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Confession

Yesterday You looked at me and called me to stand beside Your heart, without saying anything to me.

            Then, we set out on a dry soul’s road and I showed you parched meadows yearning for a drop of water. You looked at them with meek eyes, without saying anything, and under your glance, they enlivened as if touched by beneficial rain.

            Farther on, I showed you sad trees with withered leaves. You looked upon them with mercy and, under the touch of Your fingers, all the leaves became open, full of life, and the wind sang its joy through their green. We walked on, without You saying anything to me.

            We then came across long ago dried rivers and You stopped near them. At a sign of Your hand they all poured forth their clean water and they wet Your feet with their silver drops. You looked at them tenderly, without saying anything to me.

            Then we both looked up at the sky and we saw heavy black clouds gathered, and You chased them away with the serenity of your look. The entire horizon responded to Your eyes and lightened up throwing blemishes of light onto the fields.

            And You were walking down my paths, without saying anything to me, and behind You flowers were springing filling my soul.

            Upon return, I picked a lime flower and put it at Your icon, Christ, my dear Lord, looking at You without saying anything to You…

(Talita)

Translated by Claudia

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Scheduling our lives

Father Teofil Părăian, who is no longer among us, has left us a spiritual schedule, which he recommends for Christians:

1.      Going to church on Sundays and Celebrations

“I cannot conceive a Christian not going to church, particularly and Orthodox Christian not going to church on Sundays and Celebrations, especially to attend the Holy Liturgy on Sundays. Two hours for God, if I believe in Him, isn’t too much. And if you can’t find two hours for God once a week, it means you don’t have a God. Don’t consider yourself a Christian anymore, because you aren’t.

2.      Praying in the morning, in the evening and at meal time

“If somebody can start and end a day without God, then they don’t realise their relation with God. If you believe in God, then you should know that He cannot be neglected. If you neglect Him, you don’t have Him.”

3.      Read two chapters of the New Testament everyday

“For your mind to be filled with good thoughts, because the mind is said (by the holy fathers) to be like a mill and it grinds what you give it. Therefore, if you give it good thoughts, it grinds good thoughts, but if you give it bad thoughts, it will grind bad thoughts. In order to multiply your positive thoughts, it’s necessary to have a positive thoughts fountainhead, for Our Lord Jesus Christ says: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Mt. 12, 34) or For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts (Mt. 15, 19). So, the mean thoughts come first. But the positive thoughts have to be placed in our minds and we can find them in the New Testament, in the Bible, in the Services the Church performs, in the spiritual books such as the Philokalia, the Sayings of the Desert Fathers or others like The Unseen War, The guarding of the five senses.

4.      Keeping your mind away from bad thoughts by praying without ceasing

“The mind is guarded by praying without ceasing, by repeating the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!”. You can say other prayers as well: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us and on Your world!”; “Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You”; “Great are You, O Lord, and wondrous are Your works, and no word will suffice to hymn Your wonders.”; “My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is the Holy Spirit: 0 Holy Trinity, glory to Thee.”; “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens.”(Ps. 8, 1); “Lord, make your belief stronger!”. We could formulate our own prayers to repeat, the important thing is to have our mind busy praying, so that the thought that aren’t suitable with the prayer disappear, the bad thoughts, for everything a man does starts first with the thought, therefore, multiplying the good thoughts will lead to nice talking and good behaviour. If we discipline our mind, we discipline our life.

5. Fast in the fasting days

In the Orthodox Church everything is equal. Fasting is compulsory, but not everybody can fast and those who can’t must know this a duty they aren’t accomplishing and they have to find other ways to compensate. Fasting is more than a diet, but it’s based on an alimentary diet. You cannot fast without fasting food. Of course fasting means restraining yourself from delights, especially the ones which do not go together with what we know God wants from us. But mainly, it’s about our everyday food. Fasting helps us discipline our bodies, restraining our fornication wills, calming physical energy and, at the same time, to get in a Church discipline. He who fasts may hope he will do other good works, but he who doesn’t fast, is very unlikely to be able to accomplish other Church commands.

The recommendations of father Arsenie Boca:

Along with this schedule, which is the base of a Christian’s life, father Teofil has added other five recommendations, made by father Arsenie Boca:

  1. Oxygen – living in the cleanest air possible
  2. Glycogen – having a balanced diet, not too much food, not too little
  3. Sleep – father Arsenie recommended at least 6 hours of continuous sleep daily
  4. Saving your hormones – don’t make a waste of sexual energy, abuse can tear
  5. Having a Christian life belief – which means not bothering about other life beliefs (yoga, zen etc.)

Why do the orthodox read the Holy Scripture less?

The Holy Scripture’s role and its place in the orthodox spirituality is different from the western spirituality, may it be the roman-catholic tradition, or the protestant and evangelical denominations. Here are a few findings :

a. In the orthodox space, the Scripture is being less read. Above the negative aspect of this finding, there is also a positive view concerning our relationship to the Holy Scripture. There is a certain shyness of the orthodox believer when it comes to reading the Scripture. This would be one motivation. The others will follow.

b. The Holy Scripture is not the first and immediate mark, and most of all not the only one, when looking for answers to our problems .To explain this thought, I will say that the orthodox believers don’t go running to the Scripture when they have a problem or a question, they go to the church and to the priest. This doesn’t minimize the Scripture’s role, but comes from a difference in the perception of what the Holy Scripture means to us.

c. The Holy Scripture is not being read in order to satisfy our thirst for theoretical knowledge, but to learn and to find out things about God, or answers to our questions. To read the Scripture is a way to communicate with God, to fill yourself with God’s words, just like it happens when you read a letter from a dear one. Even if reading it once would be enough for you to understand the information this letter brings, you will read it again and again because it is like meeting the person who wrote it. By reading it, it will not be your thirst for knowledge that will be satisfied, but your longing for this loved one, it will not teach you new things, but it will warm your heart and it will strengthen your relationship with this person.

d. The above things also apply to the liturgical life of the Church. The Holy Scripture is present and has a very important place in the Church, the Holy Gospel always reigning on the Holy Table and being solemnly read during the Holy Mass. But, referring only to the Holy Liturgy, the central moment is not the reading from the Bible, the central moment is the turning of the bread and wine into to Body and the Holy Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the believers. The same goes for all the other Sacred Mysteries and all the services in the Church, where the reading from the Holy Scripture is a part of a more complex work, centered in the end on the communion of the believers with the Holy Spirit of God and His work.

See baptism, ordination, wedding etc. In all of these cases, the believers come to Church to get baptized, ordinated, married, healed and not to read or study what is being said in the Holy Scripture .The reading of the Scripture, present in all of these services, is part of the work that is being done by the priest, through the power of God’s Spirit in each and every one of the above services.

e. The same phenomenon can be observed in the monastic spirituality, another main landmark when considering the orthodox space. Of course within the rules and the struggles of the orthodox monk is the persistent reading of the Holy Scripture (also the reading of the Psalms), but the monk’s life is more complex than that. Obey, restraint, fast and prayer, repentance seem to have a higher priority in the monks life. The monks talk about the power of the Psalter to defeat the temptations and to chase away the demons, to clear the mind in order to find solutions to our problems, not by offering information by which to better discern between multiple logical reasoning, but by enlightening the mind or the sympathetic understanding, like the monks would say.

f. When it comes to the popular spirituality, so in the way the average believer relates to the Scripture, the things seem to be even more different .Our believers, we must admit it, read the Scripture less. This is true also for the most devoted among them. This is how the things are, and we will try to search for a positive evaluation of it. Anybody can notice that for an orthodox is more important to baptize his child, to get married and to bury his beloved ones in the church, to confess, to have memorial services, than to read the Scriptures. An orthodox can forgive himself for not reading the Scripture, even though he criticizes himself for that, but he cannot forgive himself if his child dies unbaptized or his parents died unconfessed.

Also it is a very big sin if a man and a woman live together but aren’t married, and a big mistake not to have a priest inaugurate your house for example. This hierarchy of things may be scandalous for our fellow protestants or even for some orthodox theologians, but I think it can be positively evaluated from the perspective of the orthodox hermeneutics.

There were long periods of time when the orthodox believers had no access to the Holy Scripture because it wasn’t translated in their language or because very few copies were available. This was a vital loss. The reading of the Scripture should not be excluded, but encouraged in every possible way, but now we are talking about a hierarchy of things, like it appears in the everyday life.

g. We can mark a similar attitude of the patristic theology and spirituality of the Philokalia. The most basic reading of them forces us to recognize on one hand, the vital role of the Holy Scripture in the written works of our Holy Fathers, and on the other hand, the direct and much more complex reference to the continual history of the presence and work of God in history.

h. The academic theology strikes a false note. It places the Holy Scripture on the first place among the sources it bases its theological presumptions. It can be easily remarked that the majority of the savant theology works from the modern period, base their arguments on quotes from the Scripture and from the patristic theology  and less or none on the evidence and facts of everyday life or the life in the church, may it be in its manifestation in the community or in private.

Nor the Holy Liturgy and the Sacraments, nor other sanctifying works of the Church, nor the life and experiences or feelings of spiritual people are sources for the academic theology. The exclusion of the hymnodist treasure of the Church, just like the literature from Philokalia, the Patera, the lives of the saints and spiritual literature in general, from the works of advanced academic theology literature is an argument hard to contest in support of the above. If we consider the place of spiritual literature in the life of monks and ordinary believers, – and these especially in recent years – we have to point out once again the dissonant position of the academic theology towards them.

We must recognize an inappropriate reflex for the Orthodox space, where life and work as such have priority over recorded or written comments on life itself, as authorized and authentic as they are. Certainly there is a precedence, not absolute but complementary of the Holy Scriptures, but not on the written word level but on the spirit.

i. The Orthodox  space does not operate with the absolute precedence of Scripture, limited to that of Sacred Scripture (see the Protestant and evangelical space) or extended to the writings of the Fathers – the Holy Tradition (see also some academic work in space Orthodox Theology) or a precedence of the authority of the institutionalized church (see Roman Catholic tradition area), but operates, as we have seen, with  the precedence of God’s Spirit, manifested in Holy Scripture and in the  ecclesiastical authority to the extent that they are part of the living organism, and the unity of the Church as such. It is the spirit which gives life and life is manifested in all churches, as in the life of every member of the community or ecclesial body, to the understanding of which the Scripture and other monuments of the Church’s life function as fundamental guidelines.

j. I shall now invoke to support what was said above, a typical attitude of the orthodox space: in crisis situations, from what I consider a healthy reflex, it will not be resorted to the theologian authority, that may well have vast knowledge of the Holy Scripture, nor to the ecclesiastical authority, not matter how high in rank, but – and this makes theologians and ecclesiastical authority itself – to a spiritual man, a great father. He can be a simple monk or a high bishop, and they both may possess great knowledge, but it is not for this quality, but for the authority conferred by the direct experience of the divine things or their knowledge through spiritual vision, that they were chosen.

k. This perspective doesn’t exclude or marginalizes the Scripture, quite the opposite; it recovers its place and role in the Church’s life together with God. It is a perspective that avoids the exclusivism of the Bible, this theological monstrosity, like a known orthodox theologian used to call it.

l. We must not be afraid to admit a very obvious thing in the community and personal life of the orthodox: that the Bible and the reading of the Bible are not the center of their lives, the life itself, with God is the center – The Holy Liturgy and the other sanctifying works of the Church, the prayer etc. – and the Bible is a part of all that. In a very concrete way to live with God in a specific historical social context, the Bible, reading and explaining it, has its place, a  very important but not exclusive. If we may again use the example of the letter from a dear person, nobody will limit himself to this letter – even though he will keep it as a treasured thing and reread it many times – if he would have the possibility to meet and live next to this dear person who sent him the letter, being happy and hoping to spend time with this person and enjoy the beauty of her soul and to share all her personal gifts.

I will now quote from Saint John Chrysostom who expresses the absolute priority for a person, in spite all other exterior realities: „Deliverance from hell! The Kingdom’s delight! Above all this, much more important is to love Jesus Christ and to be loved by Him!” This reality, clear in the life of the eastern Church, brings us to an understanding of the Scripture, her place and role in the life and theology of the Church.

A positive evaluation of  the above – and not persistently remaining with the critical and negative evaluations, especially under the pressure of our fellow  believers from the west or because of some inferiority complex that some orthodox theologians have – brings us to the conclusion that the eastern Church, in her liturgical life, in the monastic and popular spirituality, referring to the Holy Scripture has its own hermeneutic, in line with their belief about the possibility of intelligible communication between God and man and her own theological epistemology.

 (Pr. Prof. Constantin Coman – Through the church’s window – a theological reading of the reality, Editura Bizantină, pag.36)

Translated by Irina Holospin

Building a Relationship with God Is the First Step in Solving Our Problems with the Others

                  We people are different one from another from a physical point of view, that of our aptitudes, our mental structure and our spiritual development. It is all right for us to be different and it is all right to learn things from each other, but what happens when we are so different that we start not to get along anymore?

            In most relationships, someone dominates and someone lets himself be dominated – I am not going to start a debate on roles by gender or others, but I am only starting from an ascertained fact – someone is weaker and someone is more sensitive to the former’s vulnerability, someone is more developed and wants to contribute to the others development… From my personal and professional experience, a person cannot really change unless they are ready and determined to do it. No matter how much I’ve wanted for some of the people I’ve met until now, no matter how good the change would have been for them and for those around them, some of them were not determined to change.

            During college, I was assigned to different institutions where children with disabilities were fostered. After my first visit I was very disappointed: I would have wished so many things for those children, but they simply were not feasible. These children’s disabilities were so severe that there weren’t really many things one could do in order to help them become somewhat independent. This I couldn’t do, but for a change I could offer them something to make things better for them: attention and affection. Many of the children there were not able to dress by themselves, to study and to earn their living, but at least I offered them a day when they felt better, less neglected – this aspect was also a problem, because of the small number of employees and of not accepting volunteer contracts. I personally couldn’t do much, but I made a difference, at least for one day, for one hour, in the life of some children abandoned by their own parents because they hadn’t risen up to their “level of expectations”.

            We are born with a permanent desire to seek and wish for life, literally or figuratively, but as time goes by, some of us often even choose death. Life can mean the joy to live, to bring children into the world, to get closer to God, Who is Life by definition, while death is getting astray from Him, the physical and spiritual degradation. One extremely sad thing is the situation in which one of the people close to us chooses death and no matter how hard we try, he seems not to want more than that. Accepting such a person, who more or less consciously hurts himself and implicitly his family, is something extremely difficult. Accepting a stranger the way he is, is not that difficult as accepting someone dear. The dreams and expectations regarding the ideal family fall apart, as if to make things even harder. But criticizing or nagging the person who bothers us is similar to accusing ourselves of our own imperfections.

            Accepting a person unconditionally, because he is human, even if we do not approve of his actions, is one of the greatest proofs of love, and love, loving one another, is one of the major commandments. Praying for each other is a proof of love, relating to one another with care is a proof of love, and authentic love touches, softens, reaches a core, sometimes faster, other times it takes longer.

            Relating to someone maliciously or with anger arouses the negative side of the other person.  When the approach is made with love, one has God besides him. One cannot produce a real, deep change through malice, quarrel and threats. Change comes through and from God, and by acting that way, I doubt one has Him as their ally, no matter how noble the purposes. Through personal example, through guidance with love, warmth and understanding, through prayer, you are offered more than you might gain through the use of the sword.

            To return to the subject, I have met persons that I didn’t like at all, or violent children, people who used to behave very badly. I didn’t like them, but this wasn’t my personal problem.  I was there in order to do something for them – I am thinking both of the personal or professional aspect of my existence until now – although in some cases I didn’t want to be where I was.

            I learned in time that behind people with different addictions there is a hidden suffering. When you draw closer to that suffering, it is like breaking a wall. The addicted, most of them, try to fill in a gap: from the lack of an appropriate emotional environment, to the discontent that they are not understood, even the lack of a relationship with God. Taking into account that a relationship is built in two, the one who does not face an addiction is not exonerated of responsibility. It would be much more useful to examine themselves and find what is in their attitude and behaviour that makes their partner persist? It is important for the one who is not the slave of a substance to try to forgive their spouse, who maybe has not behaved faultlessly sometimes, pushed by alcohol, for instance.

            Unfortunately, I can’t give a recipe, but, to sum up, the most important is: the personal relationship with God, to approach the addicted with love, the change at a personal level, which in time will determine, with God’s mercy, a change in the others and acceptance of the person for what they are, even if we do not approve of what they do.

Raluca Irimie

Translated by Claudia