Παρασκευή 29 Μαρτίου 2019

A Modern Lent

Few things are as difficult in the modern world as fasting. It is not simply the action of changing our eating habits that we find problematic – it’s the whole concept of fasting and what it truly entails. It comes from another world.
We understand dieting – changing how we eat in order to improve how we look or how we feel. But changing how we eat in order to know God or to rightly keep a feast of the Church – this is foreign. Our first question is often, “How does that work?” For we live in a culture of utility – we want to know the use of things. Underneath the question of utility is the demand that something make sense to me, and that I be able to ultimately take charge of it, use it as I see fit and shape it according to my own desires. Perhaps the fast could be improved?
Our modern self-understanding sees people primarily as individual centers of choice and decision. A person is seen as the product of their choices and decisions – our lives are self-authenticated. As such, we are managers.
Of course there are many problems with this world-view from the perspective of Classical Christianity. Though we are free to make choices and decisions, our freedom is not unlimited. The largest part of our lives is not self-determined. Much of the rhetoric of modernity is aimed towards those with wealth and power. It privileges their stories and mocks the weakness of those without power with promises that are rarely, if ever, fulfilled.
Our lives are a gift from God and not of our own making. The Classical Christian spiritual life is not marked by choice and self-determination: it is characterized by self-emptying and the way of the Cross.
When a modern Christian confronts the season of Lent – the question often becomes: “What do I want to give up for Lent?” The intention is good, but the question is wrong. Lent quickly becomes yet another life-choice, a consumer’s fast.
The practice of the traditional fast has been greatly diminished over the past few centuries. The Catholic Church has modified its requirements and streamlined Lenten fasting (today it includes only abstaining from meat on the Fridays of Lent – which makes them similar to all the other Fridays of the year). The Protestant Churches that observe the season of Lent offer no formal guidelines for Lenten practice. The individual is left on their own.
Orthodoxy continues to have in place the full traditional fast, which is frequently modified in its application (the “rules” themselves are generally recognized as written for monastics). It is essentially a vegan diet (no meat, fish, wine, dairy). Some limit the number of meals and their manner of cooking. Of course, having the fast in place and “keeping the fast” are two very different things. I know of no study on how Orthodox in the modern world actually fast. My pastoral experience tells me that people generally make a good effort.
Does any of this matter? Why should Christians in the modern world concern themselves with a traditional practice?
What is at stake in the modern world is our humanity. The notion that we are self-authenticating individuals is simply false. We obviously do not bring ourselves in existence – it is a gift. And the larger part of what constitutes our lives is simply a given – a gift. It is not always a gift that someone is happy with – they would like themselves to be other than they are. But the myth of the modern world is that we, in fact, do create ourselves and our lives – our identities are imagined to be of our own making. We are only who we choose to be. It is a myth that is extremely well-suited for undergirding a culture built on consumption. Identity can be had at a price. The wealthy have a far greater range of identities available to them – the poor are largely stuck with being who they really are.
But the only truly authentic human life is the one we receive as a gift from God. The spirituality of choice and consumption under the guise of freedom is an emptiness. The identity we create is an ephemera, a product of imagination and the market. The habits of the marketplace serve to enslave us – Lent is a call to freedom.

A Modern Lent

Thus, a beginning for a modern Lent is to repent from the modern world itself. By this, I mean renouncing the notion that you are a self-generated, self-authenticating individual. You are not defined by your choices and decisions, much less by your career and your shopping. You begin by acknowledging that God alone is Lord (and you are not). Your life has meaning and purpose only in relation to God. The most fundamental practice of such God-centered living is the giving of thanks.
Renounce trying to improve yourself and become something. You are not a work in progress. If you are a work – then you are God’s work. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in” (Eph 2:10).
Do not plan to have a “good Lent” or imagine what a “good Lent” would be. Give up judging – especially judging yourself. Get out of the center of your world. Lent is not about you. It is about Christ and His Pascha.
Fast according to the Tradition instead of according to your own ideas and designs. This might be hard for some if they are not part of the traditional Church and thus have no fasting tradition. Most Catholics have differing rules for fasting than the Orthodox. If you’re Catholic, fast like a Catholic. Don’t admire other people’s fasting.
If you’re Protestant but would like to live more traditionally, think about becoming Orthodox. Short of that, covenant with others (family, friends) to keep the traditional fast. Don’t be too strict or too lenient, and if possible keep the fast in a manner that is mutually agreed rather than privately designed. Be accountable but not guilty.
Pray. Fasting without praying is called “the Fast of Demons,” because demons never eat, but they never pray. We fast as a means of drawing closer to God. Your fasting and your prayer should be balanced as much as possible. If you fast in a strict manner, then you should pray for extended periods. If you fast lightly, then your prayers may be lighter as well. The point is to be single – for prayer and fasting to be a single thing.
To our prayer and fasting should be added mercy (giving stuff away, especially money). You cannot be too generous. Your mercy should be as invisible as possible to others, except in your kindness to all. Spend less, give away more.
Eating, drinking, praying and generosity are very natural activities. Look at your life. How natural is your eating? Is your diet driven by manufactured, processed foods (especially as served in restaurants and fast food places)? These can be very inhuman ways of eating. Eating should take time. It is not a waste of time to spend as much as six hours in twenty-four preparing, sharing, eating and cleaning up. Even animals take time to eat.
Go to Church a lot more (if your Church has additional Lenten services, go to them). This can be problematic for Protestants, in that most Protestant worship is quite modern, i.e. focused on the individual rather than directed to God, well-meant but antithetical to worship. If your Church isn’t boring, it’s probably modern. This is not to say that Classical Christianity is inherently boring – it’s just experienced as such by people trained to be consumers. Classical Christianity worships according to Tradition and focuses its attention on God. It is not there for you to “get something out of it.”
Entertain yourself less. In traditional Orthodox lands, amusements are often given up during the Lenten period. This can be very difficult for modern people in that we live to consume and are thus caught in a cycle of pain and pleasure. Normal pleasures such as exercise or walking are not what I have in mind – although it strikes me as altogether modern that there should be businesses dedicated to helping us do something normal (like walking or exercising), such that even our normal activities become a commodity to consume.
Fast from watching/reading the news and having/expressing opinions. The news is not presented in order to keep you informed. It is often inaccurate and serves the primary purpose of political propaganda and consumer frenzy. Neither are good for the soul. Opinions are deeply destructive to the soul’s health. Opinions are not properly considered, necessary beliefs. They are passions that pass themselves off as thoughts or beliefs. The need to express them reveals their passionate nature.
I could well imagine that a modern person, reading through such a list, might feel overwhelmed and wonder what is left. What is left is being human. That so much in our lives is not particularly human but an ephemeral distraction goes far to explain much of our exhaustion and anxiety. There is no food  for us in what is not human.
And so the words of Isaiah come to mind:
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in fatness (Isa 55:1-2).
“Let your soul delight itself in fatness…” the irony of Lent.

Fr Zacharias: “Requirements and Practice of the Divine Liturgy”

Orthodox Archimandrite Zacharias, from Essex Monastery, England, speaks on the Requirements and Practice of the Divine Liturgy (Pemptousia).

Κυριακή 10 Μαρτίου 2019

A CLOSER INSPECTION OF EXCUSES - A Sermon for Judgment Sunday

By Fr. Haralambos Giokas
Translation by A.N.
Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries
The real reason God exiled the first-fashioned humans from Paradise can be determined with accuracy. As strange as it may sound, it was not because of their disobedience -per se- to God’s commandment. The first-fashioned humans did not leave Paradise immediately after their disobedience; after committing that sin, Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness, they became ashamed, they felt fear and they hid themselves, BUT they did not yet leave Paradise. God gave them a time margin for repentance.

After leaving them all day to reap the consequences of their actions (fear, cowardice, confusion), God descended that evening to find them and make one last attempt to save them: “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and Adam and his woman hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God, among the trees of the garden. “ (Gen.3:8)

But God is not a material being, so how come He was “walking”? God is omnipresent; How come He “descended to find” Adam? God is omniscient; Why is He questioning Adam, as if He didn’t already know? God became similar in behaviour to Adam, because Adam had failed to be in “the likeness” of God.

The moment that God appeared before Adam and conversed with him is both critical and shocking. It is reminiscent of God’s Day of Judgment.

According to the Bible:

“The Lord God called to Adam, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree, of which I commanded you that you should not eat?’ And the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ And the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this, that you have done? And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’.” (Gen 3:9-13)

It is very clear, that the reason God is “questioning” Adam is to exhort him to repentance and confession, and not because He “doesn’t know” what they had done. It was His last attempt to keep Adam near Him. But Adam and Eve made the wrong move. While they did in fact admit that they had disobeyed – because they couldn’t hide what they had done – they resorted to an unprecedented invention, that is, excuses: “‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ ... The serpent deceived me, and I ate’

They resort to excuses, and in fact in an accusative manner. Their replies imply that God was responsible: “The woman whom You gave to be with me... ” YOU gave her to me, so it’s YOUR fault!”

THAT was the red line Adam should not have crossed: he should NOT have given an excuse; he accused both Eve AND God, instead of accusing himself. After that day end of his soul’s life, all the ensuing generations after Adam were condemned to wallow in the darkness of excuses.

A commonly observed phenomenon: if you scold a little child who has only just learnt to utter its first words, it will “instinctively” defend itself, with an excuse. THIS is the legacy of the Fall that should preoccupy us and scare us: how does an innocent little child formulate an excuse? Who taught it? The sickness of self-justification has been planted deep inside our soul, since the Fall of our forefather Adam, as a defence mechanism, as a need to hide our fear and shame.

Excuses removed us from Paradise, and the habit of giving excuses is what keeps us steadfastly out of Paradise. Because by resorting to excuses, we are simply keeping our sins to ourselves. It’s like saying “I am not dirty; I only appear that way – I don’t need cleaning”. But Christ had stressed that He had come to save sinners, and not those who have vindicated themselves with excuses. In John’s Gospel, we hear the Lord saying: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see’, therefore your sin remains.” (John 9:39-41). In other words: because you are vindicating yourselves and claiming that ‘you can see’ - instead of admitting you are blind – that’s why you will remain blind, and your sin will remain with you.

Elsewhere, the Lord says “...’You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God’...” (Luke 16:15).

An Abba was once asked, what is the worst thing about people that God despises? The Abba replied: “Excuses”.

Everyone has sinned: Adam, the Pharisees, and all people. Do we sin incessantly, with thoughts, words and actions? Well, repentance is right next to us and it can purge us. Excuses hinder us from being benefited by repentance. In the long run, there is no excuse for excuses. Saint John the Chrysostom wrote that “To fall is human, to persist is diabolical, to repent is divine”.

As we noted in today’s Gospel reading, during the Final Judgment, and after placing the people to His left and His right, Christ will have two brief conversations with each group separately. The two dialogues reveal the virtues of the righteous and the wiliness of the unrighteous; these become evident, in the replies that are given respectively:

“...and the righteous reply to Him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and fed You, or thirsting and gave You to drink?’ And the King shall say to them: ‘Verily I say to you, if you have done so to even one of my lesser brethren, then you have done so to Me’...”

The reply of the righteous ones does not contain wile; on the contrary, it reveals that everything they had done was with their heart and unobtrusively, never seeking any reciprocation. But the response of the unrighteous ones does not reveal an innocent ignorance. We note here an intentionally wily response:

“...Then they (the unrighteous ones) replied to Him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?” Then He shall reply to them, saying: ‘Verily I say to you, if you have not done so to even one of my lesser brethren, then you have not done so to Me’...” (Matth. 25:34-45)

And where is their wile here? They ask Him, “when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and DID NOT minister to You?” They pose a question to which they already know the answer! They are not genuinely asking Him to find out, but are intentionally pretending to be ignorant, as an excuse. Hadn’t they noticed that the Lord had just explained to the righteous during His conversation with them, that: “if you had done so to even one of My lesser brethren, you have done so to Me”?

When intelligence and smartness are used for evil ends and for excuses, it is called wile and hypocrisy. They secretly strive to exonerate themselves, because they (supposedly) “didn’t understand” and actually accused Christ of “hiding from them” – which was a wrong move: “We didn’t recognize You... We didn’t realize it was You... It’s Your fault...” They dare to accuse the Judge – and during the very Hour of the Great and Final Judgment!

They use excuses, because that is their way of hiding their obduracy. They give excuses, because that was their means of “winning” in the world. That was what they had learnt, in order to always “win”. Just how foolish are these “clever ones”? If excuses had removed us from Paradise, how is it ever possible for us to use them as an instrument for re-entry into Paradise?

My beloved brothers and sisters,

In His infinite mercy, the Son and Logos of God assumed flesh and became man. He walked alongside us in our place of exile, just like He did that evening in the Garden of Paradise. He came to our evening also, to seek out His lost and scared sheep, to give us one more chance. He was, is, and will be, the only Righteous and innocent one. And yet, from His Birth inside a cave for livestock, up until His Crucifixional Sacrifice, He lived utterly wronged, compared to what He really deserved. He never complained for Himself. When on trial, He could have provided excuses to the court which would have proved His innocence, with the power of His words or with the powers of His divinity, but He didn’t. He submitted Himself to even that horrific death penalty, and went patiently, despite His immense suffering and all the injustice, without saying anything, like a lamb to slaughter...

This was His way of giving us a resonating lesson: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. [...] I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done ...” (John 13:13-15).

If He – to Whom the Father gave Judgment and He is indeed the Judge – did not use excuses, but left everything up to the Father, then we, who want to be called Christ's disciples, should stay clear and be afraid of giving excuses, the way we fear and stay clear of fire, so that we may hope for “a good defense before the dread Judgment Seat of Christ”. Amen.

Beginning of Great Lent - The forgiveness at the very center of Christian faith and of Christian life

—Father Alexander Schmemann
Orthodox Church in America (photo from here)

In the Orthodox Church, the last Sunday before Great Lent—the day on which, at Vespers, Lent is liturgically announced and inaugurated—is called Forgiveness Sunday. On the morning of that Sunday, at the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words of Christ:

“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses...” (Mark 6:14-15).

Then after Vespers—after hearing the announcement of Lent in the Great Prokeimenon: “Turn not away Thy face from Thy child, for I am afflicted! Hear me speedily! Draw near unto my soul and deliver it!”, after making our entrance into Lenten worship, with its special melodies, with the prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, with its prostrations—we ask forgiveness from each other, we perform the rite of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as we approach each other with words of reconciliation, the choir intones the Paschal hymns, filling the church with the anticipation of Paschal joy.

What is the meaning of this rite? Why is it that the Church wants us to begin the Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation? These questions are in order because for too many people Lent means primarily, and almost exclusively, a change of diet, the compliance with ecclesiastical regulations concerning fasting. They understand fasting as an end in itself, as a “good deed” required by God and carrying in itself its merit and its reward. But the Church spares no effort in revealing to us that fasting is but a means, one among many, towards a higher goal: the spiritual renewal of man, his return to God, true repentance and, therefore, true reconciliation. The Church spares no effort in warning us against a hypocritical and pharisaic fasting, against the reduction of religion to mere external obligations. As a Lenten hymn says:

“In vain do you rejoice in not eating, O soul!
For you abstain from food,
But from passions you are not purified.
If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast!”

Now, forgiveness stands at the very center of Christian faith and of Christian life because Christianity itself is, above all, the religion of forgiveness. God forgives us, and His forgiveness is in Christ, His Son, whom He sends to us so that by sharing in His humanity we may share in His love and be truly reconciled with God. Indeed, Christianity has no other content but love. And it is primarily the renewal of that love, a growth in it, that we seek in Great Lent, in fasting and prayer, in the entire spirit and the entire effort of that season. Thus, truly forgiveness is both the beginning of, and the proper condition for, the Lenten season.

One may ask, however: Why should I perform this rite when I have no “enemies?” Why should I ask forgiveness from people who have done nothing to me, and whom I hardly know? To ask these questions is to misunderstand the Orthodox teaching concerning forgiveness. It is true that open enmity, personal hatred, real animosity may be absent from our life, though if we experience them, it may be easier for us to repent, for these feelings openly contradict Divine commandments. But the Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love. These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them—in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being “polite” and “friendly” we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize—be it only for one minute—that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual “recognition” which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.

On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood. As I advance towards the other, as the other comes to me—we begin to realize that it is Christ who brings us together by His love for both of us.

And because we make this discovery—and because this discovery is that of the Kingdom of God itself: the Kingdom of Peace and Love, of reconciliation with God and, in Him, with all that exists—we hear the hymns of that Feast, which once a year “opens to us the doors of Paradise.” We know why we shall fast and pray, what we shall seek during the long Lenten pilgrimage.

Forgiveness Sunday: the day on which we acquire the power to make our fasting—true fasting; our effort—true effort; our reconciliation with God—true reconciliation.

Τετάρτη 6 Μαρτίου 2019

The parable of the prodigal son is a mystagogic parable

Translation K.N.

The parable of the prodigal son is a mystically educational parable. It clearly refers to the sacrament of baptism, of repentance and of the Holy Eucharist. Salvation is on the table of the Church. The Father, the calf, the glory garment, as well as the other elements of glory. God could not have spoken more clearly. It was not about a moral path towards vindication, but a mystagogic ecclesiastic procedure; it is about the return and the rejoicing.

Saint Simeon tells us how, in the parable of the prodigal son is hidden and foreshadowed the great mystery of Repentance-Confession in its three stages: confession, contrition and satisfaction. Confession is found in the words "Father, I have sinned unto heaven and before you». In the words “I am not worthy of being called your son” we discern contrition. In the words “Do with me, as one of your wage-earners” is contained satisfaction; that is, the need for a certain spiritual penance that satisfies the crushed human state.

The older son did not covet the celebratory garment, the ring, the sandals and the fatherly embrace. He coveted the fattened calf and complained about the rejoicing and the celebration. The holy Fathers tell us that this stance refers to those of us who receive Holy Communion (=the sacrificial calf) and yet, judge the worth or the unworthiness of others. Poor, deluded fools!

When the father slaughtered the calf and prepared the banquet, were you not invited to participate in that celebration? Didn’t the sinner brother also have a right to be at the celebration and the banquet? Isn’t the Holy Chalice common to all? Did the father invite him and not you? And anyway, who, my dear fellow, made you a jurist and judge on My affairs? - as the Lord had said.

Whatever I give to him and to you, I give the same to both! Don’t I have the right to oversee those things that belong to me? Your brother was lost and was found; he was dead and lived again – Shouldn’t we therefore rejoice? He abandoned his past life, and I judged him worthy of rejoicing. Why are you still harboring inside you that foreign Past, which is no concern of yours at all? I evaluate his Present and act accordingly! Are you perhaps the guardian of my property? Do you perhaps covet my Love, o you tiny-souled, sick person!?!

Second Sunday of the Triodion
The sacramental dimension of the Triodion

The first Sunday of the Triodion - the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee – among other points was an introduction of ours to the Orthodox ethos, because the Triodion period is an opportunity for us to be re-baptised in the faith of Jesus Christ and in our substantial relationship with Him. So far, we have seen that the key to the Kingdom is humility, also the immense value of self-deprecation and the absolute dependence on divine mercy. We learned how to emulate the external virtues of the Pharisee but avoiding his haughty bragging, and also how to avoid the publican's life style but being zealous of his deep and saintly repentance.

This Sunday, of the son who returns and father who opens his embrace, has a prominently sacramental character. If the first Sunday pertains to the ethos, this one reveals to us the value of the Mysteries and our need to partake in them, in order to hereafter live as choice and genuine children of God. Patristic interpretation tells us what is declared by all these acts of love and honor that the merciful father is bestowing on the prodigal son: the embrace signifies the inclusion in the Kingdom and the acceptance of the son’s repentance. The father’s warm welcome is also an expression of unconditional, unique love.

The ring, the sandals and the new garment are the cloak of elation, which signifies the glory and the restoration by the Baptism, while the sacrifice of the fatted calf and the delight at a celebratory banquet clearly denotes the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist and Paschal participation.

And before all the above, there is the return of the son, his open admission, his humiliation in front of the father and the final absolution, which surpasses the absolution and penances and becomes joy and honour; that is, the mystery of repentance and confession - a prerequisite for the return to life, to the actual life. The life in the paternal home, which is the life near God. Outside that home there is no life; only famine and swine and servitude to a master of prostitutes, prodigals and swineherds, who reigns in the land of hunger and death.

Thus, the period of the Triodion is, above all, a period of liturgical splendour and Eucharistic opportunities. A period that not only has to do with our emotional load and psychological priorities and our ascetic ethos, but with our return to the genuine ecclesiastic way of life. And the ecclesiastic way of life signifies our participation in the sacraments. And our participation in the sacraments signifies a substantiation of man, the return to being, and an existence near God.

That is when the genuine traveler of the Triodion can say that he was lost and then found, dead and lived again; by having received true light and becoming true light, he can proceed without stumbling to the Paschal joy of the Resurrection, which rises at the end of the Triodion’s course.

“Having squandered the paternal gift of wealth,
I, the wretch, was grazing with senseless beasts,
and by longing for their food, I was starving,
not sated by it; but, on returning to the merciful Father,
I cry out with tears: “Accept me as a wage-earner
beseeching Your philanthropy, and save me”

Satan, as the "eldest son" in the parable of the prodigal son

I think the older son of the parable resembles Lucifer, as opposed to the younger son, who is clearly man, Adam.

God is father to both, because He is the creator of both. And of course, given the temporal precedence of his creation, the devil is considered an “elder son” (as a creation within Time).

The younger son Adam apostatizes and leaves the paternal home. But when he returns to Paradise - and each time he returns to Paradise - to the paternal home and embrace, he becomes an object of envy, by the older son.

The older son is portrayed in the parable as already outside the paternal home, just like the devil, who had apostatized and had remained “outside”, prior to the fall of Adam. He feigns ignorance, and seeks to learn the cause of rejoicing from a servant (an Angel, a priest, a Christian) – obviously to make him a co-partaker of his indignation and his own situation. By envying his co-creation (man), he calumniates him to the Father (“your son squandered your wealth with prostitutes, etc...”).

Furthermore, bedimmed as he was, he managed to overlook his own fall and blindness, accusing his father of thanklessness and ungratefulness, and, presenting himself as a wronged Prometheus, he complained that his Father never provided even a young goat for his friends (demons) to celebrate a banquet together with them (the joy of paradise is hell for the un-communed and unclean), and he holds the Father responsible for his personal self-destruction, for God’s supposed bias and injustice – all because he had attained a perverted sense of justice and a blackened self-government.

His Father reminds him of the glory that he used to have previously, near Him, but also the potential to be like an Archangel (regardless of his persistence in remaining perverted with his self-government) and attempts to put him in Paradise as well, to co-rejoice with his fellow-man (because God invites even Satan to repentance). But the older son refuses, he becomes possessed (enraged), does not enter (“did not wish to enter”) and remains forever away from the rejoicing of the Father (non-communion, “hell”) – whereas the servants of the Father (benevolent Angels) co-rejoice and concelebrate for the return of Adam to the paternal home (There is great joy "in heaven, for even one repented sinner" - Luke 15:7).

Let us also remember how man was invited to replace the tenth angelic order of Lucifer and his angels who had lapsed, as well as the parable of the lost sheep, where the shepherd (God) leaves the nine sheep (the nine orders of Angels) and seeks to find the one lost sheep. He then finds it, and numbers it among the nine others, who co-rejoice for the return of that sheep.

The Christian, who looks upon the return of a repented brother with a “crooked” eye and a devilish disposition, and regards as unacceptable the pastoral concern of the Church for the misled brother, resembles that evil and perverted Satan himself. By having the illusion of superiority and spiritual self-sufficiency, he considers God the Father responsible for his own wretched situation, obliged to justify him and to also minister to him; and yet, he does not in fact want to be ministered to or helped, but eventually proves himself to be a sinner and a prodigal.

The love and the righteousness of the Father is “hell” for him, and it reveals the misery of his existence – just as limitless sunlight is death to the gloomiest and most abysmal darknesses.

See also
Man and his Fall - Analysis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son
Orthodox Spiritual Legacy: A Guide to the Triodion and Lent, on the Road to Easter
Triodion resource page
Protestants ask: Why be Orthodox?   
During the time that Luther and Calvin were formulating the Reformation...
The ancient Christian Church - About Orthodox Church in the West World
Travelers on the way to light  



Photo from here

Translation K.N.

Most people – especially the young – do not care for mediocre situations, but rather the extreme and exceptional ones.  We usually live a mediocre life, one that generates routine, which is why we seek something that deviates from the narrow limits of our daily lives:  maybe just a few moments – or perhaps even a whole lifetime – beyond the limits!

This is only natural, if we (along with the Holy Bible and the holy, Christian teachers) accept that man is called upon by God to become similar to Him – something that would entirely deviate from the limits of life and man as we know them.  With a prospect like that, it is only logical to seek the transcending of every limit.

But the question is:  In which direction should I go, beyond the limits?  In which elements of my selfIn which areas of my life? Which sentiments, which acts?  If I exceed the limits of my temper and my anger tantrums, what will become of my life and my relations with those who love me? (Because there are those who actually love me).  Is that what I want in my life?

If I exceed the limits in cruelty, I will turn into a beast.  If I exceed the limits in my hunt for riches or my desire for a career, I will remove from my heart whoever doesn’t help me in my desires and I will end up alone.  Should I exceed the speed limits with a car or a motorbike, putting my own life and others’ at risk?  Should I indulge in the excesses of partying and entertainment?  In abuses and in the “gathering of experiences”?  Of course, I can choose whatever I like, but is that what I really want?

Exceeding the limits in my caring for others, in loving the others, is something that my heart tells me is beautiful.  Provided I love others sincerely, and not love only what I want from others, because then my love will become oppressive and selfish.  Should I exceed the limits in making sacrifices for others, in forgiving others?  Should I be humble, beyond the limits?  Everyone tells me that it would be extremely stupid:  “Others don’t love you – why should you love them? Love only those who love you, for as long as they love you.  Learn to not forgive, because they will exploit you.  And don’t be so sensitive, because it will cause you grief – mainly over others’ problems.”

But, you know, that is exactly what Christ tells me to do.  And it would be wonderful, if what Christ said could be done: for all of us to love each other.  However, is it possible?  Of course, not everyone loved Christ; so, if everyone didn’t love Him, just imagine my situation….  They flogged Him and the crucified Him.  And yet, while on the Cross, He said “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing”.

NOW, THAT WAS TRULY AN ACT THAT WENT BEYOND THE LIMITS! It was a love that exceeded the limits!  A love worthy of a God.

If one of us – you, me – seriously attempted to go beyond the limits in that direction (my heart wants to, but my brain is terribly hesitant), what will be the outcome?
Well, here’s what will happen:  that person will become a saint.
He will open his heart and the most benevolent energy that exists in the universe will penetrate inside it – an energy older than the universe itself, and far brighter than the brightest sun! This energy (which the saints have received inside them) is referred to as “divine Grace”; it brings them an indescribable joy, and they all claim that it originates from that ancient Being Who is behind the creation of everything, and which we humans refer to (each in his own language) as “God”.

Thats what will happen.
I too desire divine Grace. But I am not able to love the entire world. I don’t even know if I want to love the entire world – does that include the murderer, the exploiter, the sadist?   Oh…. this matter  is so confusing….  It certainly is a life beyond the limits... But how far beyond?  It is way beyond the limits of straddling a racing bike and stepping on it…  I don’t know if I want to go THAT far!
So – are you now placing limits?  Alright, let me tell you what my thoughts are, and you can then choose for yourself if you want to look into the matter further.

Saint Porphyrios – a contemporary man, who lived entirely BEYOND THE LIMITS. Worth meeting him, here.
In order to apply what Christ said (yes, He told us to love all the world, including our enemies – that is, those who hinder us from doing what we want, those who hate us or harm us), I must embark on a struggle to achieve it.  Do I get any help from anyone
Dont rush into replyingNo”. Let’s instead ask those who actually applied it in their lives: the saints. They claim that someone does help them: Christ Himself.  He helps me, by providing the potential to open up my heart through prayer and offering me the divine Grace that will give me the strength for that struggle, and eventually, a nest will be created within my heart, ready to receive entire waterfalls of divine Grace!
He helps me. By providing me with the potential for repentance, i.e., the ability to change my choices, to change my behaviour, to combat my faults, which are the hindrances that won’t allow me to open up to love. 
Yes, I have such faults; and if I cant discern that, I will, if I read the Gospel and check out how Christ lived, and what He taught... Repentance (the "very modern movement") is a great help indeed, because, if it didn’t exist, my heart would turn darker and darker and would never receive divine Grace. Now, He Who grants gift packages of divine Grace because I repented (which fortifies me and encourages me), helps me by giving me «a mystery that stalks us since childhood» that is worth discovering because it hides a mystical charm that has passed from generation to generation.

Fr. George Kaltsiou, who made friends of his expected murderers, thus loving beyond the limits...
Butyou may ask Did someone really do things like that?  Show me some who actually lived beyond the limits, and how they ended up!

Well, here’s one who lived beyond the limits:  Father George Kaltsiou, who wsa imprisoned for his Christian faith by the atheist regime of Rumania, and who, with his love and kindness converted into friends the murderers that the prison establishment had instructed to kill him!
Also beyond the limits was the philosopher and martyr of the Rumanian prisons, who lived, loved and believed - Constantin Oprisan
“Whenever we quarrelled (in the prison cell), he would pray.  His prayer was effective.  We were embarrassed, because we knew he wsa praying.  He didn’t pray out loud, but you could see it, in his altered features.  He was in a wretched condition, because he had been tortured at Pitesti for 3 years.  They beat him on the chest and the back; they had destroyed his lungs, but he prayed all day.  He never said a single bad word about his torturers; he only talked about Christ… Once, when we were taken outside, when he took off his shirt I noticed that his back was full of stripes, like a zebra…like he had been skinned alive, burnt or flogged… God only knows
Saint Constantin Oprisan
The same with the poet and martyr, Saint Valeriu Gafencu, whom you can meet in this analytical dedication in English.

Each and every ascetic has lived beyond the limits, when consciously denying his comfort, his well-being and consumerism in order to ennoble his heart and fill it with love for God, for fellow-man and all the creatures of the world.  Of course we are speaking here of people with a humble heart, filled with love, and not of harsh individuals who live ascetically and toughen themselves in order to “attain power”. They could alienate themselves entirely from God and go beyond the limits, into meanness and darkness.  That is not what I want.  I don’t wish to become a “sage” – that is, exceptionally educated but cruel at heart – and imagine myself to be “spiritually advanced”.  The humble yet uneducated saints of all peoples and ages who united themselves to God thanks to their kindness are far more advanced spiritually than me.

The poet and martyr, Saint Valeriu Gafencu
– a man with incredible experiences of Divine Light, inside the hell-hole of prison!
Also beyond the limits were the lives of all the martyrs who preferred torture and death rather than deny Christ and worship other “gods”.  Many of those martyrs were 15-year-old girls, or even younger!
What happened to them? Well, here’s how: The contemporary Elder Porphyrios could sense from Athens the pain of the people who were being killed in Rumania during the uprising of 1989. That is how great a love he had for all the world.
Saint Marina, who lived in the 3rd century, appeared as a doctor in Houston in 2000 and assisted in the surgery of young Andreas Vasiliou from Limassol, Cyprus…
Saint Efemia, who also lived in olden times, had told the Elder Paisios:  “If I had known what Paradise is like, I would have been able to tolerate even more tortures”.
Also beyond the limits lives Edna King’s family, an Orthodox family in the USA, whose 8-year-old daughter left for Heaven and, instead of shouting in anger against God, says “We praise the Lord for the eight years that He gave us Maria Evelina and we lived with her”.
Beyond the limits was the life of the physiotherapist Gavriilia Papayanni (a very important, contemporary teacher of the Orthodox spiritual legacy), who travelled as far as India and other poor countries in order to serve “the most tormented people on Earth”.
Saint Maria Skobtsova also lived beyond the limits, in Paris, where – after helping thousands of poor people but also persecuted Jews during World War II -  also took the place (it seems) of a condemned Jewish woman and died in her place, in the Ravensburg concentration camp.
Fr. Seraphim Rose who left behind the opportunity for a brilliant career in the University of California also lived beyond the limits and went to work as a waiter because he didn’t find in his university professors the same thirst that he had for the Truth!
Here also is one of the sexiest women of all the ages, who lived entirely beyond the limits!

The heroic King family in the USA. They are holding in their hands the icon of a contemporary saint, who lived entirely BEYOND THE LIMITS: he wandered the streets of Shanghai and gathered babies that were dumped in garbage and children from whore houses, to provide them with shelter at the orphanage he had established. What happened to him? He became a miracle-working saint. Read his life story, here.

Yes, all of them – and many more – have lived and continue to live beyond the limits.  And they fought hard to achieve it.  They weren’t under the illusion that they could do it on their own; they struggled with the help of Christ, in the manner that the holy teachers of Orthodoxy – old and contemporary – have indicated. And they were ecstatically happy when they succeeded.
Beyond those limits is Christ. Beyond those limits is Love. Beyond those limits are rivers and waterfalls of divine Grace, which awaits us to place it in our heart – which awaits you to place it in your heart.
That is where the Saints are, who await you to call upon them; that is where your Religious Teacher is, who awaits you to discuss all your queries; that is where your parish priest is, who awaits you to get started, through discussion or confession -that is the starting point. And of course He is there – the Crucified and Resurrected One (as much as you don’t dare to believe something like that) – Who says to you “Come as you are”… as mean as you might be, as pained as you may be, as angry as you may be,  regardless how you are dressed or how you have adorned your body… He awaits youCOME AS YOU ARE. If, of course, you want to. Your freedom is your most inviolable right. And your second inviolable right is to meet with Him.