Recommended by Peter Mansour, Ministry Coordinator
By returning to the practice and methodology of the early Church, Fr John Behr, a renowned patristics scholar, invites readers to approach the mystery of Jesus Christ in the same way that the first disciples learned their theology. His vision of Christian theology, written in a systematic manner, offers a way out of the problems that have beset theology and scriptural study in recent centuries.
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 19:14
Holy tradition tells us that when Christ spoke these words, it was St. Ignatius of Antioch who was sitting on His lap. Otherwise known as Theophorus “God-Bearer”, St. Ignatius sought the kingdom of heaven as a disciple of the Apostles and later as a Bishop by ordination of St. Peter. Most of what we know about St. Ignatius is in seven letters preserved by St. Polycarp. During his on-foot journey to Rome, he wrote to the churches and left for us a snapshot of early Christian life, practice, and faith. Of his written teachings, he emphasized the place of the Eucharist in our lives as the source of healing and true presence of Christ. Dying a martyr’s death, St. Ignatius was killed in the Roman arena by beasts, depicted in icons as lions, under the rule of Emperor Trajan on December 20, 107. Before his repose, he boldly expressed: “I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” In the spirit of these words and of his martyrdom, many early Christians were encouraged to continue struggling in the pursuit of God. The path of righteousness that St. Ignatius walked and on which he emboldened so many to join was one that required endurance through persecution. Knowing what obstacles they would have to face, he implored that they would pray “without ceasing in behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be ye meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be ye stedfast in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness” (1 Epistle to the Ephesians). We can draw inspiration from St. Ignatius’ extreme humility towards God and towards others.
As young adults and especially as college students, many of us can recall examples of times we’ve experienced unkindness for our faith. Perhaps it was someone who didn’t want to be friends after finding out we were Christian, or a mocking professor, or maybe some of us have felt the alienation that comes when we have to stand up for what we know to be true. The first thing that we can take comfort in is knowing that we are not alone. Christ God was incarnate for our sake and was mocked, beaten, scourged, and rejected before His ultimate triumph over sin and death. For nearly two thousand years, the martyrs and Saints who have come before us have experienced all manner of persecution and oppression, but they knew that true freedom and peace can only come from the Creator of all. St. Ignatius knew this peace in the face of trial, and we can look to him in moments of adversity, that he’d lift our eyes towards heaven and plead with Christ that He would dwell in us as our Strength. Through his intercessions, may we boldly and humbly live out faith.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16: 24-26
Learn His Troparion:
Tone 4 As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Ignatius. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.
St. Ignatius Troparion - Tone 4
by Orthodox Christian Fellowship
What does it mean to endure suffering for Christ’s sake? Consider how St. Ignatius approached his execution in Rome. How or with what posture of heart should we approach the persecutions we endure in our own lives?
Look back at the quote from St. Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians. In modeling the love of Christ for those who crucified Him, St. Ignatius calls us to pray for those who commit evils against us. Is it easy or difficult to pray for those who’ve wronged us? Why? How might we begin to do so?
Pray to him.
Ikos 4 Hearing thy confession, the faithful people glorified God; but Trajan, gnashing his teeth, again demanded: “Why art thou called God-bearer?” And thou sayest: “For I bear my God in my heart.” Wherefore, we chant to thee: Rejoice, faithful warrior of the King of heaven! Rejoice, invincible champion of the faith! Rejoice, good shepherd! Rejoice, advocate for our souls! Rejoice, for, enlightened by the divine Spirit, with pastoral boldness thou puteth the savagery of the tyrant to shame! Rejoice, for, guiding the flock of Christ, thou illumineth many with the light of knowledge divine! Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!
Kontakion 5 Considering all the beauties of the world to be as dung that thou might acquire Christ, O Ignatius, thou crieth: “Who shall separate me from the love of God? Tribulation is sweet to me; the bonds I bear for Him Whom I desire are pleasant; persecutions are dearer to me than my homeland, and pangs are more delightful to me than health of body!” And we, honoring thy glorious memory, cry out to God: Alleluia!
Ikos 5 Seeing thee to be an invincible confessor of the Faith of Christ, the ungodly Trajan condemned thee to death; but thou didst cry out, rejoicing: “For me it is more pleasant to die than to live! Christ, and to die for Him, is gain! Unto Him do I go; Him do I love; Him do I hope to receive!” Wherefore, O holy Ignatius, we bless thee: Rejoice, thou whose desire it was to depart and be with Christ! Rejoice, pure sacrifice to God! Rejoice, imitator of the sufferings of Christ! Rejoice, for thou wast crucified with Christ! Rejoice, for thou didst shed thy blood for Christ! Rejoice, for by thy blood thou adorneth thy hierarchal vesture! Rejoice, O God-bearing Ignatius, great and all-glorious athlete!
The theme for OCF this year is “Walking in the Light”. We will be doing just that today with St. Ignatius of Antioch. We will watch a short video explaining his life and read parts of his epistles that he wrote on the way to his death.
We encourage you to watch the whole video.
While reading his epistle to the Ephesians, focusing on chapters 3, 8, and 10
In the video we hear how the writings of St. Ignatius are among the first writings just after the Apostles and were, historically, read alongside the New Testament. What do you find most important about the writings of the early church? What has been your experience with them in the past?
In another of St. Ignatius’ letters, he writes that we should not just call ourselves Christian, but rather BE Christian in reality. In chapter 3, “Exhortations To Unity”, St. Ignatius writes that we must “run in accordance with the will of God.” If you could make one change in your life tomorrow in light of this quote, what would it be?
Holy Tradition tells us that St. Ignatius sat on Christ’s lap when he was young and Christ said “you must be like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Later in his letters, the Saint tells his followers to not try and rescue him from persecution. He had accepted his fate and did so with eagerness and love. He maintained a childlike love for Christ up until his brutal death. Do you think he was scared? What is your key takeaway from St. Ignatius’ boldness here?
What are your reactions to Chapter 8? Discuss.
In chapter 10, “Exhortations To Prayer, Humility” St. Ignatius talks about the importance of how to deal with people who do us wrong. Does being a student and living in the college environment make it more or less difficult to have humility? In what ways can we practice humility in our everyday lives?
This month, we are learning to “Walk in the Light” with St. Ignatius of Antioch. St. Ignatius was the disciple of the disciples! His writings give us one of the earliest glimpses into the faith of the earliest Christians. St. Ignatius is known for his famous letters, sent to the communities he cared for, and written on the way to his martyrdom. As St. Ignatius shared with them to meet their needs, we can pull similar lessons from his writings which are just as relevant to us today in our walk as Orthodox Christians.
Before we begin our discussion, let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence. It’s been a long day.
Take this chance to come into the presence of God and his saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer.
Part I: Living by Dying
The most notable thing about the letters of St. Ignatius is that he’s writing them on his way to be martyred. As St. Paul before him, St. Ignatius is writing in chains (Philippians 1:12-13). One would think that he’d be writing to ask for their help, pleading with them to come to his aid. We find the exact opposite. Rather, he “implores the Christians at Rome not to interfere with his own coming martyrdom:”
“It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to be king over the ends of the earth. I seek him who died for our sake. I desire him who rose for us. The pains of birth are upon me. Suffer me, my brethren; hinder me not from living, do not wish me to die. Do not give to the world one who desires to belong to God, nor deceive him with material things. Suffer me to receive the pure light; when I shall have arrived there, I shall become a human being. Suffer me to follow the example of the passion of my God.”
Epistle to the Romans
“Pains of birth are upon me…hinder me not from living…do not wish me to die.” St. Ignatius has turned everything upside down (Acts 17:6)! He sees his coming death as his way to be born. He begs that they don’t put a stop to his martyrdom lest he die from being kept from death! St. Ignatius, seeing things with heavenly clarity, describes to us a reality where laying down our life in Christ is the source of living and not a loss at all (Philippians 1:21).
What are your reactions to hearing the words of St. Ignatius? Discuss together.
The majority of us won’t have the opportunity to “die” in Christ in the same way as St. Ignatius, and yet, his clarity and wisdom seem to pour out beyond the bounds of martyrdom. How might we apply his lessons of life through death to our own lives?
St. Ignatius mentions that when he has met his martyrdom, he shall then become a human being. Each of us would typically consider ourselves human beings—what’s the difference here? How might his understanding of a human being differ from ours?
Part II: Living As Lights
St. Ignatius sees that his journey to perfection lies in his martyrdom but for his flock, he does not lay the same heavy burden. Rather, he spends his letters encouraging them to walk in the light of Christ. He exhorts them to live lives of holiness so that they might experience the power and beauty of God. He also reminds them that the way they live their lives matters because they must shine the light of Christ on everyone they meet. He takes extra care to remind them that what we profess with our lips must be lived out through our actions and that our actions are a witness (martyria) to all those they come in contact with.
“Let your baptism be your armor; your faith, your helmet; your love, your spear; your patient endurance, your panoply.”
Letter to Polycarp
“Pray without ceasing on behalf of other men. For there is hope of the repentance, that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way.”
Letter to the Ephesians
“It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach if he who speaks also acts.”
Letter to the Ephesians
“Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips, and the world in your heart.”
Letter to the Romans
St. Ignatius emphasizes the importance of prayer and setting an example through our actions. How do these practices relate to his “Life Through Death” theme?
If you could make one change tomorrow that would have a significant impact on your ability to “Live as a Light”, what would it be?
St. Ignatius highlights the importance of silence which is a common theme in many of the writings of the saints. St. Arsenius, the Egyptian desert father is famous for saying, “Many times have I repented of having spoken, but never have I repented of having remained silent.” Have you ever been in a situation where it would have been much wiser to stay silent than to speak?
Conclude your meeting with this prayer of St. Ignatius of Antioch:
I am the wheat of God and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God.
I long after the Lord, the Son of the true God and Father, Jesus Christ.
Him I seek, who died for us and rose again. I am eager to die for the sake of Christ.
My love has been crucified and there is no fire in me that loves anything.
But there is living water springing up in me and it says to me inwardly, “Come to the Father”
Recommended by Alexandros Pandazis, Campus Missionary
These excerpts from the sermons of Saint John Chrysostom bring fourth-century wisdom to 21st century issues. Each serves as a brief introduction to a major spiritual thought and as a meditation for daily use.
As we begin this school year, we’ve dedicated the month to “Walking in the Light” with our holy father, St. John Chrysostom. Today, we’ll read one of his writings dedicated to instructing those who are also at a new beginning—the beginning of their walk with Christ and his Church. Let’s begin with 120 seconds of silence. It’s been a long day. Take this chance to come into the presence of God and his saints as a group. Sit still. Breathe slowly and deeply. Say the Jesus prayer. The full text of St. John’s instructions can be found here, and we encourage you to read the whole thing. The following questions will focus primarily on sections 19-29 and 44-47.
In sections 19-24, St. John speaks about the importance of learning the intricacies of the faith and how foundational they are to our piety. In your experience, how has this made a difference in spiritual life in the past? How might you benefit from a change?
St. John Chrysostom highlights the importance of our role as new soldiers “enlisted in the special army”. What do you think he means? How might this apply in your own lives? What do you find most difficult about this?
In section 25, St. John references a long list of different sins. What stands out to you about this list?
What does it feel like to read sections 27 & 28?
St. John concludes his writing to the catechumens in section 44 with this message: “Soon you will put on Christ. You must act and deliberate in all things with the knowledge that He is everywhere with you.” If you could make one change in your life in light of this reality, what would it be?
Any last thoughts? Did something else from another section stand out to you?
Pray the Prayer of the Hours together:
Thou who at every season and every hour, in Heaven and on earth art worshipped and glorified, O Christ God; long-suffering, merciful and compassionate; Who lovest the just and showest mercy upon the sinner; Who callest all to salvation through the promise of blessings to come. O Lord, in this hour, receive our supplications and direct our lives according to Thy commandments.
Sanctify our souls. Purify our bodies. Correct our minds; cleanse our thoughts; and deliver us from all tribulations, evil, and distress. Surround us with Thy holy angels; that, guided and guarded by them, we may attain to the unity of the faith, and unto the knowledge of Thine unapproachable glory. For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
Saint John was born at Antioch in the year 347. His father, Secundus, being a famous military commander, died soon after John’s birth. His mother, Anthusa, although being widowed at the age of 20, did not dare to remarry but rather devoted all of her time and efforts into raising her son with Christian love and piety. John was trained with the finest philosophers and rhetoricians, thus turning himself to the study of Holy Scripture and dedicating his life to Christ.
The church that he was quickly gaining popularity in was populated by bishops who enjoyed a life inconceivably lavish and extravagant, with pressure to host powerful figures. The sacred role of bishop consisted of pleasing royalty, and other transient concerns. It was his disapproval and powerful grace-filled words that eventually landed him in one of these very roles. After three years after his baptism, he was tonsured a Reader, and studied under many of her experienced instructors of ascetic life, specifically Flavian and Diodorus of Tarsus. It was there he learned true rhetoric through the study of Holy Scripture and prayerful contemplation. After some time, both John and his friend Basil were considered candidates for the priesthood, and after hearing this, they decided to withdraw to the wilderness as monastics to avoid this calling. John embraced monasticism, calling it the “true philosophy”, and after four years of struggling in the wilderness, he was obliged to return to Antioch to recover his health. Let us note that while being away from the world, he wrote many works, including his “Six Discourses on the Priesthood” and “Against the Opponents of Those Attracted to Monastic Life.” After becoming a deacon and priest in his hometown of Antioch, he was, somewhat against his will, ordained the Bishop of Constantinople.
John was different from the clerics of his day. With bravery and utter disregard for what would personally befall him, in place of hosting royal events, he implored his people to give alms. The Saints zeal in spreading the faith extended not only to those who lived in Constantinople, but also to those who lived in the Slavs, Asia Minor, and Syria. His “golden-mouth” touched the hearts of many, as he preached homilies that opened the ears to the word of God. Instead of placating the emperor and empress of his day, Arcadius and Eudoxia, he served as the needed voice of God in a time where His inconvenient truths were being suffocated by political and worldly concerns. As time progressed and aggression toward John became more and more evident by those in power, a sentiment only overpowered by the love of the people, he was banished by Arcadius and Eudoxia in a synod consisting of false charges. In response to the overwhelming demand of the people for their bishop back, John was restored.
This was not for long. John cut though the fear and pressure that might have scared another in his position into meekness when the Empress had a silver statue of herself built across from the temple of Hagia Sophia. He denounced and publicly preached against the idolatrous dedications ceremonies. The power of his voice, the love of his people, and the truth of his ministry this time were not enough to stop the Emperor and Empress. He was banished for the rest of his life. At first to a region closer in Georgia, but, in response to his place in the hearts of those still in contact with him through letters, later to a farther more remote region, which he never reached. He died on the way due to his deteriorating health and the harsh travel conditions.
There, on the brink of the world, having been banished from all he knew, he departed this life with the words, “Glory to God for all things.” It was Arcadius and Eudoxia’s son, Theodosius, who repented of his parents’ sin and restored his relics to the church. As he entered the temple of the twelve apostles, those present heard the words from his relics: “Peace be to you all” in 438 AD.
In the life and intercessions of Saint John Chrysostom we begin to discover answers to these questions. Perhaps Saint John himself would not have had the boldness and strength of God to answer them himself had he not lived out his yearning for God with his whole self earlier in his life. Before he became who we know as the “golden-mouthed” (the meaning of Chrysostom), before he had the resolute voice to restore the brokenness of the church in his day and call out the kings and queens that had authority to take his own life, the young John sought a life of quiet solitude. It was his strict asceticism and resulting poor health alone that forced him back into the world. Using the skills taught to him by his pagan rhetorician before his time as a monastic, along with the grace he experienced in his time away from the world, John spoke with powerful eloquence about the love of Christ at a time when it was needed most.
Pray to him when you are at a loss for words, when you are about to speak publicly, when you are afraid to say what is right, for the healing of the Church and for the moral voice of the political rulers.
Learn His Troparion:
Tone 8 Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe. It has shown to the world the riches of poverty; it has revealed to us the heights of humility. Teaching us by your words, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls!
Many of us speak of and admire the bravery to speak out against wrong at all costs. But what does this really mean? How can we use examples from Saint John’s life and ministry and apply it into our own life?
Saint John writes: “The mark of a soul that loves wisdom alway gives thanks to God. If you have suffered evil give thanks and it is changed to good… Give thanks even in disease, lack of possessions, or false accusations. It is not we who are injured but those who are the authors of them.” Reflect on this quote, keeping in mind that the last words of Saint John were “Glory to God for all things!” How are we to acquire true gratitude in our own lives?
Pray to him.
You have received many and various gifts from the Lord, and, as a good and faithful servant, have shown good increase of all the talents given to you: for this cause you were truly a teacher of the universe, for every age and calling learns from you. You are a model of obedience for children, a luminary of chastity for the young, a teacher of industry to grown men, an instructor of forgiveness to the aged, a rule of abstinence for monastics, a leader inspired by God for those at prayer, an enlightener of the mind for those who seek wisdom, an inexhaustible source of the living Word for well-spoken orators, a star of mercy for the charitable, a model of wise rule for those in authority, an inspiration to boldness for those zealous in the truth, a teacher of patience for those persecuted for truth’s sake: you have become all to all, so that in any way you might save some. But above all these, you have sought after love, which is the bond of perfection, and by that as by Divine power you have united all these gifts into one in yourself; and the same love, which reconciles the divided, you have preached unto all the faithful in expounding the words of the Apostles.
As for us sinners, each having our own gifts, we lack the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; we are vain, provoking one another, envying one another: therefore our divided gifts come not unto peace and salvation, but rather unto enmity and to our judgment. For this cause we fall down before you, O hierarch of God, in the grip of dissensions, and in contrition of heart we ask: By your prayers, drive away from our hearts all pride and envy that divide us, so that in many members there may be one churchly Body, and so that according to the word of your Prayer we may love one another and in one accord confess the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity One in Essence and Undivided: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Of all the teachings and sermons of the Church Fathers, by far the most recorded and preserved are those of St. John Chrysostom. With hundreds of sermons to read, you could easily spend a lifetime learning from St. John’s powerful rhetoric as well as his own example. What follows here is only a tiny window into the teachings of this great saint. We imagined what life advice St. John might have given to someone in college. We hope it provides some guidance for you and inspires you to want to read more of what St. John has to teach us.
Part I: Be bold in your faith even when it’s unpopular.
St. John famously died in exile because he was willing to preach against the corruption of Empress Eudoxia. In fact, St. John often spoke out against corruption in the imperial court, among the wealthy, and even within the Church. Consider what he has to say about Christian leaders falling short of their responsibility to sanctify the world around them:
I once used to deride secular rulers because they distributed honors, not on grounds of inherent merit, but of wealth or seniority or worldly rank. But when I heard that this stupidity had swaggered into our [the Church’s] own affairs, too, I no longer reckoned their action so strange. For why should we be surprised that worldly people, who love the praise of the mob and do everything for money, should make this mistake, when those who claim to have renounced all these desires are no better?
On the Priesthood
St. John was not afraid to speak boldly about how we as Christians should live and how that example should actually impact how people around us live. He spoke out against injustice and himself was a bold defender of those who were mistreated, even when it was not popular among those in power.
For instance, St. John gave sanctuary to a man who had fallen out of favor with Empress Eudoxia only for that man to later be taken captive and executed. In response to such a shocking turn of events, St. John encouraged his congregation in a sermon with the following words:
But wherefore was I not dismayed? Because I do not fear any present terrors. For what is terrible? Death? Nay, this is not terrible: for we speedily reach the unruffled haven. Or spoliation of goods? “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I depart” (Job 1:21); or exile? “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Ps. 24:1); or false accusation? “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, when men shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for great is your reward in Heaven” (Mt. 5:12).
I saw the swords and I meditated on Heaven; I expected death, and I thought of the resurrection; I beheld the sufferings of this lower world, and I took account of the heavenly prizes; I observed the devices of the enemy, and I meditated on the heavenly crown: for the occasion of the contest was sufficient for encouragement and consolation. True! I was being forcibly dragged away, but I suffered no insult from the act; for there is only one real insult, namely sin: and should the whole world insult you, yet if you do not insult yourself, you are not insulted. The only real betrayal is the betrayal of the conscience: do not betray your own conscience, and no one can betray you.
Homily 2 on Eutropius
St. John reminds his congregation—and us—that there is no reason to fear any persecution or rejection or threats to our life and livelihood because of our commitment to follow Christ. Instead, we can feel emboldened by our hope in Christ’s conquering of death, His defeat of the devil, and the promise of our share in His kingdom.
What makes you feel confident to live boldly as a Christian? What makes you shy away from living boldly?
In what ways might you be called to speak out against injustice?
What impact is your way of living having on those around you?
What do you think St. John means when he says “there is only one real insult, namely sin”?
Part II: Don’t let piety or worldly pleasure take the place of real love and virtue.
If St. John’s first piece of advice to college students might have been to live your faith boldly, his second piece of advice might have been to clarify what it means to “live your faith”. St. John is rather precise and prolific in his moral teachings. He isn’t a fan of either pompous and empty piety or of worldly excess and indulgence. We all often find ourselves torn between these two temptations and can forget what actually being people of love and virtue is like.
In terms of “pietism” or overemphasizing external acts of faith that miss the most important virtues, St. John often reminds us that love requires sacrifice, especially sacrifice of our own comfort and desires. Here are some brief passages from three sermons where St. John corrects his people on this topic:
Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that?
Homily 50 on Matthew
You honor this altar indeed because it receives Christ’s body. But the poor man, who is himself the body of Christ, you treat with scorn, and when perishing, neglect. You can see this altar lying around everywhere, both in streets and in marketplaces, and you can sacrifice upon it every hour; for on this, too, is sacrifice performed. And as the priest stands invoking the Spirit, so do you too invoke the Spirit, not by speech, but by deeds.
Homily 20 on 2 Corinthians
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works! Is it said: “By what kind of works?” If you see a poor man, take pity on him! If you see an enemy, be reconciled to him! If you see a friend gaining honor, do not envy him! If you see a handsome woman, pass her by! For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast by being pure from rapine and avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances or to busy themselves with strange beauties. […] Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speaking and calumnies. “You shall not receive a false report,” it says.
Let the mouth, too, fast from disgraceful speeches and railing. For what does it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes and yet bite and devour our brethren? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother, and bites the body of his neighbor. Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, “If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed by one of another.” You have not fixed your teeth in the flesh, but you have fixed the slander in the soul and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion; you have harmed, in a thousand ways, yourself and him and many others, for in slandering a neighbor you have made him who listens to the slander worse; for should he be a wicked man, he becomes more careless when he finds a partner in his wickedness; and should he be a just man, he is lifted to arrogance, and puffed up; being led on by the sin of others to imagine great things concerning himself.
Homily 3 on the Statues
Throughout his sermons, St. John is careful not to discard one practice for another; just as Christ tells the Pharisees, “you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Mt. 23:23). St. John does not want his people to stop adorning churches or venerating the Eucharist or fasting during Lent, but he does want them to remember that we shouldn’t do these things at the expense of our brothers and sisters.
On the other hand, St. John is not at all interested in making excuses for the vices of his community. He expects Christians to live modestly and soberly. He encourages us to develop virtues that honor God and protect us from the temptations of worldly living. One striking example comes in a sermon where St. John addresses the raucous partying that happened at weddings in his day:
Marriage is an image of the presence of Christ, and will you get drunk at a wedding? Tell me, if you saw a portrait of the emperor, would you insult it? By no means. Many are indifferent to what goes on at wedding celebrations, but great evil is the result. Looseness and disorder prevail. Paul says, “Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity; let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” What, I ask you, goes on at weddings? All of this, and more, for evil talk has become an art, and those who excel in it are applauded! Sins have become an art! We pursue them not by chance, but with studied earnestness, and finally the devil assumes control of his own troops. When drunkenness arrives, chastity departs. Where there is filthy talk, the devil is always eager to make his own contribution. Do you celebrate Christ’s mystery with entertainment like this, by inviting the devil?
I am sure now that I have offended you. You mock me when I rebuke you, and say I am too austere. This is only another proof of your perverted manner of life. Don’t you remember St Paul’s words: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”? Or the Psalmist’s, when he said, “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice in him with trembling”? But your behavior is dishonorable and blasphemous, totally without restraint. Is it not possible for pleasure and temperance to coexist? Are you fond of music? I would prefer that you love silence best of all, but if you must have songs, choose edifying ones, not satanic ones. Instead of dancing girls, invite the choir of angels to your wedding. “But how can we see them?” you ask. If you drive away the other things, Christ Himself will come to your wedding, and where Christ goes, the angels’ choir follows. If you ask Him, He will work for you an even greater miracle than He worked in Cana: that is, He will transform the water of your unstable passions into the wine of spiritual unity, but remember: if He should come and find the musicians and the crowd making a tumult, He will expel them all before working His wonders. What is more disgusting than these pomps of the devil? There is so much noise that nothing can be heard. When any words are audible, they are meaningless, shameful, and disgusting. There is nothing more pleasurable than virtue, nothing sweeter than orderliness, nothing more honorable than dignity.
Homily 12 on Colossians
It’s incredible how a description of a fourth century party doesn’t sound too far off from what goes on at a party today! He even makes note of how indulging in one vice can easily lead us to bad judgements about other temptations. St. John encourages us to celebrate life’s goodness with sober, simple pleasures and gratitude to God for His goodness. He desires that all of our daily decisions, big and small, are rooted in love for God and neighbor.
What connections did you make between the different passages from St. John Chrysostom’s sermons on virtue?
What did you find most important about St. John’s instructions on steering clear of pietism?
How would you apply St. John’s advice for wedding parties to college life?
If you could make one change in your life to develop real love and virtue, what would it be?
Part III: Be humble and take your responsibilities seriously.
It can be easy when we’re striving to be bold in our faith and truly virtuous to start to believe that we are superior to those around us. And it is certainly a temptation to want to take credit for the good that we do, to post about our best life on social media, or to desire accolades for our accomplishments. Yet again, St. John warns us of another trap in living a Christian life:
Why are earth and ashes proud? Are you high-minded, O man? Why? Tell me, what is the gain? Why are you high-minded against those of your own kind? Do you not share the same nature, the same life? Have you not received the same honor from God? But are you wise? You ought therefore to be thankful, not puffed up. Haughtiness is the first act of ingratitude, for it denies the gift of grace. He that is puffed up, is puffed up as if he had excelled by his own strength, and he who thinks he has thus excelled is ungrateful toward Him who bestowed that honor. Have you any good? Be thankful to Him who gave it.
Homily 5 on Philippians
If we start to forget that it is God who has created us and given us the grace to do well and to grow in virtue, we’ll quickly find ourselves puffed up by pride. St. John suggests gratitude as a means of combating pridefulness. Another way to promote humility in our hearts is to focus on fulfilling the responsibilities which have been placed before us with our best effort without concern for our own acclaim. This does not mean our humble efforts are worthless, however. In fact, St. John shows us that our actions and relationships matter deeply. Take, for example, what he says about how a good marriage can have a ripple effect out into the community:
The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. Men will take up arms and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of this love. St. Paul would not speak so earnestly about this subject without serious reason; why else would he say, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord?” Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends, and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both of families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise, however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside-down.
Homily 20 on Ephesians
Or take how he points out that having even a little influence or position of authority can change how significant your virtues and vices impact those around you:
The sins of ordinary men are committed in the dark, so to speak, and ruin only those who commit them. But when a man becomes famous and is known to many, his misdeeds inflict a common injury on all. They make backsliders even more supine in their efforts for what is good, and drive to despair those who want to improve. Apart from this, the offenses of the insignificant, even if made public, harm no one seriously. But those who are set upon the pinnacle of this honor not only catch every eye; more than that, however trifling their offenses, these little things seem great to others, since everyone measures sin, not by the size of the offense, but by the standing of the sinner.
On the Priesthood
St. John sees far-reaching implications for how we approach the responsibilities God has given us. It’s not just that we will be affected positively if we fulfill our duties faithfully or negatively if we neglect them—the societies and systems of which we are a part and all of those individuals we might influence can and will also be impacted. Among all that God has made, humans alone share in responsibility for the temporal and eternal care of the world:
For earth’s inhabitants, having their life in this world, have been entrusted with the stewardship of heavenly things, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels.
On the Priesthood
A steward is the one charged by the King to care for His dominion with the same love and care that He Himself would show. St. John is reminding us that our King has entrusted us even with the things that last beyond this life and that we should fulfill this vocation with awe and seriousness.
What is the connection between being humble and taking our responsibilities seriously?
What social and cultural forces make humility difficult?
What does the seriousness with which St. John discusses marriage, parenting, and the priesthood teach you about your own responsibilities as a student?
With what has God entrusted you? What does good stewardship of that gift look like?
Conclude your meeting with this prayer of St. John Chrysostom:
O Lord, deprive me not of Your heavenly blessings; O Lord, deliver me from eternal torment; O Lord, if I have sinned in my mind or thought, in word deed, forgive me. O Lord, deliver me from every ignorance and heedlessness, from pettiness of the soul and stony hardness of heart; O Lord, deliver me from every temptation; O Lord, enlighten my heart darkened by evil desires; O Lord, I, being a human being, have sinned; do You, being God, forgive me in Your lovingkindness, for You know the weakness of my soul. O Lord, send down Your grace to help me, that I may glorify Your holy Name; O Lord Jesus Christ, inscribe me, Your servant, in the Book of Life, and grant me a blessed end; O Lord my God, even if I have done nothing good in Your sight, yet grant me, according to Your grace, that I may make a start in doing good. O Lord, sprinkle on my heart the dew of Your grace; O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me, Your sinful servant, cold of heart and impure, in Your Kingdom. O Lord, receive me in repentance; O Lord, leave me not; O Lord, save me from temptation; O Lord, grant me pure thoughts; O Lord, grant me tears of repentance, remembrance of death, and the sense of peace; O Lord, grant me mindfulness to confess my sins; O Lord, grant me humility, charity, and obedience; O Lord, grant me tolerance, magnanimity, and gentleness; O Lord, implant in me the root of all blessings: the fear of You in my heart; O Lord, vouchsafe that I may love You with all my heart and soul, and that I may obey in all things Your will; O Lord, shield me from evil persons and devils and passions and all other lawless matters; O Lord, Who knows Your creation and that which You have willed for it; may Your will also be fulfilled in me, a sinner, for You are blessed forevermore. Amen.
Recommended by Ivy Gabriella Tesfay, Ministry Intern
In Communist Russia in 1984, five youths from non-religious backgrounds joined a monastery. This is the story of what they experienced and some of the “everyday saints” they met. The author says, “In this book I want to tell you about this beautiful new world of mine, where we live by laws completely different from those in ‘normal’ worldly life—a world of light and love, full of wondrous discoveries, hope, happiness, trials and triumphs, where even our defeats acquire profound significance: a world in which, above all, we can always sense powerful manifestations of divine strength and comfort.”
St. Lazarus of Bethany was brother to Mary and Martha and a known close friend of Jesus. He was very sick; some historians believe he had leprosy. He was a poor man and was often found lying at the gates of rich men begging for table scraps while street animals licked his wounds. Shortly before His crucifixion, Christ left Bethany to preach in a nearby area. While away, He received word that Lazarus had fallen ill and died. Jesus delayed his return to Bethany until after Lazarus’ body was placed in a tomb. Christ returned to Bethany four days after Lazarus’ burial at which time he went to the tomb and commanded Lazarus come out. To the surrounding crowd’s surprise, Lazarus appeared. Still wrapped in his burial shroud, Lazarus had been resurrected. St. Lazarus’ resurrection was a significant event prior to Christ’s resurrection as it was a miracle that provided reassurance to Christ’s followers and foreshadowed Christ’s own resurrection which followed 8 days later. With rising tensions in the Jerusalem preceding Christ’s crucifixion, Lazarus became a target and was compelled to seek refuge Cyprus away from the high priests and pharisees who wanted to kill him. St. Lazarus lived a long life following his resurrection. In 52 AD he invited the Theotokos to visit him in Cyprus. The ship he had sent to the Holy Land for the Theotokos’ journey blew off course leading to her discovery of Mount Athos. Later Apostles Paul and Barnabas ordained St. Lazarus the first Bishop of Kition and he served for 30 years until he passed away. St. Lazarus is commemorated on March 17 and on Lazarus Saturday, the final Saturday of Great Lent just prior to Palm Sunday. His relics were moved from Cyprus to Constantinople in 898 AD which is commemorated annually on October 17. People around the world pray to him as he is the patron saint of the poor and sick.
Discussion around St. Lazarus
Christ resurrection of St. Lazarus’ reassured many of his followers of his divinity. Are there times you’ve needed reassurance? Did you get it? What did that look like for you?
In what ways did St. Lazarus live that revealed he truly believed in the resurrection? How can we mirror that in our own lives?
Learn his Troparion
Troparion — Tone 1
By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, / You did confirm the universal Resurrection, O Christ God! / Like the children with the palms of victory, / we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death: / Hosanna in the Highest! / Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord!
The Raising of Lazarus - Tone 1
Prayer on the Saturday of the Righteous Lazarus
O Christ our God, Who by Thy voice didst release Lazarus from the bonds of death after four days in the tomb, restoring him again to life: Thyself. O Master, enliven us who are deadened by sins, granting life that none can take away; and make us who put our hope in Thee, heirs of life without end.
For Thou art our Life and Resurrection, and to Thee belongeth glory: together with Thine immortal Father, and Thine All-holy, and Good, and Life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Begin your meeting with prayer and by reading the excerpt from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans below, followed by St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on the text. Then, discuss the questions about the reading.
Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection . . .
“. . . he [St. Paul] is counselling you when he says, ‘for if we have been planted together in the likeness of His Death, we shall be also in the likeness of His Resurrection.’ Do you observe, how he rouses the hearer by leading him straightway up to his Master, and taking great pains to show the strong likeness? This is why he does not say ‘in death,’ lest you should gainsay it, but, ‘in the likeness of His Death.’ For our essence itself has not died, but the man of sins, that is, wickedness.
And he does not say, for if we have been partakers of the likeness of His Death; but what? ‘If we have been planted together,’ so, by the mention of planting, giving a hint of the fruit resulting to us from it. For as His Body, by being buried in the earth, brought forth as the fruit of it the salvation of the world; thus ours also, being buried in baptism, bore as fruit righteousness, sanctification, adoption, countless blessings. And it will bear also hereafter the gift of the resurrection. Since then we were buried in water, He in earth, and we in regard to sin, He in regard to His Body, this is why he did not say, ‘we were planted together in His Death,’ but ‘in the likeness of His Death.’ For both the one and the other is death, but not that of the same subject.
If then he says, ‘we have been planted together in His Death, we shall be in that of His Resurrection,’ speaking here of the Resurrection which is to come. For since when he was upon the subject of the Death before, and said, ‘Do you not know, brethren, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His Death?’ he had not made any clear statement about the Resurrection, but only about the way of life after baptism, bidding men walk in newness of life; therefore he here resumes the same subject, and proceeds to foretell to us clearly that Resurrection. And that you may know that he is not speaking of that resulting from baptism, but about the other, after saying, ‘for if we were planted together in the likeness of His Death,’he does not say that we shall be in the likeness of His Resurrection, but we shall belong to the Resurrection.
For to prevent your saying, and how, if we did not die as He died, are we to rise as He rose? When he mentioned the Death, he did not say, ‘planted together in the Death,’ but, ‘in the likeness of His Death.’ But when he mentioned the Resurrection, he did not say, ‘in the likeness of the Resurrection,’ but we shall be ‘of the Resurrection’ itself. And he does not say, We have been made, but we shall be, by this word again plainly meaning that Resurrection which has not yet taken place, but will hereafter. Then with a view to give credibility to what he says, he points out another Resurrection which is brought about here before that one, that from that which is present you may believe also that which is to come. For after saying, ‘we shall be planted together in the Resurrection,’ he adds, ‘Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed.’”
St. John Chrysostom, Homily XI on Romans (section on verse 5) Important parts are in bold. Read the full homily here.
According to St. Paul and St. John Chrysostom, what is the paradoxical way that we live as if we believe in the Resurrection?
What are some moments when you’ve been afraid to die a little death with Christ? For example, has there been a time when you have been afraid or embarrassed to admit you were Christian, or act in a way reflective of Christ? Why do you think that happened?
St. John says that Paul identifies two Resurrections in Romans: the Resurrection that follows Baptism and the Resurrection of eternal life. Regarding the former, how does dying to the parts of us that are not of Christ through Baptism and Repentance help us to walk in the newness of life?
What is the significance of the word “planted” in St. Paul’s epistle according to St. John’s homily?
Who is someone that you think bears the “fruit” of the Resurrection described by St. John? What is one way you think you can work to emulate that person?
Wrap up your discussion with this prayer from the Sunday Orthros service:
Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. Your Cross, O Christ, we venerate, and Your holy Resurrection we praise and glorify. For You are our God; apart from You we know no other; we call upon Your name. Come, all faithful, let us venerate the holy Resurrection of Christ; for behold, through the Cross, joy has come to the whole world. Ever blessing the Lord, let us praise His Resurrection; for having endured the Cross for us, He destroyed death by death.
This discussion is made up of five parts, with each part containing a reflection and a set of discussion questions. Either with your OCF chapter, a friend or two, or just on your own, read each reflection and discuss the questions related to it. You can choose to break the discussion into multiple sessions, tackling a part or two a week, or you can do the whole thing in one sitting.
Part I: Framing the Discussion
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the core doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the center of our rhythm of worship. It is the motivation for our ethical progression. It is the resolution of the struggles and evils in the world. It is what forms saints and reforms sinners. It is what allows us to know Who God is and what He wills for our lives.
The Resurrection is transformative in every sense of life. This is certainly something that all Christians understand in one form or another. But when asked about the Resurrection of Jesus, how often would we say that it is transformative in every sense of death?
In what ways does the Resurrection transform life?
What are some ways that the Resurrection transforms death and dying?
Part II: Early Christians and the Dead & Dying
Certainly, many of us recognize that the Resurrection changes the way that we ought to view death. We can point to the martyrs who were willing to die for Christ because they were no longer afraid of death thanks to His Resurrection. We can explain that because of the Resurrection we know that death is not the end of life — that there is more life to come and that we should not live as if this is our only opportunity to enjoy the world. We know that the Resurrection teaches us that life after death is heavenly and worthy of greater investment than this life — that sacrifice and suffering is not in vain when done for God and neighbor.
Yet how many of us would also say that the Resurrection affects our treatment of someone who is already dead or in the process of dying? How much does our treatment of the dead differ from people who do not share our faith?
In the first few centuries after Jesus’ Resurrection, the early Christians’ treatment of the dead and dying was one of the things that made them stand out among the Jewish community and the rest of the Roman Empire. Under the Old Covenant, interaction with a corpse ritually defiled a person because it meant that they had come into physical contact with death, which is the opposite of the gift of life which is offered to us through a relationship with God (Numbers 19:13). Similarly, in the pagan Graeco-Roman culture of the time, corpses were seen as things that polluted a society and needed to be disposed of outside of the city or simply burned to ashes (cremated). While Romans did view a formal funerary process as a way to honor a person, they typically reserved such processes for family members and wealthy members of society. The corpses of criminals, slaves, and the like were denied any ceremonial treatment. Finally, when it came to people who were sick and in the process of dying, the instinctual reaction in Roman society was to distance oneself from the dying person. For example, in times of plague, sick bodies would often be removed from homes and left to die on the streets in order to prevent them from infecting others in the household.
Yet despite being surrounded by all of the approaches to the dead and dying listed above, the first Christians established a radically different tradition. Instead of distancing themselves from dead bodies for fear of defilement, Christians intentionally worshiped in catacombs (underground tombs) and even went out of their way to risk their lives to collect the bodies of martyrs for veneration and for placement in altars used for the Eucharist. Likewise, Christians had the utmost respect and care for those who were in the process of dying. A paschal message by Bishop Dionysios of Alexandria preserved from the third century explains that during a recent pandemic Christians risked their lives to care for the sick and dying, “attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ.” Proper burial was no longer just for close family members or important members of society. Instead, all people and even dead strangers on the street were treated with honor and care.
All in all, the first Christians were not only unafraid of death and dying, but found the treatment of the dead and dying to be such an important part of the Christian life that some ignorant Roman citizens even thought Christian communities were simply burial societies.
Why do you think that treatment of the dead and dying was so important to early Christians that they were willing to risk their lives to do it?
How do we reconcile the practices of the early Christians regarding the dead with Jesus’ saying to “Let the dead bury the dead” (Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60)?
Part III: The Bodily Resurrection
The early Christian practice of caring for the dead and dying was rooted in two fundamental teachings of the Christian faith: the Resurrection and the fact that human beings are made in the image of God. If we pay attention to what the Scriptures tell us about Jesus’ Resurrection and the one to come for all human beings, we will notice very quickly that the Christian Resurrection is not just a spiritual reality. Just as Jesus was resurrected in a body (as we see in Thomas’ touching Jesus’ wounds or Jesus’ eating of fish after He Resurrected), so too will we be Resurrected in a body, says St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:35-52).
The earliest Christians took the bodily Resurrection seriously, as they did the fact that every human being is made in the image of God. Because of this pair of teachings, they treated every dying person with profound love and care. And, just as importantly, they treated every corpse with profound love and care, knowing that it would one day be transformed in the Resurrection. For early Christians, a person’s body was not a mere cage for their soul but a part of who we are and who we will be in the Kingdom of Heaven.
For centuries, Christians preserved this mentality. When a person died, the body was kept in his or her family’s home, and members of the Church would come and keep watch mournfully for the next few days. Women would care for the body until the funeral, preparing it for burial as the myrrhbearers and Joseph of Arimathea did for Christ, and men would dig the grave or carry and lower the body into the tomb. After a person’s body had been buried for many years, his or her bones would be exhumed and kept in an ossuary. To this day, an Orthodox Christian funeral requires the presence of a body, and, save for certain exceptions, the body is always laid out openly and visibly in the middle of the Church for the service.
Finally, Christians throughout history refused to cremate their dead brethren because of the Resurrection. In fact, in certain times of persecution, one of the acts of disrespect that persecutors would engage in against Christians would be to burn the bodies of martyrs because (in both the East and the West) the act of returning a person’s body to the earth from which it came (Gen 3:19) was such an important practice for the Church.
What is the connection between the Resurrection and care for the dead and dying?
Why would Christians throughout history take care of a corpse when it would ultimately decompose and when God has the power to “raise up children for Abraham out of stones” (Matthew 3:9)?
Is the early Christian perspective of the dead and dying one that we preserve today? If not, what are the practices of our society that run counter to that perspective?
Part IV: The Fall From a Traditional Christian Ethos
In the past few centuries, western society has moved away from these Christian values to the point where many of us Christians passively participate in a very unChristian culture surrounding the dead and dying. In the Middle Ages, crises like the Black Plague caused people to begin to fear corpses again, and the practice of burning dead bodies soon rose to prominence in the West. Over time, bodies that were buried were no longer done so in direct contact with the earth but through coffins. Then, beginning in the 17th century, the first undertakers appeared in Europe, which distanced family members and others in the community from the burial process.
Eventually, dealing with the dead became a business. Cemeteries were no longer public plots of land but private grounds that people had to pay to be buried in. Likewise, funeral homes are run by private companies that seek to sell customers expensive burial packages that could range from $4,000-$40,000 for a casket, a cemetery plot, burial services, and a plot marker, which is approximately eight to ten times more than thirty years ago and still does not include the cost of florists and other funeral arrangements. In 2016, one of the largest funeral corporations in the world reported a revenue of over $3.031 billion.
Unfortunately, many Christians are the source of some of that corporate revenue for a few reasons. First, we fall victim to the temptation of materialism. Just as fashions and worldly comforts cause us to spend inordinate amounts of money for manufactured but meaningless material pleasures, advertisements about coffins and services that prioritize “durability, beauty, and craftsmanship” as well as custom engravings and more draw us to spend even more money on our own or others posthumous surroundings.
Next, and more importantly, funeral directors not only try to sell us on these expensive material goods, but, according to Deacon Mark Barna and his wife Elizabeth, who have written a book on the topic, funeral directors also lie about the laws surrounding corpse and burial processes. While many funeral directors tell customers that it is legally required to use a licensed funeral director to bury a person or transport a body across state lines or on an airline, none of this is true, and there are very few requirements regarding burials on a state level as well.
One of the greatest lies about burying the dead accepted by many Christians today is that embalming is legally required either for burial or for an open casket because the body cannot be preserved otherwise and because it is unsanitary to be near a dead body. This is simply untrue. There is no health danger that comes from being near or touching a dead body except in the case of open wounds, and embalming only preserves a body for three to four days, which is no better than simply freezing the body.
Still, the lies told by funeral directors, paired with a fear of the reality of death that makes us want to see the person “as they were,” causes many Christians to consent to embalming. The result is an extremely violent process that includes sewing the eyes and mouth shut with materials similar to barbed wire and pumping blood out of the body with tubes and replacing it with red liquid to give the flesh a “lifelike” appearance. Modern embalming also entails puncturing the organs so that they can be sucked out and washed into the sewer and plugging bodily orifices with plastic screw-like devices. In the end, it may make our dead loved-one look more like their living selves, but the reality is that they are even less of a human being than they were after their soul left their body.
Meanwhile, the alternative process offered by commercial burial practices is just as disturbing. In the process of cremation, a person’s body is placed in a furnace lit to 1,400 to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, with burners pointing directly at it like a blowtorch. After up to four hours of heating, the person’s bones, which cannot be burned, are crushed in a high-speed blender and added to the ashes, which are often accidentally mixed with those of other corpses in the crematory. Cremation is often advocated for because of environmental concerns, but the fossil fuels and high levels of dioxins and trace minerals that are released by the burning of a human body end up polluting the environment just as much as the alternative. Similarly, the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration strongly recommend that embalmers take measures to protect themselves against the over 260 potentially deadly chemicals they use during the embalming process.
All in all, the treatment of the dead and dying today is far from the care that early Christians offered the sacred bodies of their dead brothers and sisters. As many modern commentators say, we treat the body like an “it” rather than a “them,” and this does not even take into account the modern practice of separating the sick and elderly from mainstream society through nursing and retirement homes. Regardless of what facts of life we are considering, when it comes to interacting with the dead and dying, the Resurrection plays no role in the decisions of most people in our culture.
Before reading the section above, what did you think went into the mainstream practices of treating the dead? What from this section surprised you?
In their book, Deacon Mark and Diakonissa Elizabeth also discuss how cremation treats the body like waste while embalming turns it into an idol. Why do you think they make this claim?
What are some of the practices surrounding our treatment of the elderly, sick, and dying that also reflects an approach of treating people like an “it” rather than a “them”?
Part V: Returning to the Resurrection
It seems as if the time has come when once again we as Christians have to take an approach to treating the dead and dying that is radically different from the world around us. But what does that different approach look like? And how do we pursue it today?
Unfortunately, there is not enough space in this brief discussion to cover everything that a traditional Christian burial process looks like. However, Deacon Mark and Diakonissa Elizabeth’s book A Christian Ending: A handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition is a fantastic resource to turn to on the details of ensuring a burial honors the Lord and the promised Resurrection. Aside from more information on the process of death and burial and the Church’s theology surrounding the topic, the book also encourages Christians today to research federal and local burial laws (now conveniently located online) and search for a burial place at a nearby monastery or Orthodox parish cemetery. Above all, however, the book offers suggestions and resources for preparing for the inevitable death of those closest to us and ourselves.
One of the best ways to prepare for those deaths is to speak to our priest and familiarize ourselves with the traditions of an Orthodox Christian funeral, such as the tradition of burying a person on the third day of their death. Similarly, we should learn about pre-death practices like requesting a priest to read the prayer of the departing of the soul over a dying person and offering a dying person the Eucharist, as well as post-death practices like anointing and praying over a loved-one’s body throughout the time between their death and burial. With the hope of the Resurrection, we should also seek to learn about the traditions for praying for a person after their burial, such conducting memorial services on the third, ninth, and fortieth day after a person’s falling asleep, visiting a person’s grave on the anniversary of their death, and remembering them in our personal prayers and the communal prayers of the Church.
After familiarizing ourselves with these practices, we can take the time to share our own funeral and burial preferences with our loved ones to ensure that our corpses are treated in a way that is mindful of the Resurrection to come. Again, the book A Christian Ending has fantastic resources for preparing for our own funeral. Paradoxically, the saints teach that it is when we take the time to consider the way that we hope to be treated when we die that we develop a greater appreciation for life and strive to seek its fullness alongside the Lord in His Heavenly Kingdom.
Have you ever considered what your funeral and burial will look like? What are some arrangements you want made for your funeral? What do you wish to learn more about?
Returning to the approach of early Christians and the way that they risked their lives for the sake of some of their practices surrounding the dead, what are some things we may have to risk to practice that same tradition today?
Share a situation where you were reminded of the reality of death and were moved to live in deeper repentance and with a fuller appreciation of life?
The title of this discussion is, “Let the Living Bury the Living.” How does this title describe the information discussed above and the Christian approach to the dead and dying in light of the Resurrection?
Recommended by Christina Andresen, Director of Ministries
John Mark Comer tackles the problem of hurry in our lives by helping diagnose the problem and introducing (or reintroducing) us to the spiritual practices of silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. This book is a great introduction for beginners to the rich ascetic tradition of the Christian life. It would make an excellent Lenten read, especially in conjunction with a monastic writing on the same topic from someone such as the Desert Fathers, St. Theophan the Recluse, St. Gregory of Sinai, or St. Maximos the Confessor.
St. Macarius is a fourth century saint from a small village in Egypt. In obedience to his parents, he married a young woman despite wishing to remain alone. However, he left to rest in the wilderness for a few days where he received a vision from the Cherubim showing him the entire desert and saying, “God has given this desert to you and your sons for an inheritance.” When he returned home his virgin wife had died. At that time, he knew it was time to leave the worldly life. He began attending church frequently and deeply studying the Holy Scriptures. After his parents death, he sought the guidance of a local elder who lived in the desert and guided him in watchfulness, fasting, prayer, and basket-weaving. Soon, he began to live in a cell near the elder who taught him with love.
The local people seeing his virtues told the bishop of St. Macarius, and he was ordained a priest, despite his protests. He was accused of seducing a woman from the nearby village and thus endured slander and torments. He was attacked and beaten by the villagers and he accepted this without a word. Instead, he sent the money from his baskets to the pregnant woman. When it was time for the child’s birth, the woman was unable to deliver the child until she confessed her lies against St. Macarius. When she did, the woman’s parents and many other locals sought his forgiveness, but he fled again to further into the desert inorder to avoid the praise of the town.
St. Macarius sought the wisdom of St. Anthony the Great and lived near him as a disciple for many years. Later, he was sent to the Skete monastery, and he became known as the “young elder.” He was a mature monk even though he was not even thirty years old. Eventually he became the abbot of the monks in the Skete desert. He remained close with St. Anthony the Great and was even present at his death.
Through his many years of ascetic practice, he was credited with many healings, and through his intercessions, the Lord raised the dead. His humility remained steadfast despite his recognition from many. One day, a thief came to his cell stealing his few worldly things. St. Macarius, without revealing himself as the owner, helped the thief tie the things to his donkey. The thief left, never knowing the saint’s generosity.
St. Macarius died at the age of 97. One of his disciples saw St. Macarius’ soul ascending to heaven. The demons yelled out to him, “You have conquered us, O Macarius!” He responded saying, “Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ who has delivered me from your hands.”
Among the great wisdom of St. Macarius, he reminds those of us still in our earthly life, “If a soul still in the world does not possess in itself the sanctity of the Spirit for great faith and for prayer, and does not strive for the oneness of divine communion, then it is unfit for the heavenly kingdom.” We can each learn from his ascetic practice to draw away from the world and pursue Christ with extreme humility. Through St. Macarius’ intercessions, we can better prioritize God in our lives and develop a practice of prayer.
Discussion around St. Macarius
When life is busy and there are overwhelming deadlines, some of us have thought about escaping everything (A hut in the desert sounds appealing during finals week, no?). What were St. Macarius’ intentions when he left the world, and how can we apply those same goals to our lives in the world?
St. Macarius is an excellent example of true humility. When we are overwhelmed by “busyness,” how can we use his example to draw closer to Christ? What is the role of humility when we feel like we are constantly rushing around?
Despite being frequently sought out for his heavenly wisdom, St. Macarius stayed focused on a life of prayer, meditation, and silence. When our schedules seem to be filled with distractions that pull us away from those practices, what can we do to stay focused?
Learn his Troparion
Tone 1 Thou didst prove to be a citizen of the desert, an angel in the flesh, and a wonderworker, O Makarios, our God-bearing father. By fasting, vigil, and prayer thou didst obtain heavenly gifts, and thou healest the sick and the souls of them that have recourse to thee with faith. Glory to Him that hath given thee strength. Glory to Him that has crowned thee. Glory to Him that worketh healings for all through thee.
Troparion of St. Macarius - Tone 1
Pray to him
Blessed Macarius who taught us the way of prayer by your life of prayer, give strength to us who desire to be free from distraction. Intercede on our behalf that we might be granted wisdom, patience, humility, and stillness so that our eyes can be opened to behold the True Light which comes into the world to enlighten the hearts of those who seek Him. Amen.
Split up into pairs or small groups. Each group should be assigned one of the following excerpts from The Way of the Pilgrim to read aloud. Each group should try to answer these questions about their excerpt:
What does this tell me about God?
How does this make sense in relation to my own experience?
How does this apply to daily college life?
“Only the guarding of the mind and purity of heart will free one’s soul from sinful thoughts; that inner freedom can be attained only through interior prayer and, I repeated, not through fear of the sufferings of hell or even the desire for the bliss of heaven.”
“My later elder used to say that obstacles to prayer come from two sides, the left and the right; that if the enemy does not succeed in turning us away from prayer by vain and sinful thoughts, then he brings to mind instructive and beautiful thoughts only to turn us away from prayer, which he cannot tolerate. And through this right-handed stealing, the soul abandons its communion with God, turns to its own thoughts, and talks to itself or to creatures.”
“So that man would see clearly his dependence on God’s will and would learn real humility, God left to man’s freedom and ability only the constant flow of prayer. God commands us to pray ceaselessly, at all times, and in all places. This is where the secret of true prayer, of faith, of keeping the commandments, and of salvation is found. Man has the ability to pray regularly and frequently. The Fathers of the Church clearly confirm this. St. Macarius the Great says, ‘To pray often is in our will, but to pray truly is a gift of grace.’ Venerable Hesychius says that constancy in prayer becomes a habit which then turns into a natural state”
“[Prayer is] constant awareness of God’s presence […] Imagine that a very severe and exacting king commanded you to write an essay on some difficult subject in his very presence, at the feet of his throne […] The presence of the king, who has authority over you and has your life in his hands, would not allow you to forget even for a moment that you are not working alone […] This very real awareness of the presence of the king clearly illustrates the possibility of praying even while one is engaged in mental work”
Part II: Group Discussion
Come back together as a group and first share one or two highlights from your small group discussion with the larger group. Then, consider these questions:
What does it mean to live a life of prayer? What does it really mean to constantly pray throughout your life?
The Way of the Pilgrim claims that constant prayer keeps people occupied and therefore prevents them from being led into temptations and also that being too busy is no excuse to neglect prayer. What makes prayer different from the things that keep us “too busy”? Additionally, how can we pray in the midst of very busy moments in our life?
Reflecting on your own journey as a “pilgrim” in this world, can you think of any significant (positive or negative) moments you have had on your spiritual journey so far? How have they impacted who you are and how you relate to God and others?
Part III: Praying the Jesus Prayer
To be an Orthodox Christian living in this world but not of this world is not easy. Prayer is a vital and core part of our spiritual journeys. While we are busy with school, work, and just life in general, it is necessary to take some time to recenter ourselves and just pray.
Even though we are blessed with many prayers in the Church, we are going to focus on the Jesus Prayer. This is perhaps the simplest, yet one of the most important and humbling prayers we have, and the prayer which is at the heart of The Way of the Pilgrim.
The Jesus Prayer is also referred to as the prayer of the heart. We can say the Jesus prayer whenever we want. Consistency with saying this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to activate a life of unceasing prayer in us, a life which leads to inner freedom and purification of the mind and heart.
Here are 10 brief directives for prayer of the heart from The Way of The Pilgrim:
Sit or stand in a dimly lit and quiet place
With the help of your imagination find the place of the heart and stay there with attention
Lead the mind from the head into the heart and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, quietly with the lips or mentally, whichever is more convenient; say the prayer slowly and reverently
As much as possibleguard the attention of your mind and do not allow any thoughts to enter in
Be patient and peaceful
Be moderate in food, drink, and sleep
Learn to love silence
Read the scriptures and the writings of the Fathers about prayer
As much as possible avoid distracting occupations
Let everyone find their own quiet space. Spend the last ten minutes of your gathering silently praying the Jesus Prayer doing your best to abide by the directives given to us in The Way of the Pilgrim.
This discussion is made up of three parts, with each part containing a reflection and a set of discussion questions. Either with your OCF chapter, a friend or two, or just on your own, read each reflection and discuss the questions related to it. You can choose to break the discussion into multiple sessions, tackling a portion each week, or you can do the whole thing in one sitting.
O Lord, You who steadied the hand of Peter as he began to sink on the stormy sea, if you are with me, no one is against me. Grant to me the shield of faith and the mighty armor of the Holy Spirit to protect me and guide me to do Your will. The future I put into Your hands, O Lord, and I follow You to a life in Christ. Amen.
Part I: Why Worry?
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
Have you ever caught yourself hurrying to the point of worrying? Worry can creep into our lives when we rush to fulfill ideals that are not in accordance with God’s will or when we rush toward things which God does not want us to concern ourselves with yet. While God gave us the drive to accomplish His work, we often misuse it because we’ve created false impressions of what is needful.
There are many worldly cares that we face in life. We worry about our grades, worry about our image, worry about what must be done tomorrow. This is all a distraction from prayerfully completing our God’s work in peace.
What does this passage from Matthew make you think and feel? Are there parts of you that resist its message or find it too difficult to live day to day?
Many of us end up hurrying because we procrastinate, pridefully expecting too much of our own (late-night) abilities. What can we practically do to budget time every day fto accomplish our work at an even and healthy pace?
How can we do our work in light of this Scripture which reminds us that all is in God’s hands?
Worry is destroyed by thankfulness for the present. What are you thankful for today? Consider especially the smallest things, like the petals on the lilies and the worms for the birds.
Part II: Why Hurry?
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
And the Lord appeared unto Abraham in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant.” And they said, “So do, as thou hast said.” And Abraham hurried into the tent unto Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.”
Hurry is a double-edged sword for the Christian. On one hand, we may hurry as a result of our fallenness and self-reliance, ending up in worry. On the other hand, hurrying to repentance is needed for the Christian life. As we dedicate our lives to acquiring the Godly mindset, we must reorient our own worldview through the lens of the Scriptures that God Himself breathed out. Matthew tells us that the disciples left their nets straightway when they heard the call of repentance. And in Genesis we hear that Abraham instructed Sarah to make cakes quickly when God’s messengers appear at their door. Hurry has its place when we are quick to repent, quick to serve God, and quick to respond to His presence.
Jesus asked his disciples to drop everything to hurry and follow Him. What’s a small way we can do this today?
What can we do to hurry to be present to God instead of dragging our feet to prayer?
Abraham dropped everything instantly to offer hospitality to the Lord. Service to neighbor can be a service to God. How can we serve God by hurrying to aid our neighbor?
Part III: Refocusing Our Energy
“For our good, for our happiness at least let us make a vow that from this day, from this hour, from this minute we shall strive to love God above all else and to fulfill His holy will.”
St. Herman of Alaska
“Brothers: it is later than you think. Hasten, therefore, to do the work of God.”
Fr. Seraphim Rose
“I saw your anxiety. But don’t be sad, my child. Don’t worry so much. Even though you have fallen again, get up again. You have been called to a heavenly road. It is not surprising for someone running to stumble. It just takes patience and repentance at every moment.”
St. Joseph the Hesychast
The saints tell us to hasten to do the will of God and at the same time to let go of our anxieties. Thus, all of our hurry must come from the right posture of the heart. When we hasten to do God’s will, we leave behind all needless cares. When we hurry in a worldly way, we neglect the one thing needful.
When we hasten to do God’s will, it is so different from our daily rushing around. Can you think of a time when hurry has caused you to stumble, do a job incorrectly, or caused you to worry too much?
What about the opposite? How has hurrying to follow God and obey his commandments relieved you from anxiety, helped you manage a difficult situation, or given you clarity to move forward?
Recommended by Alexandros Pandazais, Campus Missionary
An acclaimed expert in Christian mysticism travels to a monastery high in the Trodos Mountains of Cyprus and offers a fascinating look at the Greek Orthodox approach to spirituality that will appeal to readers of Carlos Castaneda.
In an engaging combination of dialogues, reflections, conversations, history, and travel information, Kyriacos C. Markides continues the exploration of a spiritual tradition and practice little known in the West he began in Riding with the Lion. His earlier book took readers to the isolated peninsula of Mount Athos in northern Greece and into the group of ancient monasteries. There, in what might be called a “Christian Tibet,” two thousand monks and hermits practice the spiritual arts to attain a oneness with God. In his new book, Markides follows Father Maximos, one of Mount Athos’s monks, to the troubled island of Cyprus. As Father Maximos establishes churches, convents, and monasteries in this deeply divided land, Markides is awakened anew to the magnificent spirituality of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Images of the land and the people of Cyprus and details of its tragic history enrich the Mountain of Silence. Like the writings of Castaneda, the book brilliantly evokes the confluence of an inner and outer journey. The depth and richness of its spiritual message echo the thoughts and writings of Saint Francis of Assisi and other great saints of the Church as well. The result is a remarkable work–a moving, profoundly human examination of the role and the power of spirituality in a complex and confusing world.
The Seven Holy Youths (“Seven Sleepers”) of Ephesus
The 7 Holy Youths “Seven Sleepers” of Ephesus—Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) and Antoninus—lived in Ephesus in the third century. Friends from childhood, the Seven Youths all served in the military together. During the time of the youths’ service, Emperor Decius commanded all the people of Ephesus to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, and those who did not obey would be tortured and killed. Despite the threat of death, the Seven Youths refused to offer sacrifices to the gods.
The Seven Youths were summoned by Decius, appeared before him, and proclaimed their faith in Christ. The Emperor, hoping the youths would change their mind while he was on his military campaign, released them. Meanwhile, the youths fled into a cave on Mount Ochlon and passed their time in prayer in preparation for martyrdom.
When Saint Iamblicus, one of the seven, dressed up as a beggar to fetch bread in town, he heard the Emperor was back in town. Saint Maximilian implored them to present themselves to Emperor Decius. However, before they could turn themselves in, Decius learned where they were hidden. The Emperor, hoping the holy youths would die from hunger and thirst, commanded the entrance to the cave to be sealed. Two Christians, wanting the Youths to be remembered for their dedication to Christ, placed a plaque outside of the cave detailing their date of martyrdom and death.
While everyone believed the saints to have perished, they lived on, for the Lord placed them in a miraculous sleep for almost two centuries.
After 200 years, the Seven Youths woke up unaware that 200 years had passed since the cave they were hiding in was sealed. Their clothes and their bodies remained miraculously undecayed. It was only when Saint Iamblicus left the cave and paid for bread with coins bearing Emperor Decius’ image that they were found alive. Believing the saint to have a hoard of old money, the people detained him.
On hearing his bewildering story, the Bishop of Ephesus opened the cave and discovered the rest of the youths in the cave. In sight of everyone, the Holy Youths all lay their heads down and fell asleep in the Lord until the General Resurrection. Their lives reveal the mystery of the Resurrection in Christ, which surpasses all wordly time. They are commemorated on August 4th. May the 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus intercede for us all!
The Seven Sleepers were brave in the face of certain persecution, and the Lord saved them because of their faith. Pray to them when you need courage facing hard situations. Ask the Seven Sleepers to intercede for you when you feel spiritually “dry” and to help you find your zeal for Christ.
Apolytikion of Holy 7 Youths of Ephesus
Thy Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for Thee received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from Thee, our immortal God. For since they possessed Thy strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.
Kontakion of Holy 7 Youths of Ephesus
They that scorned all things in the world as corrupted and found the gifts that nothing ever corrupteth, behold, they died, and yet corruption touched them not. Wherefore after many years once again they all rose up, burying all unbelief of malicious revilers. Ye faithful, let us laud the seven youths with hymns of praise on this day, while extolling Christ.
The Seven Holy Sleepers existed outside of normal time for a bit and in this sense, were preserved from the dangers of their fallen world. When we participate in the Divine Liturgy, it is said that we are worshiping outside of time, in a timeless space that is both past, present, and future. How does stepping out of time and into the Mystical life of the Church help preserve us from the dangers of our fallen world?
Despite the threat of persecution, the Seven Sleepers held fast to God and their faith, risking their lives to do so. Yet they also sought to escape the dangerous persecution of the emperor by hiding in a cave. In what ways can we learn from the Seven Sleepers’ zeal for God? How can we explain their willingness to risk their lives like other martyrs while also taking into account their God-blessed efforts to preserve them?
The Seven Holy Youths refused to sacrifice to Emperor Decius. What are some things in the world today that demand our attention/sacrifice? How can we pull our attention away from these false idols and shift it back to God?
This discussion is based on an article published by Dr. Albert Rossi and Julia Wickes in 2009 in the OCA’s Theology of Lay Ministries Volume III. The reflection sections are taken directly from the article, while the discussion questions are original to this content.
This discussion is made up of several parts, with each part containing a reflection and a set of discussion questions. Either with your OCF chapter, a friend or two, or just on your own, read each reflection and discuss the questions related to it. You can choose to break the discussion into multiple sessions, tackling a part or two a week, or you can do the whole thing in one sitting.
Part I: Whose time is it?
The first thing to say, from an Orthodox perspective, is that there is no such thing as time management. We don’t manage time. Time manages us if we allow the Lord to have a place in our schedule.
Christ is everything, including the giver and owner of our time. He is the Way we format our schedule, the Truth about the meaning of time, and the flow of Life that moves us through time.
C. S. Lewis makes a profound point about time. He says that we usually regard time as our own. We start our day with the curious assumption that we are the lawful possessors of an upcoming twenty-four hours. With that hazardous assumption we then plot a matrix for our day, filling in time slots with tasks or restful moments. We might hope that we are managing our time in a way that will somehow please God. But when we begin with the assumption that time is ours, inconveniences and unexpected interruptions become intrusions into “my time.”
By contrast, we can begin with the assertion that time is not our own. Time belongs to the Lord and He has a plan for time that He desires us to accept for our own peace and joy.
How does recognizing that time is not your own change the way you view your day-to-day activities and goals?
Dr. Rossi says that we don’t manage time but time manages us. Why do you think the Lord gave us time as a way of managing our lives? Is it bad to view Christ as someone who wants to “manage” us?
Part II: Adjusting our expectations
Those who are trying to use their time to do the Lord’s will must begin every day, and every moment, with Jesus Christ. One question might be, “Lord, what do you want me to do, now?” But an even better question is, “Lord, what do you want to do through me now?” This takes the emphasis from the ego and places it on the Lord.
If we believe that God has a plan for each moment, we can then be sensitive to each moment as it unfolds in unexpected ways. When we receive each moment as from the Lord we will begin to experience our time on earth as a series of small deaths and resurrections.
Every loss is a gift that God gives us so that He can give us more. It might be saying goodbye to high school or college days, a move from the old neighborhood, the loss of a job, the loss of physical or mental health. We might lose loved ones through separation or death. In degrees, the reactive thought might be, “This is the beginning of the end.” A more truthful thought would be, “This is the beginning of the beginning.” Death is the beginning of a new relationship with Christ, a fresh beginning of an entirely new life. Each loss and little death is a new beginning towards our ultimate beginning—heaven.
As we adjust our expectations, time takes on a new meaning.
What are some expectations that you can change regarding your use of time if your goal changes from what you want to do to what God wants to do through you?
What might be a good way of trying to discern what God might be trying to do through you in the various aspects of your life?
Part III: Sacrament of the present moment
Simple awareness of the presence of God is the power within the present moment. The present moment—now—is the only place where God is. He discloses Himself through the reality of the present moment. Nowhere else. This is a mystery we can participate in by simply trying to be aware of His presence.
Awareness, conscious contact with God, is the key.
Why do Dr. Rossi and Julia say that the present moment “is the only place where God is”?
What are some moments in which it is difficult to remember God’s presence?
What are some tools the Church offers that you find useful for remembering God’s presence in moments that are not explicitly directed to him (i.e. mundane tasks and parts of your day)?
Part IV: The Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret
An Orthodox morning prayer by Metropolitan Philaret says: “In unforeseen events let us not forget that all are sent by Thee.” Here it is helpful to refine exactly what is meant by the idea that God sends all moments. God did not send terrorists to fly planes into the World Trade Center in New York City. Rather, God allowed terrorists to fly those planes. What, then, is implied by the all in Metropolitan Philaret’s prayer? An Orthodox perspective would say that events outside ourselves are subject to God’s allowing will, and moreover are beyond our understanding. However, by faith we believe and confess that God sends all of the events that pertain to us. All events in our day, even those that we anticipate in a human way, can legitimately be described as “unforeseen,” because they bear a divine potential which is not revealed to us in advance. But even “unforeseen events,” in the most mundane sense of the term—the unforeseen phone call or the inconvenient request—can take on a new meaning, simply because our time is not our own.
Our freedom consists in embracing all that happens to us, exhaustion and all, as a blessing in divine disguise.
What is the connection that Dr. Rossi and Julia make between recognizing that time is not our own and coming to terms with tragic and evil events that take place in the world?
Compare a properly oriented use of our freedom in a moment of tragedy or evil to an improperly oriented use of our freedom in that moment.
Think of one of those moments in your own life in which you fell into the improperly oriented use of freedom. Why do you think you fell into that use of freedom rather than the properly oriented use?
Part V: Making the most of time
There is a paradox inherent in the Orthodox approach to time. We do not “manage” our time yet we must be prudent and skillful in the way we use our time. We must plan without being a slave of our plans. So, we are back to basics. We need to allow the Lord to flow through us all the time, as best we can. Sometimes we must use the present moment to plan for tomorrow and the long-term future. But, again, it is the Lord doing the planning through us. When we finish the planning we can’t obsess about it or allow the plans to become larger than life. We must be stable in the present moment and flexible enough to change plans as the Lord directs, at a moment’s notice. One saint said she wanted to be a ball on a table top in the hands of the Lord, allowing Him to move her anyway He chose, for His pleasure.
The truth is that we have all the time we need, and abundantly more, to do all that the Lord has us on the planet to do. He gives us our tasks and ministry, and resources with sufficient time. “And my God will supply your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19)
We, however, often have other ideas. Enter stress and dissatisfaction. We make our own stress, in large part.
Why do Dr. Rossi and Julia say that “we make our own stress”?
If a high school student preparing for college asked you for advice on how to be prudent and skillful in the way they use their time without being a slave to their plans, what advise would you give them?
How can that advise apply to your post-college plans, including where you’ll live, what type of job you’ll have, and your relationships with others?
Part VI: Ready for virtually anything
We can only be ready for virtually anything if we know what else we have to do and choose to not do. Then we can do or not do what appears in the moment, based on a deep intuition of what the Lord is calling for now. All too often we walk through life responding to the “latest and loudest” voice clamoring for our attention.
David Allen in his interesting book, Ready for Anything, emphasizes a few key points. We need to have some system where we have written down everything we need to do. These are called projects, anything that requires more than one step to accomplish. We also need a list of next action steps, those things that can be accomplished in one action. These next actions can be grouped into categories that make life better organized. We might group together all the next actions which require a computer, or the phone, or when talking with my boss. Then, when we are at the phone or have a slice of free time, we will know what calls we might or might not make on the spot. All this helps us think less about what we need to do.
The brain is a fine instrument for creative thought but a poor container to remember all the outstanding commitments and projects that are ours. When projects and next actions are written down, and backed up, in some trusted system, we can allow the system to remember for us. For computer users, an external hard drive can serve as a trusted backup system. For those who prefer pen and paper (and this number is growing), a copy should be made of all that is written down. A backup is necessary because we must feel free from the possibility that we wrote down everything we need to do and that list got misplaced, or thrown out with the trash, or mauled by a well-meaning pet.
The idea is to free our mind from worry about commitments we have made with ourselves and others. Then we can use our brain for other things. If we try to keep our commitments in our head, like a computer with too much in the memory, the entire system slows down.
We need to take copious notes and be willing to process and organize these notes at least weekly so we have more freedom in the way we use our time.
To be free in the Lord requires that we are as free as we can be from internal baggage and preoccupation. David Allen calls this “Mind like water,” that is, a mind ready to receive the next pebble thrown in and naturally allow the ripples to move out.
What tools/resources do you use to organize your tasks and projects?
If you don’t use a tool or resource to help manage your projects, what has your experience of “managing time” been like?
Part VI: Push Pause
To let the Lord work through us means that we give him space, and, of course, time. All too often we act reactively. Our responses often take the form of a stimulus-response reaction. Too many times we want to say, “Yes” to all the requests that come our way, and they all may have great merit. But then, one can get so overloaded and overburdened. However, it is not always easy to discern to what we should say “yes” or “no.” It does require growing closer to the Lord, to hear His voice and His direction. Often, we do not go in the direction to which He has pointed. However, we take comfort in the knowledge that He is the Great “GPS”. He is always ready to “recalculate” and reroute us.
One handy suggestion is to push pause as often as we can. We can pause between the stimulus and our response, thereby gaining perspective. The pause itself is usually sufficient to break the reactivity cycle. We can become aware of something else going on besides the unconscious reaction. This is a fine opportunity to try to remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
A way to gain more conscious contact with God is to gently and quietly say, “Jesus.” His holy Name is an expression of belief, adoration, expectation of salvation and unity with Him and all the members of His body. His name is sacred and is a power He asked us to use. “Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:23) We need to know that when we use His Name we are acknowledging that we are his disciples. We pause and say His Name, as an act of obedience and surrender of the present moment. We can match this with an awareness of our breathing, centering us more inside our body.
We can simply say the one word, “Jesus,” to transfigure what is in front of us, or in our minds. The name Jesus can be a filter through which our thoughts, words and deeds have to pass to be freed from their impurities. Needless to say, this is severe spiritual warfare. It requires a forgetfulness of the self, a dying to the negative thoughts the ego wants to indulge.
Explain why the name “Jesus” may be such a powerful tool for “pressing pause” between a stimulus and our response.
What are some ways that you’ve been able to give the Lord space so that he can communicate guidance to you in your life?
Part VI: Conclusion
Time manages us because the Lord lives within the time He gives us. So, it is He, through the reality we call measured time, who manages, leads, nourishes and strengthens us. We don’t live life. Life lives us.
Time is our friend, not our burden to endure. We need only remember that we are in the holy presence of God. We can pause and say the Name of Jesus, thereby bringing us into His very life within us. While on earth we have an opportunity to “sanctify time.”
As a college student, would you agree that “time is your friend”?
Based on everything you’ve discussed up to this point, what opportunities do you have in your daily life to “sanctify time”?
Watch the video of Maggie’s first visit to a monastery and hear what some of the sisters at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Monastery had to say about the role of time in the Orthodox life and the way that monastics seek to “redeem time.” Then, discuss some of the questions below (if you don’t have time to discuss them all, make sure to finish your discussion with question #9).
Mother Christofora says that the main difference between monastic life and life in the world is not that people in the world have more things to do than monastics, but that monastics are surrounded by reminders – the local chapel, church bells, iconography and prayers– that draw themselves back to God throughout each day. What are some reminders that you can add to your life to draw you back to God throughout each day?
Mother Christofora discusses how prayer is something we can do within time that brings us outside of time and closer to God, but she says that we need to not only pray using Orthodox prayer books but also as the Holy Spirit moves us in our own hearts. Have you ever tried to offer a prayer from your heart? Which do you find more difficult: praying from your heart or praying pre-written prayers? Why?
Sister Paula explains how Mother Christofora is responsible for managing the schedules of all the sisters in the monasteries. What are some benefits and what are some difficulties that may come from someone else managing your time? What do you think the burden of being responsible for the proper management of someone else’s time feels like?
How do you think the story Mother Christofora told about St. Anthony and the balance between work, prayer, and rest applies to your own life?
Have you ever thought of sanctifying a meal beyond just saying a prayer before the start of the meal? What new ideas might Mother Christofora and Sister Paula have given you for sanctifying your mealtimes?
If time is part of the fallen world, how is it a gift?
Mother Christofora said that a lot of our identity in America is determined by what we do, which often makes us proud and causes us to struggle if a circumstance prevents us from doing what we feel is essential to ourselves. What are the things that you think determine the way you view your own identity? What role does your work play in your identity?
St. Benedict’s rule, pray 8 hours a day, work 8 hours a day, sleep 8 hours a day, is a way for monastics to maintain a balance between work, rest, and prayer. Is there a similar pattern that you can seek to establish in your own life, and are there any other categories that need to be added to the trivium of prayer, work, and sleep for you as someone living in the world?
After watching the video and discussing these questions, what do you think about the differences and similarities between monastic life and life in the world? What aspects of the monastic tradition do you feel are the best sources of inspiration for striving to live a sanctified life in the world?
Conclude your discussion with the prayer shared by sister Paula , the prayer of the hours:
At all times and at every hour you are worshiped and glorified in heaven and on earth, Christ our God, long in patience, great in mercy and compassion, who loves the righteous and show mercy to all sinners. You call all to salvation through the promise of good things to come. Lord, receive our prayers at the present time. Direct our lives according to your commandments. Sanctify our souls. Purify our bodies. Set our minds aright. Cleanse our thoughts and deliver us from all sorrow, evil, and distress. Surround us with your holy angels so that, guarded and guided by their host, we may arrive at the unity of the faith and the understanding of your ineffable glory. For you are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.