The situation is the following: people pray to God to save them from troubles, and God prays to people to abandon sin. Now, who should listen to whom first? Should God listen to people or should people listen to God?
I wanted to touch upon the root of suffering which is sin...As I was praying for "the peace of the whole world, the good estate of the holy churches of God", all of a sudden I hear in my inner ear the bitter confrontation: "Don't ask Me to give peace to people, but ask people to change their ways, if they ever want to see peace on earth". Clearly, things are not good. (Fr. Arsenie Boca, 1910-1989)
The problem is that many of the subjects that are adopted by these currents are actually real and very important (the false threat of terrorism, the murderous lie of global warming, the politics of population reduction, the global systems of surveillance of the Big Brother type, the villainy of the banking - corporate system and the pharmaceutical system, etc.), but once these are monopolized by such currents, they lose their credibility for a great part of the public opinion.
Man cannot do the things he needs to do because he cannot escape the power of the enemy without God's help. Man doesn't even know what is useful for him without God's illumination. So, man's will in itself does not know what to do towards his own good. That is why man prays to God to reveal His will to him, in order to know what to do. Man does not know through himself neither that evil comes from the devil, nor that evil is evil. In his pride, he thinks that everything he wants is good by submitting himself to selfish temptations.
If time was the only form of existence, attacked from all sides by death, then you couldn't truly hope for anything, since the hopes for short future pleasures, that pass, do no deserve such a title. "Do not hope for anything and do not be afraid" would be the wisest advice that could be given to man. Anticipate death even from now, become apathetic towards everything, if nothingness awaits for us soon! Or, drown these unpleasant thoughts in the noise of parties, in the forgetfulness of alcoholic dizziness, and the paroxysm of unleashed physical senses!
Yet, no, time is not the ultimate reality! Time is only a phase of life. It is the outer appearance, the appearance of a world that is fallen from the realm of spiritual existence. The man who is capable of spiritual existence doesn't feel time as much. Everybody knows from experience that the happiest moments do not get observed as they pass. To the contrary, great suffering is experienced as a very long time, longer than mathematical time. Time is measured in two ways: according to inner experience and according to mathematical units, and the relationship between the two is very lax. An hour of mathematical time can sometimes be experienced as many hours, and other times as one second, or simply isn't noticed. That means that eternity penetrates time, invades time and determines the way it flows. (Theologian, Father Dumitru Staniloae 1903-1993)
Somewhere in the Journal of Happiness, Nicoale Steinhardt was confessing that on August 30th, 1944 he was on the corner of Olari street and Calea Mosilor, together with others, looking at the Russian troops that were entering Bucharest, from Colentina: "I was sitting, too, and watching the tanks. I swear I was not laughing, nor saluting, nor applauding, nor exclaiming; I was simply sitting and watching, just like that. All of a sudden, I feel that someone pulls me by my shoulder and blesses me with an "IDIOT!", pronounced in a clear and emphatic way -- "You are sitting and watching, idiot; you are all sitting and watching, not knowing what awaits you. Look at them laughing, but they are going to cry bitterly, and you the same... Let's go home..."
It was his father, the engineer and architect Oscar Steinhardt, active participant in the First World War, wounded at Marasesti and decorated with the Military Virtue. Far from the naive enthusiasm of those who were seeing in those moments of 1944 the signs of the end of the war, far from the poisoned enthusiasm of the opportunists and occasional profiteers, the jew, Oscar Steinhardt understood that Romania and a great part of the European continent fell from the lake into the marsh, as it is said. After the errors of fascism and nazism, history was about to deliver them another package, totalitarian communism, which would last for a long time.
The people have the leadership. There is a saying: to every nation, God gives the leaders that they deserve...God doesn't punish us, but allows us to do whatever we want! (Archbishop Iustinian Chira in December 2012)
In my life, I've seen many people on their death beds. You know that I am over 90. Their screams, their contact with a different world which they knew about, but did not believe in, their knowledge of their own sins that could not be fixed except by coming back into this world... To come back was impossible, though, because death had come to take them away...I've told you this before: death does not come over for a cup of coffee, but to take you away. Death is a reality. And all the dying people that I've seen wanted to live, if only for just one more day.
Know that not in a day, but in a second you can do very much. I repeat, if you don't know how to die and resurrect every day, if you don't consider the great problem of your existence, then you are not going to accomplish anything important towards your salvation. Death is a reality; there's nothing we can do about it. Heaven is a reality, hell -- another reality. If we live without asking ourselves: "What is it with me and these values, with these things that will come?" -- it's a great mistake. Even a holy father said this: if you believe that there is Eternity and you don't do anything about it, you deserve to be locked in an insane asylum.
What is the requirement of a young man who just married his wife? "Why didn't you think about me all day?", isn't it? That is God's attitude towards man, taking into account that man is His creation. "I made you, I gave light to your eyes, a heart and a voice, I show you mercy, I judge you, I give you joy, without Me you are nothing, I can take your life any moment". It is a truth, a certain truth. If you are ignorant and wait for things to fall from the sky, then that is not good.
Man is a superior being, superior to the entire creation. When God made Creation he said it and it was made through a single word. Man, though, He sculpted, He made him in His image and likeness. Image and likeness, everybody knows, but nobody thinks about what it means. We can be gods through Grace, superior to the angels. Angels have an amazing mission which they accomplish with great, great precision. As a structure, as a finality, man is superior to the angels, man leads the Universe and that's why Jesus Christ became The Son of Man, perfect man; in order to save us, to awaken us.
Jesus brought us more than Adam lost. He brought us the ability to be deified through Grace; He gave us the power to give up sin, to forgive our enemies, to exist as an entity greater than any other. All creation is wonderful, but, in particular, man was created out of a great love that I don't think can be expressed through words. God is something other than what we believe; He is perfect love. He created us just for Himself, not for someone else or something else. He created us so that we can be with Him forever. (Elder Arsenie Papacioc, 1914-2011)
Note: Personally, I don't believe man is literally superior to the angels and that Fr. Arsenie is trying to point out our unique value and infinite potential, as pinnacle or crown of all creation. Hope I am not wrong.
Television is a wisdom, but one that is used directly by the tempter, so that purity and holiness cannot exist, both bodily and spiritually. Instead of watching television and filling our souls and hearts with the evil that is shown there, it is better that we read something spiritual, in order to strengthen our faith and progress along the true road that we, Orthodox Christians, must walk. Father, but can't this television, this "enemy of man", be managed, if only in part? Well, how? How to manage it? Because they show what's bad. True, it reminds you of sin, but... Then, in order to watch TV and not remember sin, you must be deified. That's true. Otherwise, a child, and not only a child, but human nature, in general, will pull you towards bad things. What do they show on TV? Only what man likes, what his passions like. What if we tried to make a selection? I mean, watch what is beneficial to our souls. There are documentaries, there are... There are, but man is weak. He says: "They said that it is like this"..."Let's see, what are they going to say next?"... Yes, yes, yes. So, if the TV gets our attention, we can't also have God. It's over! How can you have God when man is inclined towards bad things from his youth?
See with how much diplomacy Satan enters our world, in order to destroy it? What he would once whisper into our ears and we'd see in our minds, for he is spirit, evil spirit, the source of all evil, now, he shows to us openly through television.
See, the leaders of TV stations are people, totally given over to evil, we could infer, since they could show good things in order to fix mankind, to put people on the path to truth; they could be close to the advice and teachings of The Church, so that our souls are pure and without blemish. Yet, to the contrary, they show all kinds of "needs" of the people, evil needs, because "the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth".
(Elder Dionisie Ignat of Colciu Cell, Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos, 1909-2004)
Irineu Protcenco was born in 1888, in Nova Pavlenko village, modern-day Ukraine, and fell asleep in The Lord in 1953, at Sihastria Monastery, Romania. He is the painter of Saints Joachim and Anna chapel (in the yard of Sihastria Monastery). He was a perfected icon painter, his icons being unique up to this day. It is an extraordinary thing, if we take into account that he only had one healthy eye, having lost the other one during The First World War, in an accident that, we, humans, would be tempted to consider stupid, but let us not forget that God allowed it to happen: as another soldier was dusting his clothes off, a piece of glass flew away and sectioned his iris. Before he would paint a saint, he would study his life thoroughly. He would paint during the first half of the day, and fast totally and not speak with anybody during that period. Even when Elder Paisie Olaru went up the scaffolding to admire his paintings, he was told: "If you come, I go", causing Fr. Paisie to leave quickly and ask forgiveness. After he ate, he would not paint at all, but would do something else (such as mix his colors). He was made a monk not long before his death, at Sihastria Monastery, where he lived during 1947-1953. In the album "Paraclisul Sfintilor Ioanchim si Ana" (from "editura Sihastria"), you can find out more details about his life, as well as see the wonderful painting with which he adorned the chapel.
Introductory letter to Arsenie Boca from Nichifor Crainic:
Beloved Father Arsenie,
There was a time when I knew you as painter of souls, following in the model of our Lord, Jesus Christ. What uplifting times, as the country of Avram Iancu was moving in pilgrimage, singing, with snow up to their chests, towards Sambata de Sus, the foundation of the martyr Voivode! Would it have been from God that the spiritual whirlpool be dissipated on command, as if it had never been?
What I admired about your holiness was that you never gave up. From painter of souls who were happy to be modeled after The Lord of all, here you are, painter of churches, of those who wear on their venerable faces the reflected perfection of The Son of God. It is very comforting that, now, when you no longer have the opportunity to perfect the aspirants, you are able to caress with the brush those who are already perfected, in order to offer them as examples on the sacred walls.
The small church in Draganescu is fortunate to feel on her walls the fiery sermons that thousands of people were hearing at Sambata de Sus. It is a new kind of painting, as the sermons were also new back then. Nothing dark in this spring that clothes with flowery scenery the vaults of the church. The tones of light that open themselves to the world, the same way as the spirit and the face of The Savior who came down to bring us light from above, radiate from your paintings. It is a new style, a new painting, after the new vision that you carry in your soul.
Sacred painting is the visual history of the life of The Savior and of those transfigured by Him. It is the image of Heaven. You understood to make a painting that is transfigured into clear and light nuances, paradisiac, in order to suggest the dreamlike world from above. The Church of Draganescu radiates the light of Heaven. What dominates it until now is the image of The Mother of God. The One who defends the church from the altar vault is purely and simply magnificent in Her Mercy, as intercessor for the world before Her Divine Son. The One who floats in a vision above the Council of Ephesus is made of so many nuances and only of nuances that it doesn't even seem to be a painting, but a vaporous and diaphanous apparition that, having the heavenly Child in Her arms, strengthens those who are present that She is indeed The Mother of God -- Theotokos.
Note: This letter was given by Nichifor Crainic to his spiritual disciple, Fr. Arsenie Boca, after their few hour meeting that they had in the fall of 1971, in the church of the village Draganescu, near Bucharest, where Fr. Arsenie had begun to paint. After many conversations had in Bucharest, Nichifor Crainic came to give his seal of approval for the painting of his disciple who had by then reached Philocalic stature. He did it with the same love and competence with which he had written The Nostalgia for Paradise.
A coordinate of European culture, in general, and of Western culture, in particular, resides in its almost continuous interest in reviving values that are specific to the ancient and pagan world. According to the opinion of a specialist, European neopaganism comes into being based on two historical developments. The first one is the pagan tradition found in European history. We are talking about the humanist, philosophical and literary traditions starting from The Renaissance, the passion for ancient Rome and Greece, and the sympathy that ideas from classical antiquity receive from intellectuals and philologists. The second background consists in the actual crisis of European culture. It's not just about a crisis of Christianity, or a matter of de-Christianization -- since it is alleged that we are living in a "post-Christian" age, but a crisis of the cultural and political models that have inspired European life for the last 20 years. Atheist ideologies, secularism, communism, as products of European culture, are confounded with crisis, disorientation and despair. In order to find a new meaning for life and culture, entire populations are turning back towards paganism since the old paganism has been destroyed. In reality, we are talking about a neopaganism. After a long era during which European culture has been dominated by rationalism, today this culture is headed towards vitalism and neopaganism. Viser 't Hooft, the ex-secretary general of World Council of Churches (WCC), said that European culture had been an arena where three forces had battled: Christianity, scientific rationalism and pagan vitalism.
Pneumatology (the Orthodox teaching about The Holy Spirit) is what allowed Orthodox Christianity to avoid both the excesses of Roman Catholic puritanism and those of neopaganism, seeking to raise man to the likeness of God. The great difference between Western and Eastern cultures consists in pneumatology. The spiritual crisis that confronts European culture today is the result of the absence of pneumatology, concerning both the apparition of abstract culture and that of vitalism. Our nation has always relied upon the power and the work of The Holy Spirit. With the help of The Spirit our nation has defeated the vicissitudes of history, and also with the power of The Spirit we must seek the way towards dignity, freedom and truth.
(Missionary course by Fr. Prof. Dumitru Popescu, 1929-2010)
Courage is a too overlooked feature, yet one that is essential to Christian life. Perhaps, right after the theological virtues, it comes first. Without courage, the existence of The Church would be inconceivable: for The Church to come into being, the courage of Her Founder was needed; in order to last, the courage of His disciples was needed.
We hear about the Lord's gentleness, as He is compared to a gentle and speechless lamb. The metaphor is rightful and soothing. Not any less rightful is the metaphor that adopts a courageous lion as a word/visual description. Who would have gone up on a cross to willingly receive one of the the most horrible deaths imaginable, if not a courageous person with the heart of a lion? What kind of character, if not one of inflexible strength would have endured with calm and serenity the hatred, the feuds, the deceitfulness, the ambushes of the enemies, for three years and a half? Would it have stood unmoved and unafraid before the governor and the council? (Before the ignorance of one and the bitterness of the others?) And how else, but as an act of boldness could we interpret the going into the world of the Apostles in order to confess the faith among hostile people without bringing with them neither staffs, nor bag, nor bread, nor money? And what sort of individuals, if not some of the most resolute and fearless would have endured truly atrocious tortures and refused seductive offers, instead of renouncing their faith? It's not at all inexact from a historical point of view, nor exaggerated from a psychological point of view to say that the blood of the martyr represents the adornment, the purple and the mink of the Church; it is Her basis, in the most strict and technical sense of the word. Martyr means witness, but a synonym of the noun is: hero. It is clear that the martyrs confessed the faith with fidelity, humility, firmness, power to suffer. They all confessed a gallantness which is worthy of some of the bravest heroes found in profane life (military and civil). "You are also soldiers", says Colonel Chabert, the titular character of a beautiful novel by Balzac, to the nuns from the elderly home where he was hosted. And there is no doubt that for soldiers courage is the specific trait. The martyrs, anticipating the words of Saint-Just, have confirmed long before the French Revolution that surroundings are not harsh except for those who run away from their graves. The martyrs have not only not run away from their graves, but also gone towards them, not once, but several times, without feeling constrained, full of hope, of cheerfulness and resoluteness. To them, there were no harsh surroundings, impossible situations, unbeatable obstacles. It appears that they knew the words of Brice Parain, the French philologist of our days: "it is simple; if you want to be free, you must not fear death". That is why the gold, the mink, the purple and the adornment of The Church is confounded with the blood on The Cross and the blood of martyrs; and this is parallel with the most brilliant military victories of profane history. From The Holy Spirit and the blood, The Church of Christ was born. And, She lasted and always will .
Fear is worthy of admonishment and reproof: "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" (Matthew 8: 26), are told the ones in the boat who were frightened by the waves that were covering it. The same in Mark 4:40: "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?". Also, without fear, Zacharias, the father of St. John The Forerunner (Baptist), wanted to receive the divine gifts after he wrote the name of his child on the tablet. The negative forms, "do not be afraid", "fear not", "do not let your hearts be troubled" are often replaced with the urge to courage: “Son, be of good cheer"(Matthew 9,2; to the paralytic), "Daughter, be of good cheer"(Matthew 9:22; Luke 8:48; to the woman who had a flow of blood),"In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world"(John 16:33);“Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you” (Mark 10:49; to Bartimaeus, the blind man).
What is the main effect of fear? Estrangement from God. Luke 8:37 is fully edifying in this respect: after Jesus exorcised the demons from the possessed man and the swine threw themselves into the lake, the multitude from Gadarenes "were seized with great fear". And, as a consequence, "they asked him to depart from them". So, the causality of this event is clear: they ask Him to leave because they are afraid. Thus, fear brings with it the estrangement from Christ.
If "do not be troubled" is the equivalent of "do not be afraid", for worry is also a form of fear, then that's probably a reason why Martha was admonished by The Lord; as He knew that worry gives birth to sentiments that are foreign to His teachings.
The Lord frees us from the bondage of sin, and, together with it, from the tyranny of fear. He gives to us the two gems: freedom and courage. So, the Christian owes no holier and greater duties than to love and prove his courage.
(Excerpts from an article by monk Nicolae Steinhardt, 1912-1989)
Some people say: What do you want? What can I do? What do you want me to do? I have a wife, little children, old parents, a little house, some goods, a certain situation. What do you want? I am helpless! Whether I want it or not, I will deny Christ, if only it appears that I do, if only with my mouth. This, my brothers, is not Christian reasoning. The real Christian reasoning, concerning both the letter and the spirit of The Gospel is: even though I have a wife, children, so on, I will still not deny Christ; I will confess Christ. Nothing in this world is more valuable to me than Christ. The wife, the children, so on, are not in the way of my confessing Christ. I love my family, my relatives, my own being, but I will establish a hierarchy: Christ comes first, and because of the love that I have for my family, I do not want to be a bad example for them so that they become ashamed of me. Other people say: I will not deny Christ, I love Him, I confess Him, I honor Him, but in my heart and my soul, inside of me, in the secret depths of my intimate person. I do not do it with my mouth, with a loud and high voice because "so what, that's not what really matters!". Isn't the essential what we believe, what we confess inside of us, in the depths of our spiritual being? Words are only sounds and impressions, and they only have a weak surface meaning; they fly for a fleeting time and get lost. Also, this is not Christian reasoning. Take heed: it is not enough to have inner faith, or love that is not confessed outwardly, no matter how sincere and intense they are. It is two-faced. What do you mean it is two-faced when it is sincere and even warm? It is two-faced because it does not reveal itself, it's only a half: only inside, it is measured. As well as the faith that is only expressed outwardly, the faith that only hides inside and is afraid to come out of its shell into the light is also two-faced, cut in half, incomplete, unclean. That it is so, that this is true we can find in The Holy Scriptures, in the Letter to Romans of the Holy Apostle Paul, chapter 10, verse 10. Let us read this text as it is very clear: "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Did you hear this, brother Christians? Inner confession is good for our spiritual development, but for salvation, outward confession with the mouth, through words is also needed, absolutely needed, no matter what the risks.
A great contemporary Russian writer says that when we find ourselves in trouble, in great danger, in a limit situation, potentially being constrained to betray ourselves and commit deeds or say words that we would later regret greatly, there is only one effective and unfailing solution: to consider ourselves dead! If we consider ourselves dead, no danger can affect us. Nothing can scare us, or bait us. Nothing remains relevant to us except our faith: we are only dead! What can still tempt us? The same writer says, I can shout: what a pity! I am still young (or too old), I will not be able to read books anymore, to go for walks, to listen to music, to eat foods, to drink, to see the beauties and wonders of this world, but there is no other way for me: it is better to die together with Christ, than to deny Him.
We cannot be both with Christ and Mammon. If it should come to it, we must know if we truly belong to Christ -- if we accept suffering, poverty, affliction, the cross and even death. Death! Well, in our time and contemporary society, death does not really come into discussion very much. Things are not so categorical.
In the past, when Roman emperors were persecuting Christians, there was the danger of apostasy, meaning the public and solemn denial of Christ when people were asked to renounce Christ and sacrifice to idols under the threat of death and the most horrible tortures. Nowadays, things are not the same. Christians are no longer threatened with death and tortures, and are no longer required to perform solemn acts of apostasy and public denials of Christ. But that doesn't mean that the denial of Christ no longer exists. There are indirect denials of Christ that are not any less real than the apostasies of the past. We deny Christ when we adhere to a doctrine, participate in atheistic gatherings, or give any kind of consent to an atheistic movement. Or, by being ashamed and avoiding doing the sign of The Cross, or being ashamed and avoiding being seen in a church, or being ashamed and avoiding any words or any gestures that would reveal us as Christians. When we are asked to deny Christ, be it only indirectly and covertly, it is good that we hate ourselves, our family, our goods. That's when we should confess Christ no matter what the price. That is the exam, the trial, the Last Judgement on earth. "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed,...", says the Apostle to The Gentiles (Paul). So, how can we avoid troubles, unpleasant things, minor sufferings, that the world talks about us, whatever losses, when Christ asks of us that we are courageous, firm, unmovable, able to look at the cross?
(Excerpts from an article by monk Nicolae Steinhardt, 1912-1989)
God commanded man to subdue the earth, but on two conditions: 1. To never forget that the world that he was made master over comes from God and it cannot exist without God; it is God's gift to man. 2. That God created man at the end because man cannot exist without the previously created environment. Thus, man's role is to be a bridge between God and the cosmos, so that in Christ and The Church, man and the cosmos are to be elevated towards God, by the work of The Holy Spirit.The autonomous conception about life that comes together with the appearance of the technological society turns things upside down in virtue of an excessive anthropocentrism, as man takes God's place on earth as master and owner.
The autonomous conception about life has broken the dialogue between The Gospel and human culture. From a religious point of view, this dichotomy represents a serious blow to Christianity. Because of it, the Christian religion no longer plays an objective role in the European society and is isolated within the sphere of personal subjectivity, which has become a source for the proliferation of sects. Once they appeared, these sectarian formations have progressively torn apart Christian unity because of diluting the revealed truth though their human inventions, and this has seriously altered the conceptions about the person of Christ and that of The Church. Another major tendency of the autonomous conception is to determine man to no longer abide by God's laws, but to make his own laws. From the moment when man puts himself in the place of God on earth and considers himself the absolute master of the world, forgetting that it is not him who created it, man begins to model the world according to his own pleasure. But to impose the reality made by God other laws than the natural laws means nothing else than to enter into a conflict with the reality in which you live, giving birth to extremely serious consequences, for man, as well as for the surrounding environment.
Tied to this European mentality is also the normalization of extremely abnormal sins, such as homosexuality. Despite the fact that homosexuality is a sin against human nature, The European Union has adopted laws through which they accredit homosexuality as a human right; and this later became a major condition for the countries who wanted to join the Union. What is serious about the elaboration of such rights is the absence of any spiritual and moral considerations that are of decisive importance for the health of man and society.
Not unimportant is that it has to do with The Church. The impact that the autonomous conception about life has had upon the conception about ecclesiology is that all the attention is now given to the visible Church, which no longer has God, but herself at the center, since it is considered that she is no longer built upon Christ, but upon the hierarchy. In the current Church of the West (visibly tending to also spread to the East), this fact is seen very clearly: the modern policy has already created a Church in her own image and likeness.