. No matter how small their virtues deeds might seem we must lift them up and praise them in order to encourage them in the spiritual battle. Likewise, no matter how great a fault may be we must, in front of them, treat it as though it is the least an on worthy of note. The evil one wishes to destroy their efforts and so we must in every way lift them up and encourage them to continue. God‘s compassion and mercy is unlimited and she gives us multiple examples from the Scriptures to remind us: Saint Paul Rahab the prostitute from the Old Testament, and St. Matthew the tax collector. In all of these we see the worth of repentance and the compassion of God towards the repentant man.

Those who struggle with pride God himself will prune so they do not begin to attribute their growth and virtue to themselves. He will humble them in order that they might continue to cling to Him and to His grace.

Next, the holy Palladios recounts for us the story of Saint Moses the Ethiopian. We see in him how the passion of anger unchecked and murderous in its nature and conduct can be transformed by the gift of repentance. After a violent existence, Moses was moved to contrition and the incensive faculty within him redirected the anger towards sin and drove him in the ascetical life to war against the demons. He became so virtuous that he rivaled even those elders of Skete. By the time he died, there were 70 disciples who joined him, many of whom were his fellow former criminals.

All of this is meant to lead us to set aside the judgments of our own reason when it comes to love, compassion, and mercy. We are called to imitate God who, while we were still enemies, had mercy upon us and gave us His only begotten Son.


00:21:02 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky:

00:22:25 Eric Williams: sin-kle-ti-kee (not sure which syllable gets emphasis; Fr Ivan?)

00:23:00 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: St Nikolai Velimirovich's Prologue of Ohrid: Syncletica was of Macedonian descent. She was educated in Alexandria. As a wealthy and distinguished maiden she had many suitors, but she rejected them all and fled from her parents' home to a convent. In great self-restraint, vigil and prayer, Syncletica lived to her eightieth year. Her counsels to the nuns have always been considered true spiritual pearls, for this righteous one did not attain the heights of wisdom through books but through sufferings, pains, daily and nightly contemplation, and spiritual communication with the higher world of the Divine. Her soul took up its habitation in that higher world in the year 350 A.D. Among other things, St. Syncletica was known to say: "If it is the season for fasting, do not dismiss fasting, claiming illness, for behold, even those who do not fast succumb to the same illness." She further said: "As a treasure, when uncovered, is quickly seized, ….

00:23:03 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: so it is with virtue: when it is made public it becomes eclipsed and is lost."

00:23:55 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: her feast is Jan 5 in the Byzantine calendar

00:26:16 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: The Life and Conduct of the HOLY AND BLESSED TEACHER SYNKLETIKE by St. Athanasios the Great was published in English in 2015.

00:29:29 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Σύγκλητος means “senate” or “assembly”; hence, the name Συγκλητική denotes what is “senatorial” or “noble”; in this instance, a noble in the “heavenly assembly” of Saints.  The accent is on the last syllable in Greek: syn-klee-ti-KEE.  In English it is "Syncletica".

00:43:21 Joseph Muir: tax collectors are still hated today😂

00:49:23 Ren Witter: I would stay on video and be social, but I am eating dinner and I’m a slob :-D

00:49:29 Katharine: :D

00:50:01 carolediclaudio: :):)

00:58:51 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: skete or sketis is defined on pg. 425 in glossary

01:09:10 Andres Mason: he is pretty cool 

01:09:14 Andres Mason: straightforward 

01:14:28 Joseph Muir: I emphatically recommend backpacking, particularly of a long-distance variety😀

01:21:31 Eric Williams: “Therefore it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” - GK Chesterton

01:21:48 Joseph Muir: ❤

01:24:16 Lilly Vasconcelos: @Joseph When the US/CA border opens, sign me up for hiking retreat with Franciscans 🙏

01:29:57 Lilly Vasconcelos: Bon nuit, merci

01:30:11 Micah Valine: Thank you

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Forty-two

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Forty-two

February 18, 2021

Now that Anastasia has gone to confession and received holy communion, St. Theophan begins to guide her along the path of salvation in order that her joy might be complete. He begins by clarifying for her that our hope for life and for love and for salvation is to be found in Christ alone. No earthly power or reality can save us. Her confidence should come from the fact that it is this God who dwells within the very depths of her being. It is He who lifts her up and allows her to say, “Though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.“

At this point he introduces Anastasia to what is at heart of the spiritual life- prayer. He describes it as the unknown “unceasing remembrance of God.”  We are never to allow God to slip out to the margins of our minds and hearts, never allow him to be overshadowed by anxieties and fears. Rather, we are to call upon him and bring Him to mind habitually, until we begin to experience this as God looking at us and we looking at Him. It is the gaze of Divine Love.  To this purpose he begins to teach her the Jesus prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner” or “Lord have mercy.”  To cry out these two or three words with devotion and reverence allows us to take hold of the Spirit of Love that groans within us - love that is eternal and beyond words.  Therefore, if she has never heard of this then she must listen and if she has never done it, he tells her, she must begin doing it from this moment on. Whether she is walking or working or eating or going to bed these words must be repeated within the mind and the heart. With reverence and love one must be constantly reaching out toward God. This is her genuine service to the Lord - giving Him the love, praise and worship He deserves.

The Evergetinos - Vol. I, Hypothesis I, Part I

The Evergetinos - Vol. I, Hypothesis I, Part I

February 16, 2021

With great joy we began our study of the Evergetinos after years of waiting and preparation. This collection of the writings and the lives of the desert monks has been a rich source of spiritual nourishment for Eastern Christians for centuries - and is meant for all who pursue the life of Orthodoxy - who pursue “right glory”.  Providentially, we live in a time when this work has become available to us in English and so accessible as never before. In an age that knows very few spiritual elders it offers great comfort to be able to sit at the feet of those who were icons and remain icons of Christ and the life of the gospel in its fullness. We began with Hypothesis number 1.  Our study begins with Repentance, as does the spiritual life. We are presented with the image of a young man who had lived a dissolute life. When he comes to recognize the horror of it in the light of truth, his heart is filled with compunction and he groans from his depths. He leaves the world and begins to live in the tombs where he can embrace the life of repentance unceasingly. As he embraces this movement of grace within him, he is immediately attacked by demons who seek to dissuade him from taking this path. When unable to do so, they physically assault him and encourage his family members to come and to try to take him home. He will not be moved and so the demons eventually acknowledge that they have been conquered and that his repentance and heart are true. We are told that he remains in the tomb and makes it his hermitage for the rest of his life. Repentance is an unending reality for us and the greater our sin the greater our desire for it and protection of it must become. As we enter into the holy season of Lent we are called to imitate this young man by being single-hearted in our purpose. Lent is not simply for 40 days but rather the beginning of greater conversion and abandoning our life to Christ.


Text of chat during the group:

00:16:41 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: LOL

00:40:30 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: John 17:24     24 Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. In biblical Greek the meaning of the word "doxa" was "glory".  Only quite a few centuries later did the word acquire additional meaning of "doctrine/faith" or "worship". That meaning did not exist when the holy apostle and evangelist John wrote his Gospel.

00:41:43 Eric Williams: Someone created a filter for Facebook, so you can virtually put an ash cross on your profile picture’s forehead. #AshTag2021 *sigh*

00:41:48 Ren Witter: I’m actually anticipating that the lines will be a lot shorter since the ashes will not be visible.

00:42:14 Ren Witter: Why do something if you can’t post about it? ;-)

00:42:19 Joseph Muir: #ashwednesdayselfie🙄    a trend amongst many in the western church that I would love to see fizzle out and die

00:46:05 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: The wages of repentance are mercy and forgiveness unto everlasting life and so Byzantines (on the Gregorian calendar) "distributed" forgiveness upon one another, on the eve of beginning the Great Fast of Lent (yesterday evening).

00:54:20 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Jesus: "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33). Holy chief apostle Paul: to the Romans:  "we rejoice in our  sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured  into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us"  (Rom. 5: 3-5). Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of  witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)

00:55:03 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: "This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath." … "Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of heaven," adding the words often quoted in the Christian spiritual tradition, "without temptations no one can be saved.“  (St. Antony the Great in a letter to St. Peomen)

00:55:13 Lilly: Matthew 16:24-26

00:55:29 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: As often as you find your way to be peaceful, without variations, be suspicious. For you are deviating from the divine ways trodden by the weary footsteps of the saints.  The more you proceed on the way towards the city of the kingdom and approach its neighborhood, this will be the sign: you will meet hard temptations. And the nearer you approach, the more difficulties you will find. The hard temptations into which God brings the soul are in accordance with the greatness of His gifts. If there is a weak soul which is not able to bear a very hard temptation and God deals meekly with it, then know that it is not capable of bearing a hard temptation and so is not worthy either of a great gift.   (St. Isaac the Syrian)

00:56:58 Lilly: Amen

00:59:10 Ren Witter: My favorite response to the demon’s questions comes from Saint Ephraim: “Do not lose heart, O soul, do not grieve; pronounce not over thyself a final judgement for the multitude of thy sins; do not commit thyself to fire; do not say: the Lord has cast me from His face. 
Such words are not pleasing to God. Can it be that he who has fallen cannot get up? Can it be that he who has turned away cannot turn back again? Dost thou not hear how kind the Father is to a prodigal? 
Do not be ashamed to turn back and say boldly: I will arise and go to my Father. Arise and go!. . .

00:59:19 Ren Witter: . . .  He will accept thee and will not reproach thee, but rather rejoice at thy return. He awaits thee; just do not be ashamed and do not hide from the face of God as did Adam. 
It was for thy sake that Christ was crucified; so will He cast thee aside? He knows who oppresses us. He knows that we have no other help but Him alone. 
Christ knows that man is miserable. Do not give thyself up to despair and apathy, assuming that thou hast been prepared fro the fire. Christ derives no consolation from thrusting us into the fire; He gains nothing if He sends us into the abyss to be tormented. 
Imitate the prodigal son: heave the city that starves thee. Come and beseech Him and thou shalt behold the glory of God. Thy face shall be enlightened and thou wilt rejoice in the sweetness of paradise. Glory to the Lord and Lover of mankind Who saves us! “

01:06:24 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: sorry, I forgot to finish the St Isaac quote.  here is the rest....      “God never gives a large gift and small temptations. So temptations are to be classed in accordance with gifts.  Thus from the hardships you are called to endure you may understand the measure of the greatness which your soul has reached. And your comfort will be in proportion to your endurance. .” “In accordance with your humility you will be given endurance in your distress. And in accordance with your endurance its weight will be lifted from your soul and you will be comforted in your troubles. And in accordance with your comfort, your love of God will increase. And in accordance with your love, your spiritual joy will increase.”  “When our compassionate Father is of the will to relieve those who are real children in their temptations, He does  not take their temptations away from them, but He imparts to them endurance under temptations, and all that good which they receive through it, to the perfection of their souls.

01:06:28 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: May Christ in His grace make us worthy of bearing evils for the sake of His love, with thanksgivings in the heart. Amen.”

01:15:50 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Recently Ukrainian biblical scholar Taras Tymo has been posting videos on youtube explaining the psalms.  in his commentary on Ps. 50 he reminds his viewers that In Ps 50, "blot out" is the same Greek word as the one used for cleaning old text off of lambskin to make it ready for new text to be written on it, a somewhat brutal process; and, "wash me" means to clean by beating with or against stones.  So repentance is not "ouchless".

01:18:28 Andres Mason: I thought more of a "never left the state of repentance"

01:18:43 Lilly: Does the tomb represent the Sacrament of Confession?

01:20:21 Andres Mason: eventually he will come out of the tomb our resurrection is just delayed 

01:21:48 Ren Witter: It actually reminds me of Saint Isaac: “In this life there is no Sabbath.” No rest from repentance.

01:22:28 Andres Mason: The tomb is not negative 

01:22:34 Andres Mason: anymore*

01:26:28 Lilly: Gracias hermanos

01:27:30 Micah Valine: Thank you

01:27:55 carolnypaver: Thank you, Father!

01:28:14 Joseph Muir: shookran, Abouna!

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Forty-one Part II

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Forty-one Part II

February 11, 2021

Tonight we concluded letter 41 where St. Theophan is discussing with Anastasia the practice of confession. First and foremost she must let go of all childish fear and anxiety and remember that it is God himself who provides the grace of repentance and like the father in the story of the prodigal son, God draws close to her with arms outstretched in order to embrace her. The more her conscience is sensitized and the more frequently she practices Confession the anguish of heart that she will experience will be transformed into compunction - a mourning over love lost and the desire to see it restored.  She will become more cognizant of the ways that she is incorrigible and so will begin to struggle more fully with the sins that often remain hidden. The most important thing that he would have her remember is that she establish a true intention and the decide to be diligent about everything before God. She must not complicate things but rather allow her approach to God be simple and humble.

It is best to confess the evening before communion in order that the next morning should be filled only with the thought of receiving her Lord. And when she prepares herself to receive that day she should come with a simple desire that the Lord provide her through the his grace with the strength that she needs for every kind of good so that her life will be acceptable to him. That is all!



Text of the chat during the group:

00:30:16 Anthony Joyce: similarly we’d never tell our spouses to only say sorry for non-venial sins against us

00:42:17 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: One must remember that the distinction (philosophically speaking) between venial and mortal sins belongs to western spirituality which is not used in the Christian East.  The East is more sensitive to Semitic ways of thinking about sin as "missing the mark" in the way that a marksman would miss the bull's eye of a target.  This is what St Paul means when he says in Romans that all have sinned.  From this flow the idea that our Lord is the New Adam or the perfect Adam because he does not miss the mark of what it means to be human.  Discussions about mortal and venial are superfluous here since it makes no difference whether you miss the mark by a few inches or by many feet.  When we speak of venial and mortal we are talking in the realm of relationship, rather than being human. Here of course one can sin in such a way that the relationship may be disturbed but not destroyed.  to use the spousal example, sometimes "I'm sorry" is enough but other times a card, a box of chocolates, etc.

00:44:11 Sheila Applegate: Great point. I like this way of thinking about sin better.

00:45:46 Eric Williams: I’ve been wondering about this ever since becoming Byzantine. How does the East distinguish sins that *must* be confessed before receiving the Eucharist from those that are not necessary but still helpful to confess?

00:45:49 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: I simply point this out because St Theophan's advice is steeped in Eastern Christian spirituality, so that is how he needs to be read.

00:46:36 carolnypaver: Thank you so much, Fr. Ivan.

00:47:46 Sheila Applegate: Of course. In this context. But it still brings out the point you said of, what does it matter if you miss the mark by an inch or a mile. Interesting.

00:48:13 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: The way you phrase the question is western since it is asking for a system.  In the East, all sins are confessed as soon as they are unmasked... Ephesians 5:8-14

00:50:30 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: so you confess everything even if it mean repeating from the last confession; see also Ephesians 4:13-17

00:52:52 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: in the East, we prefer to confess attitudes and directions of the soul (feelings-willings, thoughts, desires) which underly any particular breakings of the laws....

01:27:33 Sharon: Thank you, Fr. David

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Forty Part III and Letter Forty-one Part I

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Forty Part III and Letter Forty-one Part I

February 4, 2021

Tonight we picked up with Letter 40 - considering again the various causes of spiritual cooling. Theophan begins by discussing a rather chilling thought - the willful falling away from the divine will, in full consciousness and in defiance. We can be overcome by anger, frustration and disappointment in our life to such a degree that we begin to turn away from God; perhaps subtly at first but then in greater measure. If we are not careful we can fall under complete darkness. Therefore, Theophan tells her to avoid this at all cost. She must fear it like fire, like death. He instructs her instead to hold on to her zeal and keep fast to her rule of prayer. She may need to alter it given the circumstances, such as illness. But she is never to let go of her routine even if she receives no consolation.

In letter 41, Theophan begins to discuss with her some final considerations before she goes to confession. He begins by dealing with the most familiar of problems - fear. It is this that she must let go of and trusts above all in the mercy in the gentleness of God who waits for her with open arms. The priest is but the witness and the vehicle for healing and forgiveness. Thus, Theophan tells Anastasia to confess more frequently. With this anxiety will diminish. To aid in this process she should write down every one of her sins in order that she is truly confessing what is in her heart and on her conscience. “Don’t make the priest ask you”, he tells her. He wants her confession to be as genuine as possible - a reflection of what’s going on within her and not prompted by the questions of the priest. Over time she will come to see the deep and grand beauty of the sacrament.



Text of chat during the group:

00:22:28 Mark Cummings: Not related but Divine Office 2nd reading today is awesome...from On Spiritual Perfection by Diadochus

00:39:55 Mark Cummings: From today's 2nd reading in office of readings...Therefore, we must maintain great stillness of mind, even in the midst of our struggles. We shall then be able to distinguish between the different types of thoughts that come to us: those that are good, those sent by God, we will treasure in memory; those that are evil and inspired by the devil we will reject...

00:45:05 Eric Ash: I also see a greater emphasis in the east on having a spiritual director. It doesn't just fall on an individual's discernment to decide if they are altering their prayer routine to benefit or delude themselves. They take it to their spiritual father that knows their strengths/weaknesses/problems/potential.

00:49:27 Eric Williams: I think St. Philip Neri and others like him in the West would wish that we all would make such faithful, consistent, and humble use of a spiritual director and regular confessor.

01:07:14 Ren Witter: I find that if I do not write things down I am so anxious about remembering everything that I am not really present. Writing it down also allows for much more extensive reflection.

01:16:39 Eric Williams: Who’s on first?!

01:17:19 Eric Williams: Talk about being slain in the Spirit!

01:31:03 carolnypaver: At certain times (Jubilee Year) there is a plenary indulgence attached to making a general confession.

01:34:13 Eric Williams: Perhaps scrupulosity was more common when Jansenism was a serious problem.

01:36:29 Eric Williams: Sometimes priests imply or suggest scrupulosity by giving overly simplistic penances.

01:41:40 Mark Cummings: Thank you!

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