Few words about love

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
John 13:35

One can hear a multitude of answers to a question on what does it mean to be an orthodox christian.  Certainly, to be one you have to be baptized in the Orthodox Church, you have to participate in Her life conscientiously and actively, you have to take part in Her mysteries, you have to keep – in accordance with your strength – all the rules of the Universal and your own local church.  However, all of this may not be enough.  If we recall the words of the holy apostle Paul, we’ll remember that, even giving ourselves up for burning for the sake of God, we shall obtain nothing unless we have love.

Christianity is the faith of Love.  The Lord provoked the pharisees and lawyers to much anger by preaching about love not only for one’s neighbor, but also for one’s enemy.

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
Luke 6:27-28

In our time, so much is said about love that a human life possibly will not be enough to make sense of all that is said and written. Yet, if we were to consider the Lord’s words about love for our enemies, we will have to admit of necessity that the majority of statements and opinions do not have the slightest relation to love. Most likely, these will be about attraction, about people’s egocentric undertakings in the search for elusive happiness.

What is true love? It may, or shall we better say it should, be seen on the cross of the Lord. God’s love for the people that are fallen, sinful, and in need of the Saviour, led the Son of God to the cross. The Lord voluntarily accepted the fearful, shameful death not only for the sake of the small group of people, who stood near His cross, but for the sake of all. Speaking in short, the Lord didn’t do that which was pleasant, or convenient to Him, but that which was necessary for all of us. The Lord’s suffering on the cross is His love toward us.

I hope that the above said will help us think deeper about the meaning of love. To love is to sacrifice one’s own self for the sake of another. It is for this very reason that the Lord says that there is no greater love, than to lay down’s one’s life (one’s soul) for one’s friends. Oh, if only those entering marriage thought of love specifically in this way! The number of divorces would be infinately smaller. Also, not only the number of divorces, but the count of disappointments in the relationships of people not tied by filial bonds would be significantly lower if they thought of love as sacrifice rather than benefit.

The holy apostle Paul teaches that it is more blessed to give than to receive. In other words, we can say that it is better to love than to be loved.

We have no doubt that God loves us. Let us also love God and our neighbor, that way we shall keep all the commandments unto the glory of God.

Праздничные искушения

Святые отцы говорят, что ни одно доброе дело не обходится без искушений до его совершения, во время его, или после. Это правило можно применить и ко времени великих церковных праздников – всегда, что-нибудь случается: обиды, ссоры, расстройства, утраты, лишения. Не столько важно, что именно происходит, сколько важно то, что праздничная радость и благодать отступают от нас если мы не стоим на страже своего сердца и не отсекаем негативные и лукавые помыслы, которые стремятся обуревать нас во время искушения.

Часто, мы сами являемся виновниками своих падений:  вдаваясь в мечтания о том, каким будет наше празднование, мы готовим для себя ловушку – как только что-то идет не так, как мы мечтали, мы гневаемся, малодушествуем, раздражаемся и ропщем. Происходит некий парадокс – мы празднуем Господни праздники, но желаем, (пусть даже сами того не замечая) чтобы все было по нашей воле.

Бывает, что кто-то обижает нас несправедливо, словом или делом приводя нас в смущение.  В таких случаях, очень уместно вспомнить поучение преподобного Нила Синайского, из его слова о гневе:

“Кто уязвляется злоречием других, не относя его к диаволу, как источнику, тот еще более поощряет врага уготовлять на себя стрелы, – тем, что душа его падает, уязвляема будучи таким злоречием.”

Эти слова следует навсегда запомнить для того, чтобы не попадать в одну и ту же ловушку раз за разом.

В целом, во всяком благом деле необходимо внимание и трезвение потому, что враг никогда не дремлет и всегда ищет способа испортить наши несомые Бога ради труды.

Однажды, святому Антонию Великому были показаны все сети диавола.  Преподобный воскликнул:  “Господи, кто сможет избежать всего этого?” Тогда ему был голос с неба, который сказал:  “Смирение”. Смирение можно смело назвать корнем всех добродетелей. Смирение всегда защитит и сохранит нас во всех искушениях.  Даже во дни великих праздников Господних, будем держаться смирения, а с ним исполнимся радости, мира, и Божией благодати.  Аминь.

Festive temptations

The holy fathers say that every single good work is not without temptation before it is done, during the undertaking, or after it is finished.  The same rule may be applied during the time of the great feasts of the church.  Always, something happens:  an offence, an argument, an upset, a loss, a deprivation.  It is not so important that something takes place, what is most important is that the festive joy and the grace of God abandon us if we do not stand on guard of heart, and do not cut off the evil and negative thoughts that try to overwhelm us during the time of temptation.

Often, we ourselves are the cause of our falls:  giving into dreams about how we are going to celebrate a feast, we prepare a snare for ourselves – as soon as something doesn’t go the way we planned, we get angry, weak in soul, irritable and start complaining.  A certain paradox takes place:  we celebrate the Lord’s feasts, yet (maybe not even noticing it ourselves) wish for everything to be according to our will.

It happens, sometimes, that someone offends us unjustly, bringing us to a state of confusion by a word, or by deed.  In those instances, it is most appropriate to recall the teaching of St. Nilus of Sinai, from his word on anger:

“If anyone is hurt by the evil words of another, not attributing them to the devil as their source, then he only encourages the enemy all the more to prepare arrows for him, in that his soul falls, being wounded by such evil speech.”

We should memorize these words in order not to fall into the same trap time after time.

On the whole, every good work requires attention and sobriety because the enemy never sleeps and always looks for a way to spoil the labours we undertake for God’s sake.

Once, St. Anthony the Great was shown all the snares of the devil.  The Saint cried out:  “O Lord, who can escape all these?” Then, from heaven, there came a voice unto him that said:  “Humility”. Humility, in all boldness, may be called the root of all virtues.  Humility will always protect and preserve us from harm in all temptations.  Therefore, during the great feasts of the Lord, let us seek to be filled with humility, because, being filled with it, we will be filled with joy, peace, and God’s grace.  Amen.

Христос Воскресе!!!

Дорогие читатели,

Поздравляю всех вас со светлым праздником Христова Воскресения!

От всего сердца желаю всем радости и мира Божия в эти спасительные дни.

Испрашиваю святых молитв.
Иерей Вячеслав.

Православие в современном мире

Предлагаю звукозапись лекции, прочитанной мной в сербской церкви Святой Троицы в Киченере, Онтарио, 24го февраля этого года.

Православие в современном мире
Размер файла 24 мегабайта.

Прошу прощения – лекция была прочитана на английском языке.

Orthodoxy in the contemporary world

I would like to offer the audio recording of the lecture that I read at the Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox church in Kitchener, Ontario, on February 24th of this year.

It may be downloaded here: Orthodoxy in the contemporary world.
File size: 24 mbs.

The lecture is in English.

Вербное воскресенье

Сегодня, Вербное воскресенье.  Люди приходят в церковь с пучками вербочек в руках.  У всех праздничное настроение.  До Пасхи осталась всего лишь одна, наполненная чудными богослужениями неделя.

Хотелось бы вернуться в прошлое для того, чтобы почерпнуть маленький урок о значении этих милых, дорогих всем вербочек.  Этот праздник, по церковному уставу называется Вход Господень в Иерусалим.  Почти две тысячи лет назад, Господь, в Своем смирении, пришел в Иерусалим – вернее приехал туда на ослике.  За день до Своего пришествия в Иерусалим, Он сотворил великое чудо – воскресил из мертвых Своего друга, Лазаря, который был мертв четыре дня и уже начал разлагаться в гробу и смердить.  Весть о столь великом, неслыханном дотоле чуде быстро распространилась и дошла до Иерусалима.  Поэтому, народ, в великом множестве собрался у входа в город, чтобы посмотреть на этого великого Чудотворца, Господа, Воскресителя из мертвых.

Дороги, в те времена, были грунтовыми и, в сухом и жарком климате Святой Земли, очень пыльными.  Именно поэтому, люди стелили свои одежды и широкие пальмовые ветви на дорогу, образуя некий ковер, чтобы при пришествии Спасителя не было пыли и Его можно было увидеть.  У нас в России пальмы не растут, поэтому с древних времен у нас этот праздник называется в народе не Пальмовым воскресеньем, как он зовется в теплых странах, а Вербным.

Урок же, из действий народа, можно извлечь следующий – Господь часто проходит и мимо нас, но мы Его, в непосредственной близости к нам, не видим.  Для того, чтобы мысленно увидеть Господа, необходимо предпринять некий труд, принести хотя бы малую жертву Богу.  Люди бросали на дорогу свою одежду и пальмовые ветви.  И то, и другое приобретается трудом; даже покупается оно деньгами, которые прежде нужно заработать.  Также и в духовной жизни – наши посильные труды:  молитва, пост и помощь ближним покрывают собой пыль страстей и повседневных забот, позволяя нам духовно лицезреть Господа.

Увы, часто мы хотим, чтобы кто-то другой потрудился за нас – пусть батюшка в алтаре помолится, пусть свечка погорит у иконы.  Мы же, трудиться не хотим и поэтому не получаем благодати и утешения Божия.

Стоя во храме Божием, держа в руках вербочки, вспомним как народ встречал Господа при Его входе в Иерусалим.  Покроем пыльную дорогу земных испытаний и скорбей посильными трудами во славу Божию, исполнением заповедей Его.  Тогда увидим, что по ней, идя к смерти на Кресту, прошел Сам Царь Славы – Господь Иисус Христос и, увидев Его, не убоимся и мы последовать за Ним и пойти к своему кресту.  Идя вслед за Ним, видя Его страдания, Его терпение и безропотность, утешимся и мы, грешные, ибо как можно роптать о наших малых испытаниях, созерцая страдания Господня, которые Он претерпал за нас и ради нас.

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm (in Russia – Pussy Willow) Sunday.  People come to church with small bunches of pussy willows in their hands.  Everyone is in a festive mood.  Only one week, filled with wondrous divine services, is left until Pascha.

It would be nice to go back in time in order to draw a small lesson about the meaning of these pussy willows that everyone finds so cute.  This feast, according to the church ustav (rubrics) is called The entry of the Lord into Jerusalem.  Almost two thousand years ago, the Lord, in His humility, came to Jerusalem; to be exact:  He rode in on a donkey.  The day before His coming to Jerusalem, He worked a great miracle:  He raised His friend Lazarus, who was dead four days and already began to decompose and stink in the tomb, from the dead.  The news of such a great and until that time unheard of miracle spread quickly and reached Jerusalem.  For that reason, the people in great multitudes gathered at the entrance to the city in order to look upon this great Wonderworker, the Lord, Who raises from the dead.

The roads in those days were unpaved and, in the hot and dry climate of the Holy Land, very dusty.  That was the very reason why the people put their garments and wide palm branches on the road, making a sort of a carpet, so that when the Saviour were to come there would not be any dust in the air and it would be possible to see Him.  Palms do not grow in Russia, that is the reason why from ancient times there this feast among the people is referred to not as Palm (as it is in the warm countries), but rather as the Pussy Willow Sunday.

The action of the people offers us the following lesson:  the Lord often passes by us, very close to us, but we do not see Him.  In order to see the Lord noetically, we must undertake some labour, offer at least a small sacrifice to God.  People put their garments and palm branches on the road.  Both things are obtained with labour; even if they were to be bought with money, because that has to be earned first as well.  Similarly, in the spiritual life our labours according to our strength: prayer, fasting, and helping our neighbor cover the dust of the passions and cares of the daily life, giving us the possibility to see the Lord spiritually.

Alas, often we wish that others should labour instead of us:  let the father (the priest) pray in the altar, let the candle burn before the icon.  As for ourselves, we do not want to work and that is why we do not receive the grace of God and His consolation.

Standing in the church of God, holding pussy willows (palms) in our hands, let us remember how the people met the Lord during His entry into Jerusalem.  Let us cover the dusty road of earthy trials and sorrows with the possible labours unto the glory of God, with the keeping of His commandments.  Then we will see that this road, on the way to the death on the Cross, was travelled by the King of Glory Himself:  by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Having seen Him, we also will not be afraid of following Him and go to our cross.  Walking after Him, seeing His sufferings, His patience and absence of murmuring, we sinners also will be consoled, for how can one complain about our small trials, when looking upon the passion of the Lord, the passion that He endured for us and for our sake.

Consolation in grief

Undoubtedly, everyone in his lifetime was visited by the Lord with grief.  Illness, loss, betrayal, slander, persecution, and other sorrows are familiar to many.  As a rule, rarely is anyone glad to be visited by sorrow.  Rarely does anyone ask God for sorrow.  In most cases people are afraid of sorrows and do not wish to experience them.  Hence, the question rises:  “How should one purport himself in sorrow?  How should one behave when sorrow, like an unexpected guest, pays a visit?”

Being a parish priest, I often see that people in sorrow come to church; occasionally, for the first time in a long while; occasionally, for the first time in their life.  Everyone goes through his grief in his own way:  someone comes to himself and is sobered from the intoxication of the daily worldly life; someone quietly slips down into the pit of faint-heartedness and murmuring against one’s fate (as it is ordered by God); someone is angered, hardens one’s heart and murmurs not only agaist his fate, but also against God.  Often, people in comparably similar circumstances behave themselves quite differently.  It is obvious:  the way in which everyone goes through his sorrow in many ways depends upon himself and upon his spiritual state.

In the book “The Spiritual Meadow”, Saint John Moschos offers the following, beautiful example of how what is sorrow for one person could be happiness for another.  Once, Saint John and his friend, Saint Sophronios, the future Patriarch of Jerusalem, came to a church somewhere in Palestine.  There they beheld a very strange sight:  a very beautiful, young woman with loud wailing and sighing was praying before the icons and asking something of God.  Surprised, they called her servant girl and asked her what the matter was.  The servant girl explained that her mistress recently became a widow.  Being left alone, she wanted to remain faithful to her departed husband until her death bed, but was sorely tempted because a certain young soldier began seeking her attention.  On account of all this, she came to the church and began asking God to send her a grave illness in order that, being sick in bed, she would not have an opportunity to fall into sin.  When Saints John and Sophronios returned to the same church in a week, they did not see the yong widow, but only her servant girl.  Having asked her about the state of her mistress, in wonder, they received the following reply:  “God heard her prayer.  She is in bed and with her whole heart is thankful to God for the illness that He sent her.”

Here is a wonderful example when a person askes God for sorrow for the humbling of one’s flesh and a victory in the struggle against a temptation.  However, we rarely have such courage and determination in the struggle with the passions and therefore, the Lord, as the loving Father and wise Physician, of His own accord sends us the necessary sorrows, without which we could have perished spiritually.  Alas, we have almost forgotten that punishment has as its purpose the correction unto good, and not a meaningless infliction of pain.

Does that mean that all of us should ask God for sorrows?  Not at all.  Hardly there are those among us, who have matured spiritually to such a  state.  The Holy Fathers teach us to walk the Royal Path and not to sway into extremes.  The safest way is the way of humility.  One should not ask the Lord for sorrows out of humility because no one knows whether he will be able to bear that which he asks.  At the same time, one should not be faint-hearted and should not murmur when sorrows visit us of their own accord.  One should ask God for help and patience, and if it is expedient for our soul, for the deliverance from besetting grief.  The best balm for the soul in time of sorrow are the words:  Glory be to God for all things!

It seems that my thought is coming to a close, but someone might say:  “And what about the consolation?  Where is the consolation in grief?”  As strange as it may seem, the sorrow itself often is the source of consolation.  As a bitter medicine, unpleasant and filled with pain in the beginning, it heals and purifies the soul of a believer.  Together with healing and cleansing a person is visited by a profound peace.  And where there is peace, as the Holy Fathers say, there is God.