St. John Cassian

St. John Cassian is one of my favorite monastic and Patristic writers.  I find his thought more accessible to me than many other monastic writers.  His teachings often seem to me incredibly relevant to our spiritual sojourns today.   His name’s day comes on February 29, so we remember him on the correct day only once every four years.  As such, I remember him today in this blog.

Cassian JohnI will, with a little tongue in cheek, offer a quote from St. John, which may explain a lot to me about my life.

“… the grace of the Lord inspires a speaker in direct proportion to the merit and the eagerness of those who are listening to him.”

In other words, it is not my fault if those listening to my sermons or reading my blog aren’t inspired or edified.  :)     This comes, of course, as a big relief to me.  What I need are more worthy and eager listeners.   :)   [On the other hand, when the listener to my sermon or reader of my blog gets the message, that is also due to them not to me!]

Enough joy from St. John Cassian.

Another quote from him to consider:

“The journey to God follows many routes.  So let each person take to the end and with no turning back the way he first chose so that he may be perfect…”

It is the end of the journey that matters, not its length nor its arduousness.  The wise thief, for example, attained it in a single moment.  Others spend years and decades traversing toward and away from God  until finally arriving eternally in God’s presence.  Moses wandered the wilderness for 40 years.  Good intentions are also no measure of anything, it is results that matter.  Whatever we intended, if we don’t find our way to God, we will have failed in life.

We should as St. John says, “take to the end.” That is what we hope for ourselves and pray for ourselves.  It is what we hope for others, and pray for others.  We don’t need to be critical of the path others take.  That is their walk with God.  Our task is to make sure we take to the end and remain with God while praying for all others and being a light to them if we are able.

Loving Unbelievers

porphyrios“We shouldn’t be enraged by people who blaspheme or who speak and act against God and the Church. Such rage is harmful. We may hate the words and the malice behind them, but we must not hate the person who spoke them nor become enraged against him. Rather we should pray for him. A Christian has love and graciousness and should behave accordingly. Just as a hermit, who is seen by no one, benefits the world because the mystical waves of his prayers influence people and transmit the Holy Spirit into the world, so you, too, should scatter your love, without expecting anything in return – with love, patience and a smile…” (Wounded by Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, p 184)

“Father, forgive them…”

The Prodigal Son’s Dependency

The second of the three Pre-Lenten Sundays takes its theme from Christ’s Gospel parable as recorded by St. Luke (15:11-32), the Prodigal Son.  Our Lord Jesus taught:

Then He said: “A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 

And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Make me like one of your hired servants.’  And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 

But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.  Now his older son was in the field.  And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’  But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.  So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  ‘But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ 

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’

Archbishop Dmitri comments on our Lord’s parable:

And He said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of good that falleth to me.   And he divided unto them his living (vv 11-12).

The younger son judges himself capable of independence, and, like many young people, he wants to leave home and live on his own. Strangely, he sees no inconsistency between his desire to be independent of his father and his request for his inheritance. Even in the new way of life he proposes for himself, he must begin with his father’s endowment. His words betray profound self-centeredness: Give me the portion…that falleth to me. Just as children often do not realize what a great debt they owe their parents – their birth, their nurture, their training, their knowledge, their health, and many other things – so the human being often thinks nothing of all he owes to God, Who has brought him into being, crowned him with glory and honor, endowed him with talents and abilities and brought him to adulthood by His Providence. The son asks his father for what is his, failing to see that what is ‘his’ is the fathers gift. Human beings often take for granted that God owes them something. And, just as the father in the parable, despite his son’s youth and inexperience, gives him what he asks for, so also God gives freely to those who ask of Him, even though this recipient may misuse the gifts.[…]

And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him (vv 14-16).

The son has been reckless; rather than use his gifts to build an admirable life consistent with his upbringing, he has wasted them in self-indulgence. Having spent everything on an illusion of happiness, he wakes to find he has nothing. ‘Mighty famine’ really describes the state of his soul. Empty spiritually and morally, he has nothing to sustain him. He adopts a kind of substitute father, and this ‘citizen of that country’ indeed takes him in, but he sends him to the fields to feed swine, no doubt the most despicable task on the farm. How sharply this picture contrasts with the relationship he had with his loving father! The emptiness and meaninglessness of his life are brought out by the statement that he would have gladly filled his belly with the husks he fed the swine. Every attempt to satisfy his real needs leave him unfulfilled. No man can replace what he has lost.” (Archbishop Dmitri, The Parables, pp 80-82)

Flee Sexual Immorality

On the second of the three Pre-Lenten Sundays (the Sunday of the Prodigal Son), we read the following Epistle from St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.  Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them.  Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?  Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her?  For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”  But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.  

Flee sexual immorality.  Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 

Saint Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) comments:

The apostle urges us once more, brethren, to flee fornication (1 Cor. 6:18). If Samsom had fled from it, he would not have fallen into Delilah’s hands after being deprived of the hair of his head and his strength. He would not have been blinded nor lost his life in such an unfortunate way alongside his enemies (Judg. 14:1). If they who were led by Moses and to whom he had given the law had fled from fornication they would not have made sacrifices to Baal-peor (Num. 25:3), nor eaten sacrifices of the dead (Num. 25:2-3, and cf Ps. 106:28, Hosea 9:10), nor fallen as often as they did. If Solomon had fled from it he would not have deserted God who made him king and gave him wisdom, nor would he have erected temples for idols (1 Kgs. 11:2-4).

You will observe that the passion of fornication pushes a person towards ungodliness. Susanna’s beauty would not have beguiled the senior judges in Babylon, triumphed over them and resulted in their being stoned, if from the beginning they had fled from defilement and had not watched her every day lasciviously beforehand (Sus. 5-62). The wretched Holofernes would not have died with his neck severed if Judith’s sandal had not previously, according to the Scripture, caught his eye and her beauty ensnared his soul (Judith 16:9). Job says, ‘I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid’ (Job 31:1), how much less upon a corrupt woman either divorced or married. Practice the single life as dear to God, or the married life as God’s gift. Drink water from your own wells or rather, chastely from your one well. Keep away completely from the adulterated draught, which is the water of the Styx, the stream of the river Acheron. It is full of murderous venom and has poisonous powers, and invariably drags those who drink it down through the trapdoor of hell into its innermost recesses. Flee from the honeyed lips of prostitutes which are skilled in spreading shameful death, namely, separation from God.

David said on the subject, ‘They that wantonly desert thee shall perish’ (Ps. 72:27 Lxx). We, whose bodies have become the temple of God through the Spirit, and in whom the Spirit dwells, must be clean, or at least be in the process of being cleansed, and remain always undefiled, contenting ourselves with permissible pleasures. We must make haste to attain purity and chastity and avoid fornication and every uncleanness, in order to rejoice throughout all ages with the pure bridegroom in the unsullied bridechambers. By the prayers of the ever –virgin, most pure, all-glorious Mother who bore Him in virginity for our salvation, now and for ever and unto the ages or ages. Amen.” (The Homilies, pp 40-41)


“The ancient fathers counsel the faithful to view life’s reversals and afflictions as a whetstone to sharpen their minds, thereby keeping them active and making them wise. Saint John Chrysostom is even of the opinion that the presence of adversities has blessed humanity with the development of the arts. Full of realistic optimism based on observed experience, patristic tradition regards problems as opportunities that can make people resourceful and even strong.” (Father Alexis Trader, Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy, p 171)

Fasting and Orthodoxy: Longevity in Life

Sometimes we Orthodox need a little extra push to get into the Lenten Spirit.

I saw a few items in an article in the 22 February 2016 edition of TIME, “Longevity: It’s the Little Things That Keep Us Young” written by Alexandra Sifferlin which might help jump start our leap into Lent.   Of course these aren’t the spiritual reasons we fast in the Orthodox Church, but maybe they can help convince us the benefits of Great Lent outweigh the risks.   As we can see below there are several reasons why Great Lent may have long term benefits to our bodies and souls.

1]  “In other new research, Valter Longo, director of the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute, showed that when people occasionally fasted, they lowered their risk factors for age-related diseases.”

Even only occasionally fasting showed health benefits to people in the study.  Those who start off Great Lent zealously and then falter on the way should remind themselves of this.  One doesn’t have to keep Lent perfectly to reap benefits from it.  If one falters, one doesn’t have to give up.  All is not lost!  If you have broken the fast, repent (it is the season for it!), and get back to the Lenten discipline.

2]   “But some experts speculate that fasting also makes the body more resistant to stress, which can have beneficial effects at the cellular level. Longo’s suspicion, based on his research, is that fasting kills a variety of organ and blood cells while spurring the generation of stem cells. These new cells appear to regenerate the lost cells and rejuvenate the body.”

Fasting is not meant to kill the body, but rather aims to kill sinful desires.  Fasting is heart friendly and as science shows it actually is renewing the physical body.

And speaking of the physical body, attending services, doing prostrations, even standing and fidgeting during long services have health benefits!

3]   “In other words, you can’t exercise away all the bad effects of sitting too much. But the good news is that doing anything but sitting still–even fidgeting counts–can add up.”

4]   “Your mind-set can affect how you age.   By now it’s clear to scientists that our emotions affect our biology. Studies have shown for years that anger and stress can release stress hormones like adrenaline into our blood, which trigger the heart to beat faster and harder. The new research suggests the stakes are even higher than that: stress may even have an effect on how well our brains hold up against Alzheimer’s disease.”

Repenting, asking forgiveness and forgiving can all be stress reducers.  Prayer, quiet time, meditation, all can help reduce stress.  So attending Lenten services, even if your mind wanders can have positive benefits on calming your body, getting rid of anger, and letting go of those unhealthy bad passions and desires.

Joyous Lent!

The Folly of Pride

“It is not necessary to fear weakness, for the Lord came down from Heaven for the weak. If a man recognizes his weakness and repents, the Lord in his mercy will not remember his weaknesses and sins.

The most necessary things to fear are devilish pride, vainglory, hostility, and condemnation, but weaknesses serve to humble our imagined piety. Do not be surprised that good people who are close to the Church and are deep believers are always heaping abuse when they are wounded. These people are superficial, they have no understanding of the one thing needful, and so outward piety does them no good. But it is necessary to pray for N and have sympathy for her heavy cross. Recently a monk said to me: ‘I am tired of living; if only I would die! I would like to be turned into nothingness.’ But I kept silent; I know that he will not accept  my advice. You see, all monks are well read and each understands theology and the teaching of the Holy Fathers in his own way, rightly or wrongly, and they hold to their convictions. For such people, advice from the outside is inappropriate; they themselves are keen to teach others.

Oh, how well the holy Abba Dorotheos expressed it: ‘Each is careless and does not keep a single commandment, yet he holds his neighbor accountable for the commandments’. How many examples of this one sees in the course of a day! Of course I do not pay attention to them, for this is an ordinary phenomenon. If we observe ourselves we see utter chaos in our heart, and phenomena like this do not touch our heart.”

(Father John, Christ is in Our Midst: Letters from a Russian Monk, pp 72-73)

2016 Orchid Show

I was able to go this past Saturday to the Miami Valley Orchid Society‘s annual Spring Show.

Due to  health reasons, for the past year, I haven’t often gone out to do much photography.  Sometimes it is the fatigue, sometimes it is other health issues, or aches and pains, and sometimes it has been a lack of desire.

Orchids are a favorite flower of mine, and so I decided to get up and view the flowers.  Took the camera and did some photography.  Heard a few other old men talking about how the Orchid Show motivated them to dust off their cameras, and perhaps themselves, and get out to do some photography.  The Orchid effect.

Orchids are a delight to the eye – their color variations are phenomenal.  Their intricate designs totally intrigue the mind.  The delicacy of some of the flowers and the unusual shapes are a delight to anyone who appreciates flowers.

The weather was absolutely fabulous for February in Dayton, Ohio –  65 degrees and sunny.  Thanks to God!

You can see all the photos I took at Orchid Show 2016.

So I penned, or word processed a poem.

The Orchid Show

How one family consists of almost 30,000 species,
Is science stranger than fiction?
Or perhaps, more truthfully, it is magic.
Gathered in one room, all in the same family
Yet each from a different household!
Enraptured by the prize winning displays.

Ribboned examples show no family resemblance,
Must be in the genes.
What was God thinking when he wrote that code?
So mysterious, delightful to the eyes.
Mischievous, royal, so prized.
The heart is wowed by each phenomenal bloom,
Altogether or separate, apricity in any room.

Pride and Humility and Prayer

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself” (Luke 18:10).

The Pharisee is an interesting study in psychology.  He doesn’t pray aloud, but only within himself.  Why?  He doesn’t want to appear proud.  The proud are concerned about appearances and what others might think of them.  They act for show, carefully orchestrating every move.

The humble on the other hand, openly confess their sins.  The Publican confesses his sin to God and beats his breast.  He isn’t worried about what others might think of him.  He is fearful of how God will judge him.  He isn’t trying to hide anything from God or neighbor.  They all know him and his sins.  He is quite aware of how others judge him, so he doesn’t have to pretend, doesn’t have to put on a show.  His sins are exposed before all, and he humbly acknowledges them asking forgiveness.


The Pharisee and the Publican

The Gospel Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is found in Luke 18:10-14.

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

St. Nikolai Velimirovic comments on the Parable reminding us that the Pharisee fasted perfectly, yet it did him no good, for his heart remained hardened.   This is a good lesson to all of us Orthodox as we prepare to enter Great Lent:  the goal is to change our hearts not our stomachs.


“Ah, what an easy way of salvation has this Pharisee chosen for himself, easier than the easiest way to destruction! Of all the commandments that God gave people through Moses, he chose only the two easiest. But he did not really fulfil these two, for these two commandments were not given by God because it was necessary to Him that men fast and give a tithe of their possessions. This is not in the least necessary to God. Neither did God give these commandments to men to be some end in themselves but – as with all His other commandments – to bring forth the fruit of humility before God, obedience to God and love for God and man; in brief: to arouse, soften and illumine men’s hearts. However, the Pharisee aimlessly fulfilled these two commandments. He fasted and gave a tithe of his possessions, but he hated and scorned others, and was arrogant before God. And so he remained an unfruitful tree. The fruit is not in fasting, but in the heart; the fruit is not in a commandment, but in the heart. All commandments and all laws are of service to the heart: they warm the heart, enlighten the heart, water the heart, fence the heart round, weed it and plant it – only that the fruit in the field of the heart should set, grow and ripen. All good works are a means and not an end, the method and not the fruit. The end is in the heart, where the fruit is.” (Homilies, pp 98-99)