St. Sergius of Radonezh

On September 25 in the Orthodox Church, we commemorate the death of St. Sergius of Radonezh, one of the most beloved saints of Russia.  In the recorded life of St. Sergius, it is said: “He diligently read the Holy Scriptures to obtain a knowledge of virtue; in his secret meditations training his mind in a longing for eternal bliss.  Most wonderful of all, none knew the measure of his ascetic  and godly life spent in solitude.  God, the Beholder of all hidden things, alone saw it.”   For us we learn that St. Sergius studied the Scriptures daily in order to learn how to please God and to do God’s will.  We also learn that even his fellow monks did not know his ascetic practices – he practiced them privately and quietly – he didn’t constantly talk about his fasting discipline or judge the discipline of others.  He understood the lessons of Matthew 6:1-16 quite well, and practiced them!    According to those who knew him, “To increase his own fear of the Lord he spent day and night in the study of God’s word.”   St. Sergius gives us witness to how we can live and learn to serve God and neighbor.

Finding Christ in Failure

In Luke 5:1-11, we see the apostles encountering Christ in the midst of their business failure, but then leaving their success in order to follow Christ.

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;  and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

St. Mark the Ascetic writes that affliction and failure can open our hearts and minds to discover there is at work in the world a will and a way which are not ours. Problems can help us look beyond our limited self to look for meaning, purpose, to seek God.

“If Peter had not failed to catch anything during the night’s fishing (cf. Luke 5:5), he would not have caught anything during the day. And if Paul had not suffered physical blindness (cf. Acts 9:8), he would have not been given spiritual sight. And if Stephen had not been slandered as a blasphemer, he would not have seen the heavens opened and have looked on God (cf. Acts 6:15;7:56). As work according to God is called virtue, so unexpected, affliction is called a test. God ‘tested Abraham’ (cf. Gen. 22:1-14), that is, God afflicted him for his own benefit, not in order to learn what kind of man Abraham was – for He knew him, since He knows all things before they come into existence – but in order to provide him with opportunities for showing perfect faith.

Every affliction tests our will, showing whether it is inclined to good or evil. This is why an unforeseen affliction is called a test, because it enables a man to test his hidden desires. The fear of God compels us to fight against evil; and when we fight against evil, the grace of God destroys it. Wisdom is not only to perceive the natural consequence of things, but also to accept as our due the malice of those who wrong us. People who go no further than the first kind of wisdom become proud, whereas those who attain the second become humble.” (The Philokalia: Volume 1, pp 142-143)

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust,
but You can restore a conscience turned to ashes;
You can restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope.
With You, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed.
You are Love;
You are Creator and Redeemer.
We praise You, singing: Alleluia!


Loving as Christ Loves Me

As I am able, I do Matins three times each week, as I have for the past 30 years.  I am a morning person and do appreciate morning prayers for orienting me throughout the day and through the week.  As I do Matins, I include the prescribed daily Scripture readings during the service, followed by a few minutes of silent meditation.  Matins now begins at 8:30am, as a result of my illnesses and the ongoing chemo, and the fatigue that comes with them.

Some mornings I am alone for Matins, but I never feel alone there.  Never feel like chastising parishioners for not showing up.  I enjoy Matins because it is a blessing for me.  I assume people will come if it is a blessing for them.

One morning, there were 3 parishioners present.  I have always felt blessed by my parish and the good people whom God has called together.

As we sat for the silent meditation I looked around and thought how I loved each of these three for different reasons and in different ways. The young mom is cute with her matching 4 year old daughter.  She seems to me always kind and friendly despite her suffering with an autoimmune illness. The one man is a good friend and intellectual equal with a very level headed attitude about everything.  I enjoy talking with him.  The other man suffers from mental illness and is an addict, and I feel great compassion for him and his many struggles.  He wants to be normal, and yet it escapes him as he escapes reality.

I think that I really do love them each for different reasons.  But then, into my head comes Christ’s words, “love one another even as I have loved you…” (John 13:34). Although I imagine that I really do love each of these my fellow parishioners, I realize I’m reacting to them, sympathizing and empathizing with them.  Yet this is still not how Christ loves me.  Christ is not merely empathetic and sympathetic to me.  He empties Himself for my salvation.  He dies for me, forgives me and restores my humanity to me.  He leads me to the kingdom of heaven.

I have to transfigure what I think of as my love so that I love them as Christ loves me. The love is not based in my emotions or assessment of each of them.  Rather the love is found in Christ.

I realize how far short I am of loving them as Christ loves me.  My love is imperfect, and more a feeling noun than an action verb.   I realize how far short I am from Christ’s teaching, and from His example.  Yet, He still takes time to speak to me.

I have to call to mind how Christ loves me, so that I can know how to rightly love them.  St. Paul puts it in these terms:  “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  To love others as Christ loves me means to be crucified with Christ and to have Christ live in me.  Again, St. Paul says: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:1). I still have a long way to walk before I do that.  Yet I realize,  these days my walks are so much shorter than they used to be.

3 Million Views

In 2008, I bought myself a camera and used it as an excuse to take walks.

I began photographing the things that attracted my attention.  I was a walk by shooter for sure.

In the 8 years since I got the camera took thousands of photos, just for the love of it.

I’ve posted all my photos at Fr. Ted’s Photos.  And many have been enjoying those photos besides me.

Photography helped me appreciate even more the beauty in God’s creation, and to be thankful for being able to see it.

Sometime earlier today my photos passed 3 million views.  I am truly grateful that so many others have been able to enjoy those photos.

I am not gifted enough to create beauty, but I try to capture it when I see it.

Because of health problems, I haven’t been out with the camera very much recently.  I tried my hand at coloring, trying again to capture beauty.

All of the photos in this blog came from my 2016 Favorites album.

I thank all my viewers and all those who have taken time to like some of the photos and to leave their comments.

Love One Another

And so when the Lord said, This is my commandment, that you love one another, he added immediately, just as I have loved you.

He means that we must love for the same reason he has loved us. My friends, when the devils draws us to take pleasure in passing things, he also stirs up a weak neighbor against us. This neighbor may plot to take away the very things we love. In this case, our enemy is not concerned with doing away with our earthly possessions; he wants to destroy our love. We may suddenly begin to burn with hatred, and while we try to be outwardly invulnerable, inwardly we are gravely wounded. As we defend our few external possessions we lose our great interior one, because when we love something passing we lose true love. Anyone who takes away one of our external possessions is an enemy; if we begin to hate this enemy, our loss is not of anything external, but of something insides ourselves. And so whenever we suffer anything from a neighbor, we must be on our guard against the enemy hidden within. Our best way of overcoming this inner enemy is to love the one who is attacking us from without. The unique and supreme proof of love is this: to love a person who opposes us.

15507959496_ffb4ed8d0f_nThat is why Truth himself bore the suffering of the cross, and even bestowed his love on his persecutors. He said, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Should we marvel that his living disciples love their enemies when their dying Master loved his? He expressed the extent of his love when he said that no one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends. The Lord had come to die even for his enemies. He said that he would lay down his life for his friends to show us that we are able to win over our enemies by our love for them, then even our persecutors are our friends. But no one is persecuting us to the point of death, and so how can we prove that we love our friends? In fact there is something we ought to do during times of peace to make clear whether we are strong enough to die for the sake of love during a time of persecution. John, the author of the gospel I have been quoting from, says in his first letter: Those who have this world’s goods and see a brother or sister in need, and who close their hearts, how does God’s love dwell in them? And John the Baptist says: Let one who has two coats give to one who has none. Will those who refuse to give up a coat for the sake of God during a time of peace give up their lives during a persecution? 

You must cultivate the virtue of love during times of tranquility by showing mercy, and then your love will be unconquerable in a time of chaos. First you must learn to give up your possessions for almighty God, and then yourself. You are my friends…  How great is our Creator’s mercy! We were unworthy servants, and he calls us friends! How great is our human dignity, that we should be friends of God! Now listen to what this dignity costs: if you do what I command you. And we have already heard that this is my commandment, that you love one another.”  (Spiritual  Readings from St. Gregory the Great, Be Friends of God, pp 48-50)

The Fathers: Moderation, Excess and Addiction

The  Desert Fathers and Patristic authors all lived long before people spoke about addiction, but they certainly knew the behavior and how to deal with it.

In the 5th Century, St Diadochos of Photiki  wrote these words about drunkenness:

 “When watered in due measure the earth yields a good, clean crop from the seed sown in it; but when it is soaked with torrential rain it bears nothing but thistles and thorns. Likewise, when we drink wine in due measure, the earth of the heart yields a clean crop from its natural seed and produces a fine harvest from what is sown in it by the Holy Spirit. But if it is soaked through excessive drinking, the thoughts, it bears will be nothing but thistles and thorns.”   (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 7927-31)

Even the strictest of ascetics advocated moderation and self-control in alcohol use, rather than demanding total abstinence.  But, for some, it is exactly self-control which they cannot manage and so they need the guidance and support of others to keep them sober.  The 12th Century Saint, Peter of Damaskos, says the very purpose of Christian community and having a father confessor is to learn not to rely on our own strength and will in the fight against temptation, but to learn the value of community and support in the spiritual warfare against self-indulgence.

“For this reason the enemy does everything he can to disrupt our state of stillness and make us fall into temptation. And if he finds us in some way lacking in faith, wholly or partially trusting in our own strength and judgment, he takes advantage of this to overcome us and to take us captive, pitiful as we are.”   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 28056-68)

Our personal judgment can be faulty.  Addicts are known for relying on self-will constantly, failing to seek the assessment, wisdom and advice of others.  When it comes to our situation in the 21st Century, we are still as human as they were in the Patristic Age.  We can be misled by our own self-willfulness into thinking we are not doing things to excess, that we have not yet crossed boundaries of decency and moderation.  This self-reliance helps to make us captives of our own thinking, slaves to ourselves, and thus addiction is born.

Who has woe?
Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions?
Who has complaints?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger long at the wine,
Those who go in search of mixed wine.

Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it swirls around smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent,
And stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
And your heart will utter perverse things.
Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying:
“They have struck me, but I was not hurt;
They have beaten me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”

(Proverbs 23:29-35)

The Parable of the Rebellious Tenants

Jesus taught:

“Hear another parable.

There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country.

When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them.

Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  (Matthew 21:33-42)

Jesus tells this parable in the context of asking some of the religious authorities what they thought about certain situations and what judgment they would render.  These same officials had been putting Jesus to the test with their questions, but then Jesus reversed the process and asked them to render their own judgments and opinions.

Jesus set the scene – the owner of a vineyard knows harvest time has come and he wants to collect some of the reward from having a vineyard.  But the tenants working for him rebel and decide to keep the profits for themselves.   Jesus asks the religious leaders, what do they think the owner of the vineyard should do with his rebellious tenants.  The leaders come down on the side of retributive justice, declaring the rebels are to be rightfully put to death.

But if we go back and think about the parable, is there any indication that the vineyard owner is at all a man of retribution and punishment?  None.

The owner’s initial reaction to his servants being killed and beaten, is not retribution nor punishment.  He simply decides to send more servants.  The larger group of servants is also not shown any respect by the tenants but rather are treated the same, some being murdered, others being physically driven away.

But again, the owner does not react with anger or revenge, rather he now sends his own son to the tenants, still looking for and hoping for a good response from his tenants.  The owner continues to treat the rebel tenants with respect.   But the tenants do not respond in kind, but rather become irrational declaring if they kill the heir, the inheritance will be theirs.  That claim makes no sense at all.  No just law would give the inheritance to the murderers of the heir.   The bloodthirsty tenants have lost their minds and proceed to murder the owners son.

No where in the parable does Jesus ever give us the sense that the owner of the vineyard is cruel and terrible, or that he is vengeful, or would seek retributive justice.   The rebellious tenants of the parable may have deserved such treatment, but note it is not Jesus who ever says this, but rather it is the conclusion of the opponents of Jesus.

Jesus is using the parable to reveal to his opponents what is in their hearts and on their minds.  They think in terms of retribution and punishment.  But if that is their idea of God, then why don’t they live accordingly?  Why don’t they live in total fear of the God who they think is nothing but perfectly just and exacting?  If they believe God is so absolutely just as to punish every sinner, why don’t they themselves see their own need for repentance and the need for their own salvation?   The measure they give is the measure they will get – at least that would be consistent thinking.  Why then are they so unafraid to reject God’s prophets and God’s word?

It is a questions we might ask ourselves.  Are we exactly like those opponents of Jesus who teach and demand absolute retribution and punishment for all other sinners (except ourselves, of course!)?   Do we condemn the rebel tenants exactly like those opponents of Christ did and feel righteous indignation at the rebels behavior?  Do we find ourselves agreeing with Christ’s enemies?

Then whose side are we on?

What do we need to do to rethink our position in order to be more like Christ?

Or, do we too reject the stone which is the head of the corner and favor the position and teachings of the enemies of Christ?

Do we, like Christ’s enemies, believe in retribution and justice only for others but not for ourselves?

Is Christ offering us a different idea about our Creator, the God who so loves the world?

Defying Our Self-Loving Nature

And the Lord called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?   (Mark 8:34ff)

Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky comments:

“Suffering is repulsive to a natural person. Almost all his life consists in applying solicitude to solicitude in order to avoid suffering. But then the Apostle tells him that he rejoices in sorrows, that he glories in them. The Gospel blesses those who are banished, dishonored, or beaten, calling everyone to follow a narrow path which few travel. It demands that one renounce oneself, that one despise one’s life. The Gospel foretells woe to the wealthy, the satiated, those who laugh and are spoken well of by all men. In order to follow such teaching, we must defy our self-loving nature. What will rouse is up to this?” (The Moral Idea of the Main Dogmas of the Faith, pp 90-91)

As Metropolitan Anthony says we must “defy our self-loving nature” not deify it!


Christ Lives in Me

St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians, writes:

“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  

(Galatians 2:19-20)

The Elder Porphyrios writes:

“In the Church which possesses the saving sacraments there is no despair. We may be deeply sinful. But we make confessions, the priest reads the prayer, we are forgiven and we progress towards immortality, without any anxiety and without any fear. When we love Christ, we live the life of Christ. If, by the grace of God, we succeed in doing this, we find ourselves in a different state, we live in another, enviable state. For us there is no fear; neither of death, nor of the devil nor of hell. All these things exist for people who are far from Christ, for non-Christians. For us Christians who do His will, as the Gospel says, these things do not exist. That is, they exist, but when one kills the old self along with the passions and desires, one gives no importance to the devil or to evil. It doesn’t concern us. What concerns us is love, service to Christ and to our fellow man. If we reach the point of feeling joy, love, worship of God without any fear, we reach the point of saying, It is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me. No one can prevent us from entering into this mystery.” (Wounded by Love, The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, p 90)

The Cross of the Temple

We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” (Mark 14:58)

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.    (John 2:19-22)

Metropolitan Hilarion writes that St. Isaac the Syrian says:

“The cross is a symbol of ‘the Man who completely became a temple’ of God; the cross is made in the name of ‘that Man in whom the Divinity dwells’; the humanity of Christ is the ‘garment of his Divinity’.” (Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, p 54)

Then King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brethren and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and for the footstool of our God; and I made preparations for building.  (1 Chronicles 28:2)

“Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool!” (Psalm 132:7)

Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! (Psalm 99:5)

King David had it in his heart to build a temple as a footstool for God.  It turns out that the temple of God is not made with hands for it is Christ Himself who is the temple of  God and the footstool is the cross of the Lord.