Thursday, June 30, 2005

Vesting prayers for daily life

At the beginning of every Divine Liturgy, the priest prays special prayers while vesting, offering each vestment to God and bringing to mind some specific action or function of the priest related to the liturgy. Why not have similar prayers for daily life? May I recommend the following as a starter—an opportunity to recall God’s presence in every detail of our lives: (Many of these prayers have been taken, in whole or part, from the Scriptures and/or the purple Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, readily available at our bookstore on I'On Square.)

Placing the Cross over our head: “Restore to me, O Lord, the joy of Thy Salvation, fence me about with the power of Thy honorable and live-giving Cross, and preserve me from every evil. Amen.”

On donning the shirt, sweater, dress, or coat: “Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness because of my enemies; make Thy way straight before me. Let all who take refuge in Thee rejoice, let them ever sing for joy; and do Thou defend them, that those who love Thy name may exult in Thee. For Thou dost bless the righteous, O Lord; Thou dost cover him with favor as with a shield. Amen.”

On pulling on the pants or skirt and/or on buckling the belt: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Gird my loins, O my God, and protect me from all evil men and women, devils, passions, and all other unlawful things. Amen.”

On putting on the shoes: “O Lord, may I not fall away into sloth, but take courage, and being roused to action, be found ready and enter the joy and the divine bride-chamber of Thy Glory, where the voice of those that feast is never silent. Amen.”

On placing the prayer rope about the wrist or the book of prayers in the pocket: “Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers and all the saints, O Lord Jesus Christ, my God, have mercy on me and save me. Amen.”

On placing a card of particular Bible verses or a small copy of the Scriptures in pocket: “I rejoice at Thy word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love Thy law. Seven times a day I praise Thee for Thy righteous ordinances. Great peace have those who love Thy law; nothing can make them stumble. I hope for Thy salvation, O Lord, and I do Thy commandments.”

On placing wallet in pocket or purse: “All things come of Thee, O Lord: teach me to be a good steward thereof. Amen.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Finding True Life

The writer of Ecclesiastes (found after the Psalms and Proverbs in the OT), according to his own words, “[has] seen everything that is done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). He built houses, vineyards, gardens and parks; he sought wealth and wisdom; he bought slaves, built pools, owned flocks and herds, had personal singers—and many concubines “man’s delight”—every possible thing in order to satisfy his desires, only to find that “all was vanity and a striving after wind”. The Hebrew is “hebel”, and means “breath”, “vapor” and also “meaninglessness”, “emptiness”, “futility”, “uselessness”—that is fleeting, quick, over and done with, useless, gone.

Times have not changed in the (literally) thousands of years since this book was written…neither have human inclinations. Everyone is “searching for answers” to use a much quoted phrase from the great film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” We each are seeking to fill a void found deep within each of us. Some turn to alcohol and drugs, some to sexual investigations, many of us simply try to fill this “God-shaped void” (as one writer has described it) with “stuff”—possessions: cars, houses, job, money. We all try to fill it with something, and this something is usually NOT God. We figure that either we will find the answer to “life” by diverting ourselves to death or by simply filling every moment of time and space with things and activities. The trouble is, THERE IS NO LIFE TO BE FOUND IN THESE THINGS! Possessions and activities ARE NOT LIFE. As a matter of fact, although certainly not evil in and of themselves, “things”, “stuff”, “possessions” can easily distract us from what real life truly is—when they are used to replace true life, instead of being used as the tools that they are.

What IS true life, then? What IS the purpose of life? Among the “preacher’s” last words in Ecclesiastes are these: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” Jesus puts it this way, “But seek first [the] kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt. 6:33). [The ‘all these things’ are our needs, which God surely knows.] SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD. As Christians, our task—as Fr. Schmemann has so beautifully put it—is to “transform the smallest, seemingly most insignificant detail of the routine drudgery of everyday existence in this fallen world into paradise.” We must ask ourselves at every turn, at the beginning of every action, every event, “Does this draw me closer to God or by doing this do I push myself away from Him?” Besides the words, “Forgive me, Lord!” or “Have mercy upon me, O Lord!” this is the beginning of seeking first the Kingdom of God. God help each one of us to meet Him each morning when we wake, each evening as we lay our heads on our pillows, and at every moment in between so that we may truly seek first HIS KINGDOM and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Daily Readings and Daily Wisdom

From "St. Photios Orthodox Christian Fellowship" daily list. To join, email me:

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 Apostles Fast

Cyrus and John the Unmercenary Healers

Kellia: Deuteronomy 24:10-18

Epistle: Romans 4:4-12

Gospel: St. Matthew 7:15-21

“The Christian should first learn what humility is in order to be able to humble himself afterwards, in every moment of his life, before people and the demons. In this way he will grow spiritually, and his heart will be filled with the Grace and fragrance of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Trinity, the Mother of God, and the Holy Angels and all the Saints will make their home in his heart. In short, his heart will become a spiritual Paradise. And if you have the Lord of Sabaoth, you will be happy wherever you are. Unfortunately, people today are educated in the spirit of self-love, pride, vainglory, dissoluteness, love of money, etc., and their heart becomes a hell, full of sins and unclean spirits. Thus, the proud man tortures himself and tortures others, too. Humble-mindedness is a Christian virtue which you should try to have every moment of your life.” - Elder Dionysius (Ignat) of Mount Athos


1 Peter 4:8-11--"Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

Commentary from a sermon of St. John Chrysostom:
“If you receive your neighbor as though he were Christ, you will not complain or feel embarrassed but rather rejoice in your service. But if you do not receive him as if he were Christ, you will not receive Christ either, because He said, “Whoever receives you receives me.” If you do not show hospitality in this way, you will have no reward.” (From the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture XI.)

Some thoughts...
When we reflect on the above passage from 1 Peter and the commentary from St. John Chrysostom, we cannot be but moved at the great joy and responsibility we have at treating one another with love, gratitude, and hospitality. This one-anothering, as I have learned to call it, is one of the fundamental building blocks of the Christian life. We are to follow our Lord on the narrow path of self-emptying which is demonstrated, lived out, in our serving the other. Who is the ‘other’? Most often we think of the ‘other’ as someone unrelated to us by blood or marriage. My literal neighbor, the guy at work, the lady I pass on the sidewalk each day. Bishop Kallistos Ware would teach that the other is whoever is in front of me at this moment: my spouse, my daughter, my co-worker, my fiancĂ©, the stranger at the market. We must ‘one-another’ beginning with the one whom God has place in my path right now. God give us the strength to receive each other as if receiving angels unawares—or as if Christ Himself were standing before us!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Everyone that God places before us is for our salvation

Consider for a moment the fact that God knows everything. Consider that God is, as we pray, “everywhere present and filling all things.” Consider for a moment that everything that occurs to each of us is an opportunity to put our faith into action, to put our ‘theological’ money where our mouth is. God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, an often with His mysterious sense of humor, shapes our lives, and constantly calls us to Himself. If this is true, then it is also true that everything that occurs in our individual (and corporate!) lives is for our salvation. Everyone we meet, everyone whose path we cross is to help us, aid us, give us an opportunity for living fully as a Christian. This is as true on the street as it is in the office, as it is at the beach, as it is in the doorway of church at any given service. This includes our parents, our children, our neighbors, our friends, and our enemies!

Indeed, this is a tall order, but this is Christian life! The woman we walk past on the sidewalk, the homeless man on the corner, the doctor I work for—these are all ‘in my path’ for my salvation—that is, for me to reflect to them the love of Christ, the existence of God, the blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven.

This changes everything—or should begin to change everything. Is my contact with the stranger on the street a gentle smile or a condemning, judging look? Is my honking of the horn to warn the one near me of danger or to say, “get out of my way!” Do I offer a bite to eat to the homeless fellow thinking, “get a job!” or thinking, “how can I help this child of God further?”

We are called by God to have entered, through baptism, into the Kingdom of Heaven now. This is not yet fully realized, but it begins, as we sing so often “today”. Why? Because today is all that we have! None of us is guaranteed our next breath. Indeed none of us determines whether or not our heart beats one more time. With this in mind, it is easy to see how everyone and everything in our daily path is for our salvation—an opportunity to demonstrate our love of God by serving one another, or to prove my own abandonment of God by following my own selfish will.

With this in mind, we can begin to see with new eyes. We can begin to act with new hands, walk with new feet, listen with new ears. Indeed we can even begin to spend with holy money. God grant us the grace to do so, humbly, regularly, and intentionally!

Three important questions

Tolstoy once posed the following three questions: 1)When is the most important moment in life? 2) What is the most important task in life? 3)Who is the most important person in the world? How would you answer? Tolstoy’s answers to these questions have much to teach us about being the presence of Christ to others.

When is the most important moment? THE PRESENT MOMENT--NOW. What is the most important task? THE ONE YOU ARE DOING NOW. Who is the most important person? THE ONE IN FRONT OF YOU NOW.

How does this inform our Christian lives? Well, consider the following thoughts: Would the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36ff.) have experienced the love of Christ if he had been talking on a cell phone while she was adoring him? What would the thief on the cross next to Jesus have experienced if Jesus had been thinking about other things at the moment the thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”?

The past is gone. We can repent from and be forgiven for sins of the past; We can learn from the past, but the past is the past. Likewise, the future is the future—it is yet to come. Besides praying about the future, there is little that we can do to direct it. Jesus himself said, “which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life” (Mt. 6:27)? The most important thing to do, then, is to greet the present moment and cooperate with God’s grace to transform it into God’s image.

The task I am doing now is the one God is presently working on. It is what he has given me! Concentrate! By God’s grace and to the best of my ability, I am called to “lay aside all earthly cares”. Talk about difficult! I can assure you, though, that the sound-bytes of TV, the quick changing scenes and the short blips of commercials do not help train us to concentrate. Au contraire!

The person whom God has sent you this moment is a gift. If someone calls you on the phone, do you also type an email while chatting or listening? If you are eating with someone, do you answer the phone during the meal? Society today wants us to multi-task. But the Epistle to the Romans calls us to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Part of this non-conformity to the world is being present in this moment with this person—and given the task or the person you full self. This demonstrates God’s personal care for every individual and helps to sanctify every moment.

The devil whispers in our ears, “Ah, yesterday you…” leading to regret and sorrow. He say to us, “tomorrow you will….(or won’t be able to ….)” leading to worry and despair. But God gives us the present moment. And he calls us to use the present moment to show HIM to the world.

How do you answer the three questions? Ask yourself, and pray “Lord, have mercy on me, direct my steps, and help me honor You in this moment!”

Adapted from a talk given by Bishop KALLISTOS of Dioklea