St. Symeon the New Theologian: Hymn 25 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

St. Symeon the New Theologian: Hymn 25 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

Of the multitude of saints in the Orthodox Church, only three are given the title of “Theologian”. St. Symeon’s intimate experience of God, as detailed in his Hymns of Divine Love, grants him this honor. To learn more about St. Symeon’s life, please read this month’s There’s a Saint for That. Today, we will be discussing his twenty-fifth hymn.

We recommend sharing this recording of St. Symeon’s pre-communion prayer with your OCF chapter. The choir, whose parish is dedicated to this saint, brings out the beauty of St. Symeon’s poetry.

Text

But, O what intoxication of light, O what movements of fire!

O, what swirlings of the flame in me, miserable one that I am, coming from Thee and Thy glory!

The glory I know it and I say it is Thy Holy Spirit, who has the same nature with Thee and the same honor, O Word;

He is of the same race, of the same glory, of the same essence, He alone with Thy Father and with Thee, O Christ, O God of the universe!

I fall down in adoration before Thee.

I thank Thee that Thou hast made me worthy to know, however little it may be, the power of Thy divinity.

I thank Thee that Thou, even when I was sitting in darkness, didst reveal Thyself to me, Thou dost enlighten me, Thou dost grant me to see the light of Thy countenance that is unbearable to all.

I remained seated in the middle of the darkness, I know, but, while I was there surrounded by darkness, Thou didst appear as light, illuminating me completely from Thy total light.

And I became light in the night, I who was found in the midst of darkness.

Neither the darkness extinguished Thy light completely, nor did the light dissipate the visible darkness, but they were together, yet completely separate, without confusion, far from each other, surely, not at all mixed, except in the same spot where they filled everything, so it seems to me.

So I am in the light, yet I am found in the middle of the darkness.

So I am in the darkness, yet still I am in the middle of the light.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does this passage demonstrate how we interact with God on earth?
  2. In what ways does St. Symeon’s experience of Christ compare with that of the apostles?
  3. How does St. Symeon’s twenty-fifth hymn explicate St Athanasios famous maxim, “God became man so that man may become God”?
  4. What are ways in which our souls are covered by darkness and how can rationalization sometimes relate to that darkness? 
  5. The Old & New Testaments as well as another prayer said before Holy Communion refers to God as Fire: 

Behold, I approach the Divine Communion. O Creator, let me not be burnt by communicating: For Thou art Fire, consuming the unworthy. But, rather, purify me of all impurity. (St Symeon Metaphrastes)

What is it about light and fire that causes them to be some of the primary ways we refer to both God and the Mysteries of the Church?

St. Maria of Paris: Curated Discussion

St. Maria of Paris: Curated Discussion

Quotes taken from Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings

Introduction

Mother Maria led a very inspirational life. Reading the biography on her life during World War II and the kindness she shared with the suffering can be incredible inspiration to us young Orthodox Christians. She left the Faith as a young adult but came back to the Church later in life with a deeper understanding of who Christ is (something many of us share). Mother Maria attained exceptional empathy and embodied Christ’s love of neighbor to the fullest.

Our discussion today will revolve around 5 quotes from St. Maria’s Essential Writings. We’ll be tackling the topics of love, illumination, and living in the world as an Orthodox Christian (really useful stuff, yeah?). We encourage you to take this time to sit with what Mother Maria has written; there is so much beauty in the simplicity of her words.

May St. Maria pray for us all!

Questions for Discussion

We cannot see the Church as a sort of aesthetic perfection and limit ourselves to aesthetics swooning — our God-given freedom calls us to activity and struggle. And it would be a great lie to tell searching souls: ‘Go to church, because there you will find peace.’ The opposite is true. She tells those who are at peace and asleep: ‘Go to church, because there you will feel real alarm about your sins, about your perdition, about the world’s sins and perdition. There you will feel an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth. There instead of lukewarm you will become ardent, instead of pacified you will become alarmed, instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become foolish in Christ.’ (p. 115)

  1. The church can be a haven in different ways–a hospital for the sick, comfort for the troubled, or joy for the grateful. Mother Maria highlights the role of the church as a catalyst for spiritual discomfort, igniting a desire for our souls to grow spiritually and seek Truth. What role does the church currently play in your life, if any, and is this a relationship you would like to change?
  2. Aesthetics seem to take over our lives. Living in the 21st Century, we are constantly bombarded with shallow beauty, seeing how others live their lives through media and how we should ‘be like them’ (what I eat in a day, morning routine, etc.) Discuss the ways in which we view life with only the priority of ‘aesthetics’. How does this damage our lives, both spiritually and practically? How can aesthetics impact our view of the Church?

But if at the center of the Church’s life there is this self-giving Eucharistic love, then where are the Church’s boundaries, where is the periphery of this center? Here it is possible to speak of the whole of Christianity as an eternal offering of a Divine Liturgy beyond church walls … It means that we must offer the bloodless sacrifice, the sacrifice of self-surrendering love not only in a specific place, upon the altar of a particular temple; the whole world becomes the single altar of a single temple, and for this universal liturgy we must offer our hearts, like bread and wine, in order that they may be transformed into Christ’s love, that he may be born in them, that they may become “God-manly” hearts, and that He may give these hearts of ours as food for the world…” (p. 185)

  1. Christ gives us the Eucharist to feed our souls and help us grow closer to Him. Mother Maria describes our hearts as “food for the world.” In other words, we can be the Eucharist that feeds the world with Christ’s love. What can we give to the world to bring it closer to Christ? How can we bring the Eucharist into a world that sometimes seems far removed from Him?
  2. “The Liturgy begins when we walk out of church.” This quote reflects on how the true Liturgy does not happen within the walls of the church, but rather in our interactions with the world. St. Francis of Assissi instructs us to “preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” The Gospel should be our way of life. How can this thinking reorder your life? Do you see this sentiment in any writings from the Church Fathers?

Non-possession teaches us not only that we should not greedily seek advantages for our soul, but that we must not be stingy with our soul, that we should squander our soul in love, that we should achieve spiritual nakedness…There should be nothing so sacred or valuable that we would not be ready to give it up in the name of Christ’s love to those who need it. Spiritual non-possession is the way of the holy fool. It is folly, foolishness in Christ. It is the opposite of the wisdom of this age. It is the blessedness of those who are poor in spirit. It is the outer limit of love… (p. 181-182)

  1. Mother Maria instructs us that “there should be nothing so sacred or valuable that we would not be ready to give it up in the name of Christ’s love.” Is there anything in your life you would not be willing to give up, if asked to do so? What is holding you back?
  2. “We should squander our souls in love.” Through everything we do, we should aim to cultivate our soul and feed it with spiritual nourishment. However, it can be hard to do this when spiritual nourishment doesn’t always have tangible, instant results. How can we cultivate a desire to feed our souls rather than get caught up in tangible pleasures of the world?
  3. Thinking back to Adam and Eve: how could ‘spiritual nakedness’ play on Old Testament themes, if any? What should we clothe ourselves with if we are called to be spiritually naked?

However hard I try, I find it impossible to construct anything greater than these three words, ‘Love one another’ —only to the end, and without exceptions: then all is justified and life is illumined, whereas otherwise it is an abomination and a burden. (p. 19)

  1. We are to love one another “without exceptions.” In which instances do you find it hardest to love? How do we love someone who does not love others, or who does not love us?
  2. Contemplate how disordered love, or even absent love, could cause a person’s life to be a burden.
  3. Mother Maria defines love in the purest forms, stating that it ‘illumines’ life and results in life not being a burden. How does our world try to corrupt the true meaning of love? In what ways can we practice this sort of love that St. Maria references?

Such terrible times are coming, the world is so exhausted from its scabs and sores, it so cries out to Christianity in the secret depths of its soul, but at the same time it is so far removed from Christianity, that Christianity cannot and dare not show it a distorted, diminished, darkened image of itself. It should scorch the world with the flame of Christ’s love, it should go to the cross on behalf of the world. It should incarnate Christ Himself in it. (p. 186)

  1. The world is damaged, but the Church “dare not show it a distorted, diminished, darkened image of itself.” How do we seemingly rectify this juxtaposition? Does St. Maria actually contradict herself by saying that the world needs Christ, but that it needs to be in a certain way?
  2. We are called to shine light in a world that seems dark, hopeless, and despairing at times. How can we bring Christ into a world that deeply desires Christianity but refuses to accept it as such? How can we incarnate Christ in a society that refuses to accept the Incarnate Christ?
  3. “It should incarnate Christ Himself in it.” This quote is a heavy one and deserves some contemplation! Take about two minutes of silence with your chapter, reread quote 5, and discuss the ways that we can practice this kind of thinking that Mother Maria presents.

Closing Prayer (https://incommunion.org/2004/10/18/icons/)

You became an instrument of divine love, O holy martyr Maria,

And taught us to love Christ with all our being.

You conquered evil by not submitting yourself into the hands of the destroyer of souls.

You drank from the cup of suffering.

The Creator accepted your death above any other sacrifice

And crowned you with the laurels of victory with His mighty hand.

Pray fervently that nothing may hinder us from fulfilling God’s will

Because you are a bright star shining in darkness!

Interview with Archbishop Alexander (Golitzen): Curated Discussion

Interview with Archbishop Alexander (Golitzen): Curated Discussion

Archbishop Alexander (Golitzin) was born in Burbank, CA in 1948 and raised attending Saint Innocent Church, Tarzana, CA. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley and a Master of Divinity degree from Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. He spent seven years pursuing doctoral studies at Oxford University in England. His doctoral work on Dionysios the Areopagite was supervised by Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia. During his doctoral studies, Golitzin also spent two years in Greece, including one year at Simonos Petras Monastery on Mount Athos. His time at Simonos Petras, under the guidance of its archimandrite, Elder Aimilianos (Vafeidis), was decisive in shaping his understanding of mystical experience. In his own words, on Mount Athos he found that “the holy man was not a distant ideal or a literary topos — something out of an eight-century manuscript or a Paleologian icon — but a reality.” 

After receiving his D. Phil. from Oxford, he returned to the USA, where he was ordained to the diaconate and later the priesthood. In 1986, he was tonsured to monastic orders by the Elder Aimilianos at the monastery of Simonos Petras and received the monastic name of Alexander. 

In 1989, Golitzin took up a permanent faculty position in the Theology Department at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where, over the next two decades, he established himself as a leading expert on Jewish and Christian mysticism. Although widely known for his groundbreaking scholarship, he also became an exceptional teacher who was able to mentor a large cohort of doctoral students during his time at Marquette. He was particularly helpful to those students who came to Marquette University from the Eastern Orthodox tradition by giving them a clearer understanding of their own theological and spiritual legacy. He retired in 2012.

On Saturday, May 5, 2012, he was consecrated Bishop of Toledo and the Bulgarian Diocese during a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at Saint George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford, Ohio. On March 30, 2016, he was elected Bishop of Dallas, the South and the Bulgarian Diocese. During the 2017 Spring Session of the Holy Synod, he was elevated to the rank of Archbishop.

Part I: Interview with Archbishop Alexander

Watch the following interview with Vladyka Alexander about why college students should study the Church Fathers and what we can learn from St. Dionysios specifically.

Part II: Discussion Questions

  1. What does Vladyka Alexander say about the problems that the Church Fathers address in comparison to modern times? How does this affect our ability to read and study their works?
  2. What did you take away from what Vladyka shared about the fact that St. Dionysios sometimes called Pseudo-Dionysios? 
  3. What is your understanding of hierarchy? How do the modern connotations of the word fit with or contradict how St. Dionysios describes it?
  4. How does Vladyka suggest that college students go about reading St. Dionysios? How are his writings and teachings applicable to our daily lives?

Closing Prayer

Illumine our hearts, O Master Who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee. For Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, Who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

St. Basil the Great – On the Hexameron  | Curated Content Discussion Guide

St. Basil the Great – On the Hexameron | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

Saint Basil the Great is highly revered in the Orthodox Church, being one of the Three Holy Hierarchs in the Orthodox Church as well as one of the three Cappadocian Fathers. We will begin this guided discussion by listening to this excerpt from the Synaxarion about his life. Along with founding the first recorded monastic rule, St. Basil is known for defending the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit with the father and the son in his work On the Holy Spirit.

Keeping with the OCF’s theme this year of “Walking in the Light”, we will limit today’s discussion to his text On The Hexameron (‘hexameron’ meaning ‘six days’, which refers to the first six days of creation in Genesis; this is the full text, including other works of St. Basil’s including On the Holy Spirit). Please take turns reading the following text.

Homily II. “The Earth was Invisible and Unfinished.”

4.  “Darkness was upon the face of the deep”.  By “darkness” these wicked men do not understand what is meant in reality—air not illumined, the shadow produced by the interposition of a body, or finally a place for some reason deprived of light… If God is light, they say, without any doubt the power which struggles against Him must be darkness, “Darkness” not owing its existence to a foreign origin, but an evil existing by itself…. “The earth was invisible.”  Why? Because the “deep” was spread over its surface.  What is “the deep”?  A mass of water of extreme depth….  Thus, the deep is not a multitude of hostile powers, as has been imagined; nor “darkness” an evil sovereign force in enmity with good. In reality two rival principles of equal power, if engaged without ceasing in a war of mutual attacks, will end in self destruction.  But if one should gain the mastery it would completely annihilate the conquered. 

Thus, to maintain the balance in the struggle between good and evil is to represent them as engaged in a war without end and in perpetual destruction, where the opponents are at the same time conquerors and conquered.  If good is the stronger, what is there to prevent evil being completely annihilated? But if that be the case, the very utterance of which is impious, I ask myself how it is that they themselves are not filled with horror to think that they have imagined such abominable blasphemies. It is equally impious to say that evil has its origin from God; because the contrary cannot proceed from its contrary. Life does not engender death; darkness is not the origin of light; sickness is not the maker of health. In the changes of conditions there are transitions from one condition to the contrary; but in genesis each being proceeds from its like, and not from its contrary.

If then evil is neither uncreated nor created by God, from whence comes its nature?  Certainly that evil exists, no one living in the world will deny.  What shall we say then?  Evil is not a living animated essence; it is the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, developed in the careless on account of their falling away from good. Do not then go beyond yourself to seek for evil, and imagine that there is an original nature of wickedness. Each of us, let us acknowledge it, is the first author of his own vice…. Here you are the master of your actions. Do not look for the guiding cause beyond yourself, but recognise that evil, rightly so called, has no other origin than our voluntary falls. If it were involuntary, and did not depend upon ourselves, the laws would not have so much terror for the guilty, and the tribunals would not be so without pity when they condemn wretches according to the measure of their crimes.

But enough concerning evil rightly so called. Sickness, poverty, obscurity, death, finally all human afflictions, ought not to be ranked as evils; since we do not count among the greatest boons things which are their opposites. Among these afflictions, some are the effect of nature, others have obviously been for many a source of advantage. Let us then be silent for the moment about these metaphors and allegories, and, simply following without vain curiosity the words of Holy Scripture, let us take from darkness the idea which it gives us.

But reason asks, was darkness created with the world?  Is it older than light?  Why in spite of its inferiority has it preceded it?  Darkness, we reply, did not exist in essence; it is a condition produced in the air by the withdrawal of light.  What then is that light which disappeared suddenly from the world, so that darkness should cover the face of the deep?  If anything had existed before the formation of this sensible and perishable world, no doubt we conclude it would have been in light.  The orders of angels, the heavenly hosts, all intellectual natures named or unnamed, all the ministering spirits, did not live in darkness, but enjoyed a condition fitted for them in light and spiritual joy. No one will contradict this; least of all he who looks for celestial light as one of the rewards promised to virtue, the light which, as Solomon says, is always a light to the righteous, the light which made the Apostle say “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”  

Finally, if the condemned are sent into outer darkness evidently those who are made worthy of God’s approval, are at rest in heavenly light.  When then, according to the order of God, the heaven appeared, enveloping all that its circumference included, a vast and unbroken body separating outer things from those which it enclosed, it necessarily kept the space inside in darkness for want of communication with the outer light.  Three things are, indeed, needed to form a shadow, light, a body, a dark place.  The shadow of heaven forms the darkness of the world.

6.  And the Spirit of God was borne upon the face of the waters.   Does this spirit mean the diffusion of air?  The sacred writer wishes to enumerate to you the elements of the world, to tell you that God created the heavens, the earth, water, and air and that the last was now diffused and in motion; or rather, that which is truer and confirmed by the authority of the ancients, by the Spirit of God, he means the Holy Spirit.  It is, as has been remarked, the special name, the name above all others that Scripture delights to give to the Holy Spirit, and always by the spirit of God the Holy Spirit is meant, the Spirit which completes the divine and blessed Trinity.  You will find it better therefore to take it in this sense.  How then did the Spirit of God move upon the waters?  The explanation that I am about to give you is not an original one, but that of a Syrian, who was as ignorant in the wisdom of this world as he was versed in the knowledge of the Truth.  He said, then, that the Syriac word was more expressive, and that being more analogous to the Hebrew term it was a nearer approach to the scriptural sense.  This is the meaning of the word; by “was borne” the Syrians, he says, understand:  it cherished the nature of the waters as one sees a bird cover the eggs with her body and impart to them vital force from her own warmth.  Such is, as nearly as possible, the meaning of these words—the Spirit was borne:  let us understand, that is, prepared the nature of water to produce living beings: a sufficient proof for those who ask if the Holy Spirit took an active part in the creation of the world.

7.  And God said, Let there be light. The first word of God created the nature of light; it made darkness vanish, dispelled gloom, illuminated the world, and gave to all beings at the same time a sweet and gracious aspect.  The heavens, until then enveloped in darkness, appeared with that beauty which they still present to our eyes.  The air was lighted up, or rather made the light circulate mixed with its substance, and, distributing its splendour rapidly in every direction, so dispersed itself to its extreme limits.  Up it sprang to the very æther and heaven.  In an instant it lighted up the whole extent of the world, the North and the South, the East and the West…. 

The divine word gives every object a more cheerful and a more attractive appearance, just as when men in deep sea pour in oil they make the place about them clear.  So, with a single word and in one instant, the Creator of all things gave the boon of light to the world. Let there be light.  The order was itself an operation, and a state of things was brought into being, than which man’s mind cannot even imagine a pleasanter one for our enjoyment.  It must be well understood that when we speak of the voice, of the word, of the command of God, this divine language does not mean to us a sound which escapes from the organs of speech, a collision of air struck by the tongue; it is a simple sign of the will of God, and, if we give it the form of an order, it is only the better to impress the souls whom we instruct.

Homily VI. The creation of luminous bodies.

1. …Thus, to investigate the great and prodigious show of creation, to understand supreme and ineffable wisdom, you must bring personal light for the contemplation of the wonders which I spread before your eyes, and help me, according to your power, in this struggle, where you are not so much judges as fellow combatants, for fear lest the truth might escape you, and lest my error might turn to your common prejudice.  Why these words?  It is because we propose to study the world as a whole, and to consider the universe, not by the light of worldly wisdom, but by that with which God wills to enlighten His servant, when He speaks to him in person and without enigmas.  It is because it is absolutely necessary that all lovers of great and grand shows should bring a mind well prepared to study them.  If sometimes, on a bright night, whilst gazing with watchful eyes on the inexpressible beauty of the stars, you have thought of the Creator of all things; if you have asked yourself who it is that has dotted heaven with such flowers, and why visible things are even more useful than beautiful; if sometimes, in the day, you have studied the marvels of light, if you have raised yourself by visible things to the invisible Being, then you are a well prepared auditor, and you can take your place in this august and blessed amphitheatre.  Come in the same way that any one not knowing a town is taken by the hand and led through it; thus I am going to lead you, like strangers, through the mysterious marvels of this great city of the universe….

If we are penetrated by these truths, we shall know ourselves, we shall know God, we shall adore our Creator, we shall serve our Master, we shall glorify our Father, we shall love our Sustainer, we shall bless our Benefactor, we shall not cease to honour the Prince of present and future life, Who, by the riches that He showers upon us in this world, makes us believe in His promises and uses present good things to strengthen our expectation of the future.  Truly, if such are the good things of time, what will be those of eternity?  If such is the beauty of visible things, what shall we think of invisible things?  If the grandeur of heaven exceeds the measure of human intelligence, what mind shall be able to trace the nature of the everlasting?  If the sun, subject to corruption, is so beautiful, so grand, so rapid in its movement, so invariable in its course; if its grandeur is in such perfect harmony with and due proportion to the universe:  if, by the beauty of its nature, it shines like a brilliant eye in the middle of creation; if finally, one cannot tire of contemplating it, what will be the beauty of the Sun of Righteousness?   If the blind man suffers from not seeing the material sun, what a deprivation is it for the sinner not to enjoy the true light!

2.  “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to divide the day from the night.”   Heaven and earth were the first; after them was created light; the day had been distinguished from the night, then had appeared the firmament and the dry element.  The water had been gathered into the reservoir assigned to it, the earth displayed its productions, it had caused many kinds of herbs to germinate and it was adorned with all kinds of plants.  However, the sun and the moon did not yet exist, in order that those who live in ignorance of God may not consider the sun as the origin and the father of light, or as the maker of all that grows out of the earth.   That is why there was a fourth day, and then God said:  “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven.” When once you have learnt Who spoke, think immediately of the hearer.  God said, “Let there be lights…and God made two great lights.”  Who spoke? and Who made?  Do you not see a double person?  Everywhere, in mystic language, history is sown with the dogmas of theology. The motive follows which caused the lights to be created.  It was to illuminate the earth.  Already light was created; why therefore say that the sun was created to give light?  And, first, do not laugh at the strangeness of this expression.  We do not follow your nicety about words, and we trouble ourselves but little to give them a harmonious turn.  Our writers do not amuse themselves by polishing their periods, and everywhere we prefer clearness of words to sonorous expressions.  See then if by this expression “to light up,” the sacred writer sufficiently made his thought understood.  He has put “to give light” instead of “illumination.”   Now there is nothing here contradictory to what has been said of light.  Then the actual nature of light was produced:  now the sun’s body is constructed to be a vehicle for that original light.  A lamp is not fire.  Fire has the property of illuminating, and we have invented the lamp to light us in darkness.  In the same way, the luminous bodies have been fashioned as a vehicle for that pure, clear, and immaterial light.  The Apostle speaks to us of certain lights which shine in the world without being confounded with the true light of the world, the possession of which made the saints luminaries of the souls which they instructed and drew from the darkness of ignorance.  This is why the Creator of all things, made the sun in addition to that glorious light, and placed it shining in the heavens.

3.  And let no one suppose it to be a thing incredible that the brightness of the light is one thing, and the body which is its material vehicle is another.  First, in all composite things, we distinguish substance susceptible of quality, and the quality which it receives.  The nature of whiteness is one thing, another is that of the body which is whitened; thus the natures differ which we have just seen reunited by the power of the Creator.  And do not tell me that it is impossible to separate them.  Even I do not pretend to be able to separate light from the body of the sun; but I maintain that that which we separate in thought, may be separated in reality by the Creator of nature.  You cannot, moreover, separate the brightness of fire from the virtue of burning which it possesses; but God, who wished to attract His servant by a wonderful sight, set a fire in the burning bush, which displayed all the brilliancy of flame while its devouring property was dormant.  It is that which the Psalmist affirms in saying “The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.”   Thus, in the requital which awaits us after this life, a mysterious voice seems to tell us that the double nature of fire will be divided; the just will enjoy its light, and the torment of its heat will be the torture of the wicked.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Does St. Basil acknowledge ‘natural evil’ the way that it is understood in Western Theology? Discuss the quote, “Here you are the master of your actions. Do not look for the guiding cause beyond yourself, but recognise that evil, rightly so called, has no other origin than our voluntary falls”.
  1. What does St. Basil mean when he says, “The shadow of heaven forms the darkness of the world”?
  1. How ought we approach enigmas we encounter as we observe the scientific reality and beauty of the universe? You may reference Homily VI.
  1. Discuss St. Basil’s choice to refer to Christ as the ‘Sun of Righteousness’. Can you think of any other similarities that Christ has with the sun?
  1. Read the following excerpt from St. Basil’s On the Holy Spirit:

Inasmuch as all created nature, both this visible world and all that is conceived of in the mind, cannot hold together without the care and providence of God, the Creator Word, the Only begotten God, apportioning His succour according to the measure of the needs of each, distributes mercies various and manifold on account of the many kinds and characters of the recipients of His bounty, but appropriate to the necessities of individual requirements.  Those that are confined in the darkness of ignorance He enlightens:  for this reason He is true Light.

Discuss what ‘enlightenment’ means within the Orthodox Faith. Can any immutable traits prevent someone from being enlightened by Christ?

After the discussion, additional edifying content can be found by listening to this biography of his sister St. Macrina’s life (written by St. Basil’s brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa). The OCF chapter may decide to implement this reading into a new or existing book club.

On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27 | Curated Content Discussion Guide

On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27

§ 1. This text refers not to the eternal Word but to the Incarnate.

” All things were delivered to Me by My Father. And none knows Who the Son is, save the Father; and Who the Father is, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son wills to reveal Him. “

And from not perceiving this they of the sect of Arius, Eusebius and his fellows, indulge impiety against the Lord. For they say, if all things were delivered (meaning by ‘all’ the Lordship of Creation), there was once a time when He had them not. But if He had them not, He is not of the Father, for if He were, He would on that account have had them always, and would not have required to receive them. But this point will furnish all the clearer an exposure of their folly. For the expression in question does not refer to the Lordship over Creation, nor to presiding over the works of God, but is meant to reveal in part the intention of the Incarnation ([τῆς οἰκονομίας]).

For if when He was speaking they ‘were delivered’ to Him, clearly before He received them, creation was void of the Word. What then becomes of the text ” in Him all things consist ” [ Colossians 1:17 ]? But if simultaneously with the origin of the Creation it was all ‘delivered’ to Him, such delivery were superfluous, for ‘all things were made by Him’ [ John 1:3 ], and it would be unnecessary for those things of which the Lord Himself was the artificer to be delivered over to Him. For in making them He was Lord of the things which were being originated. But even supposing they were ‘delivered’ to Him after they were originated, see the monstrosity. For if they ‘were delivered,’ and upon His receiving them the Father retired, then we are in peril of falling into the fabulous tales which some tell, that He gave over [His works] to the Son, and Himself departed. Or if, while the

Son has them, the Father has them also, we ought to say, not ‘were delivered,’ but that He took Him as partner, as Paul did Silvanus. But this is even more monstrous; for God is not imperfect , nor did He summon the Son to help Him in His need; but, being Father of the Word, He makes all things by His means, and without delivering creation over to Him, by His means and in Him exercises Providence over it, so that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father [ Matthew 10:29 ], nor is the grass clothed without God [ Matthew 6:30 ], but at once the Father works, and the Son works hitherto [ cf.John 5:17 ]. Vain, therefore, is the opinion of the impious. For the expression is not what they think, but designates the Incarnation.

§2. Sense in which, and end for which all things were delivered to the Incarnate Son.

For whereas man sinned, and is fallen, and by his fall all things are in confusion: death prevailed from Adam to Moses [ cf.Romans 5:14 ], the earth was cursed, Hades was opened, Paradise shut, Heaven offended, man, lastly, corrupted and brutalised [ cf.Psalm 49:12 ], while the devil was exulting against us—then God, in His loving-kindness, not willing man made in His own image to perish, said, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go?’ [ Isaiah 6:8 ]. But while all held their peace, the Son said, ‘Here am I, send Me.’ And then it was that, saying ‘Go,’ He ‘delivered’ to Him man, that the Word Himself might be made Flesh, and by taking the Flesh, restore it wholly. For to Him, as to a physician, man ‘was delivered’ to heal the bite of the serpent; as to life, to raise what was dead; as to light, to illumine the darkness; and, because He was Word, to renew the rational nature ([τὸ λογικόν]). Since then all things ‘were delivered’ to Him, and He is made Man, straightway all things were set right and perfected. Earth receives blessing instead of a curse, Paradise was opened to the robber, Hades

cowered, the tombs were opened and the dead raised, the gates of Heaven were lifted up to await Him that ‘comes from Edom?’ [ Psalm 24:7, Isaiah 63:1 ]. Why, the Saviour Himself expressly signifies in what sense ‘all things were delivered’ to Him, when He continues, as Matthew tells us: ‘Come unto Me all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ [ Matthew 11:28 ]. Yes, you ‘were delivered’ to Me to give rest to those who had laboured, and life to the dead. And what is written in John’s Gospel harmonises with this: ‘The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand’ [ John 3:35 ]. Given, in order that, just as all things were made by Him, so in Him all things might be renewed. For they were not ‘delivered’ unto Him, that being poor, He might be made rich, nor did He receive all things that He might receive power which before He lacked: far be the thought: but in order that as Saviour He might rather set all things right. For it was fitting that while ‘through Him’ all things came into being at the beginning, ‘in Him’ (note the change of phrase) all things should be set right [ cf. John 1:3, Ephesians 1:10 ]. For at the beginning they came into being ‘through’ Him; but afterwards, all having fallen, the Word has been made Flesh, and put it on, in order that ‘in Him’ all should be set right. Suffering Himself, He gave us rest, hungering Himself, He nourished us, and going down into Hades He brought us back thence. For example, at the time of the creation of all things, their creation consisted in a fiat, such as ‘let [the earth] bring forth,’ ‘let there be’ [ Genesis 1:3, 11 ], but at the restoration it was fitting that all things should be ‘delivered’ to Him, in order that He might be made man, and all things be renewed in Him. For man, being in Him, was quickened: for this was why the Word was united to man, namely, that against man the curse might no longer prevail. This is the reason why they record the request made on behalf of mankind in the seventy-first Psalm: ‘Give the King Your judgment, O God?’ [ Psalm 72:1 ]:

asking that both the judgment of death which hung over us may be delivered to the Son, and that He may then, by dying for us, abolish it for us in Himself. This was what He signified, saying Himself, in the eighty- seventh Psalm: ‘Your indignation lies hard upon me’ [ Psalm 88:7 ]. For He bore the indignation which lay upon us, as also He says in the hundred and thirty-seventh: ‘Lord, You shall do vengeance for me’ [ Psalm 137:8 ].

§3. By ‘all things’ is meant the redemptive attributes and power of Christ.

Thus, then, we may understand all things to have been delivered to the Saviour, and, if it be necessary to follow up understanding by explanation, that has been delivered unto Him which He did not previously possess. For He was not man previously, but became man for the sake of saving man.

And the Word was not in the beginning flesh, but has been made flesh subsequently [ cf.John 1:1 sqq ], in which Flesh, as the Apostle says, He reconciled the enmity which was against us [ Colossians 1:20, 2:14, Ephesians 2:15-16 ] and destroyed the law of the commandments in ordinances, that He might make the two into one new man, making peace, and reconcile both in one body to the Father. That, however, which the Father has, belongs also to the Son, as also He says in John, ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine’ [ John 16:15 ], expressions which could not be improved. For when He became that which He was not, ‘all things were delivered’ to Him. But when He desires to declare His unity with the Father, He teaches it without any reserve, saying: ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine.’ And one cannot but admire the exactness of the language. For He has not said ‘all things whatsoever the Father has, He has given to Me,’ lest He should appear at one time not to have possessed these things; but ‘are Mine.’ For these things, being in the Father’s power, are equally in that of the Son. But we must in turn examine

what things ‘the Father has.’ For if Creation is meant, the Father had nothing before creation, and proves to have received something additional from Creation; but far be it to think this. For just as He exists before creation, so before creation also He has what He has, which we also believe to belong to the Son [ John 16:15 ]. For if the Son is in the Father, then all things that the Father has belong to the Son. So this expression is subversive of the perversity of the heterodox in saying that ‘if all things have been delivered to the Son, then the Father has ceased to have power over what is delivered, having appointed the Son in His place. For, in fact, the Father judges none, but has given all judgment to the Son?’ [ John 5:22 ]. But ‘let the mouth of them that speak wickedness be stopped’ [ Psalm 63:11 ], (for although He has given all judgment to the Son, He is not, therefore, stripped of lordship: nor, because it is said that all things are delivered by the Father to the Son, is He any the less over all), separating as they clearly do the Only-begotten from God, Who is by nature inseparable from Him, even though in their madness they separate Him by their words, not perceiving, the impious men, that the Light can never be separated from the sun, in which it resides by nature. For one must use a poor simile drawn from tangible and familiar objects to put our idea into words, since it is over bold to intrude upon the incomprehensible nature [of God].

§4. The text John 16:15 , shows clearly the essential relation of the Son to the Father.

As then the light from the Sun which illumines the world could never be supposed, by men of sound mind, to do so without the Sun, since the Sun’s light is united to the Sun by nature; and as, if the Light were to say: I have received from the Sun the power of illumining all things, and of giving growth and strength to them by the heat that is in me, no one will be mad enough to think that the mention of the Sun is meant to separate him from

what is his nature, namely the light; so piety would have us perceive that the Divine Essence of the Word is united by nature to His own Father. For the text before us will put our problem in the clearest possible light, seeing that the Saviour said, ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine;’ which shows that He is ever with the Father. For ‘whatsoever He has’ shows that the Father wields the Lordship, while ‘are Mine’ shows the inseparable union. It is necessary, then, that we should perceive that in the Father reside Everlastingness, Eternity, Immortality. Now these reside in Him not as adventitious attributes, but, as it were, in a well-spring they reside in Him, and in the Son. When then you wish to perceive what relates to the Son, learn what is in the Father, for this is what you must believe to be in the Son. If then the Father is a thing created or made, these qualities belong also to the Son. And if it is permissible to say of the Father ‘there was once a time when He was not,’ or ‘made of nothing,’ let these words be applied also to the Son. But if it is impious to ascribe these attributes to the Father, grant that it is impious also to ascribe them to the Son. For what belongs to the Father, belongs to the Son. For he that honours the Son, honours the Father that sent Him, and he that receives the Son, receives the Father with Him, because he that has seen the Son has seen the Father [ Matthew 10:40; John 14:9 ]. As then the Father is not a creature, so neither is the Son; and as it is not possible to say of Him ‘there was a time when He was not,’ nor ‘made of nothing,’ so it is not proper to say the like of the Son either. But rather, as the Father’s attributes are Everlastingness, Immortality, Eternity, and the being no creature, it follows that thus also we must think of the Son. For as it is written [ John 5:26 ], ‘As the Father has life in Himself, so gave He to the Son also to have life in Himself.’ But He uses the word ‘gave’ in order to point to the Father who gives. As, again, life is in the Father, so also is it in the Son, so as to show Him to be inseparable and everlasting.

For this is why He speaks with exactness, ‘whatsoever the Father has,’ in order namely that by thus mentioning the Father He may avoid being thought to be the Father Himself. For He does not say ‘I am the Father,’ but ‘whatsoever the Father has.’

§5. The same text further explained.

For His Only-begotten Son might, you Arians, be called ‘Father’ by His Father, yet not in the sense in which you in your error might perhaps understand it, but (while Son of the Father that begot Him) ‘Father of the coming age’ [ Isaiah 9:6, Septuagint ]. For it is necessary not to leave any of your surmises open to you. Well then, He says by the prophet, ‘A Son is born and given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Angel of Great Counsel, mighty God, Ruler, Father of the coming age’ [ Isaiah 9:6 ]. The Only-begotten Son of God, then, is at once Father of the coming age, and mighty God, and Ruler. And it is shown clearly that all things whatsoever the Father has are His, and that as the Father gives life, the Son likewise is able to quicken whom He will. For ‘the dead,’ He says, ‘shall hear the voice of the Son, and shall live’ [ cf.John 5:25

], and the will and desire of Father and Son is one, since their nature also is one and indivisible. And the Arians torture themselves to no purpose, from not understanding the saying of our Saviour, ‘All things whatsoever the Father has are Mine.’ For from this passage at once the delusion of Sabellius can be upset, and it will expose the folly of our modern Jews. For this is why the Only begotten, having life in Himself as the Father has, also knows alone Who the Father is, namely, because He is in the Father and the Father in Him. For He is His Image, and consequently, because He is His Image, all that belongs to the Father is in Him. He is an exact seal, showing in Himself the Father; living Word and true, Power, Wisdom, our Sanctification and Redemption [ 1 Corinthians 1:30 ]. For ‘in Him we both

live and move and have our being’ [ Acts 17:28 ], and ‘no man knows Who is the Father, save the Son, and Who is the Son, save the Father?’ [ Luke 10:22 ].

§6. The Trisagion wrongly explained by Arians. Its true significance.

And how do the impious men venture to speak folly, as they ought not, being men and unable to find out how to describe even what is on the earth? But why do I say ‘what is on the earth?’ Let them tell us their own nature, if they can discover how to investigate their own nature? Rash they are indeed, and self-willed, not trembling to form opinions of things which angels desire to look into [ 1 Peter 1:12 ], who are so far above them, both in nature and in rank. For what is nearer [God] than the Cherubim or the Seraphim? And yet they, not even seeing Him, nor standing on their feet, nor even with bare, but as it were with veiled faces, offer their praises, with untiring lips doing nought else but glorify the divine and ineffable nature with the Trisagion. And nowhere has any one of the divinely speaking prophets, men specially selected for such vision, reported to us that in the first utterance of the word Holy the voice is raised aloud, while in the second it is lower, but in the third, quite low—and that consequently the first utterance denotes lordship, the second subordination, and the third marks a yet lower degree. But away with the folly of these haters of God and senseless men. For the Triad, praised, reverenced, and adored, is one and indivisible and without degrees ([ἀ] [σχηματιστός]). It is united without confusion, just as the Monad also is distinguished without separation. For the fact of those venerable living creatures [Isaiah 6; Revelation 4:8] offering their praises three times, saying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ proves that the Three Subsistences are perfect, just as in saying ‘Lord,’ they declare the One Essence. They then that depreciate the Only-begotten Son of God blaspheme God, defaming His perfection and accusing Him of

imperfection, and render themselves liable to the severest chastisement. For he that blasphemes any one of the Subsistences shall have remission neither in this world nor in that which is to come. But God is able to open the eyes of their heart to contemplate the Sun of Righteousness, in order that coming to know Him whom they formerly set at nought, they may with unswerving piety of mind together with us glorify Him, because to Him belongs the kingdom, even to the Father Son and Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Saint John of Damascus’ Hymns of Light | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Saint John of Damascus’ Hymns of Light | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

Saint John of Damascus expresses the Light of Christ in the poetry of the hymns that he wrote for the Church. Many of his hymns can be found in the Orthodox funeral service, and we will take a deeper look at how amidst the great grief and sorrow of a death, there is hope in eternal life with our Lord. First, read the story behind Saint John’s writing of the funeral hymns here. Next, take the time to focus specifically on these two hymns by Saint John. Soak in the beauty of his paradoxical poetry. 

“What earthly sweetness remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands immutable on the earth? All things are but feeble shadows, all things are most deluding dreams, yet one moment only, and death shall supplant them all. But in the light of Thy countenance, O Christ, and in the sweetness of Thy beauty, give rest to him whom Thou hast chosen, for as much as Thou lovest mankind. 

“I weep and lament when I think upon death, and behold our beauty created in the likeness of God lying in the tomb disfigured, bereft of glory and form. O the marvel of it! What is this mystery concerning us? Why have we been delivered to corruption? Why have we been wedded unto death? Truly, as it is written, by the command of God who giveth the departed rest.”

Questions For Discussion

  1. In the story, we see how Saint John disobeyed his elder in writing this hymn, knowing that his brother monk was so grieved by the loss of his brother. A quote by Saint Justin Popovich comes to mind: “I will sacrifice myself in order to save the canons of the Church, but in the case of saving one person I will sacrifice all the canons.” What times (if there are any) are we called to abandon rules for our fellow brothers and sisters? What discernment is needed in those moments? Discuss. 
  1. The Greek word charmolypi (χαρμολύπη) translates to “joyful sorrow”, and in Orthodoxy, this pertains to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. What is the joyful sorrow in our own lives? Think of examples of where you may have felt this intense emotion (maybe you didn’t even know how to describe it!), and discuss.
  1. In “An Exposition by the Orthodox Faith”, Saint John states that “since the enemy snares man by the hope of the Godhead, he himself is snared in turn by the screen of flesh.” What do the words of Saint John reveal to us about the unnaturalness of death?  What is this “mystery” concerning us? 
  1. There is a realism and bluntness to the words of Saint John in relation to death, a harsh reality of the inevitable fate for all of us. Knowing this striking reality, how can we gain a more full appreciation for the victorious resurrection of Christ? How does our understanding of death grant us a spirit of gratefulness? 

OCA, Funeral Hymns

2 https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/33043.htm

St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Ephesians | Curated Content Discussion Guide

St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Ephesians | Curated Content Discussion Guide

Introduction

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

Questions for Discussion

  • 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?

St. John Chrysostom’s “First Instruction to Catechumens” | Curated Discussion

St. John Chrysostom’s “First Instruction to Catechumens” | Curated Discussion

Introduction

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.

 

Questions for Discussion 

    • 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?

Closing Prayer

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.

Curated Discussion: “Planted in Death, Bearing Fruit in Life”

Curated Discussion: “Planted in Death, Bearing Fruit in Life”

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 . . .

Romans 6:3-5

“. . . 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.

Discussion Questions

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?

Conclusion

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.

Curated Discussion: The Way of the Pilgrim

Curated Discussion: The Way of the Pilgrim

Part I: Excerpts from The Way of the Pilgrim

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?

Excerpt 1

“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.”

Excerpt 2

“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.”

Excerpt 3

“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”

Excerpt 4

“[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:

  1. Sit or stand in a dimly lit and quiet place
  2. Recollect yourself
  3. With the help of your imagination find the place of the heart and stay there with attention 
  4. 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
  5. As much as possible guard the attention of your mind and do not allow any thoughts to enter in 
  6. Be patient and peaceful
  7. Be moderate in food, drink, and sleep
  8. Learn to love silence 
  9. Read the scriptures and the writings of the Fathers about prayer
  10. 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.

Curated Discussion: Combating Restlessness

Curated Discussion: Combating Restlessness

Part I:

Start your meeting by reading from Father Jeremy McKemy’s blog post Acedia: The Two-Faced Demon.

Part II:

After reading, take 2-3 minutes to write down your initial thoughts about the article.

Part III:

Then, discuss the following questions as a group, or in smaller groups:

  1. Fr. Jeremy says that acedia strikes in different ways for everyone — some through activity and others through inactivity. In what situations and when does acedia hit you the hardest?
  2. How does acedia affect us? It is important to remember God’s saving power in our lives and that none is without hope of remedy. How are we distracting ourselves from this fact? When do you find yourself wasting the most time? How can this time be used restfully?
  1. If acedia tempts us to restlessness, it can be helpful to recall the words of St. Augustine in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” When you have you found rest in God in the past? 
  2. Fr. Jeremy lists many remedies to acedia. Which of these is the most important for you to pursue right now? 
  3. Fr. Jeremy also recounts Jean-Claude Larchet’s words that all remedies “should always be accompanied by prayer, which establishes them in God and makes of them not just simply human means.” How can we infuse prayer into our daily work?

Part IV:

Life is rhythmic, and we can notice our patterns if we pay attention. This is why the fathers included Psalm 90 in the Sixth Hour, as acedia often strikes hardest at noon. To defeat the demon of noonday, we should equip ourselves with the tools the Church provides to do so.

In the coming week, write in your notes when you’re falling to acedia — whether through hopelessness or through wasting time — and what led up to that moment. At the end of the day, ask Christ to fill your heart with zeal against this passion and remember the great hope we have in Christ, the Source of all remedies and our great Caretaker.

Here are some other tools:

  • Find a short prayer to read every time you’re tempted with distraction. It can be as simple as the Jesus Prayer or “Most Holy Theotokos, save us” or something of your own.
  • Every morning, write down what you think your day’s challenges will be, and ask Christ to give you hope during them. At the end of the day, write the silver linings that Christ gave you amidst your struggles, and give Him thanks for that.
  • Set a timer on social media or other distractions in your life and give the remaining moments that you would’ve spent on distraction to caring for those in your life. Text and check up on your friends, call your parents, or simply repeat the Jesus Prayer.

Part V:

Before departing, read the following passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions and afterwards chant or read Psalm 90.

Who will grant it to me to find peace in you? Who will grant me this grace, that you should come into my heart and inebriate it, enabling me to forget the evils that beset me and embrace you, my only good? What are you to me? Have mercy on me, so that I may tell. What indeed am I to you, that you should command me to love you, and grow angry with me if I do not, and threaten me with enormous woes? Is not the failure to love you woe enough in itself?  Alas for me! Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so that I can hear it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation. Let me run towards this voice and seize hold of you. Do not hide your face from me: let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed.

St. Augustine’s Confessions

He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven.
He shall say unto the Lord: Thou art my helper and my refuge. He is my God, and I will hope in Him.
For He shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunters and from every troubling word.
With His shoulders will He overshadow thee, and under His wings shalt thou have hope.
With a shield will His truth encompass thee; thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day,
Nor for the thing that walketh in darkness, nor for the mishap and demon of noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but unto thee shall it not come nigh.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold, and thou shalt see the reward of sinners.
For Thou, O Lord, art my hope. Thou madest the Most High thy refuge;
No evils shall come nigh thee, and no scourge shall draw nigh unto thy dwelling.
For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
On their hands shall they bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Upon the asp and basilisk shalt thou tread, and thou shalt trample upon the lion and dragon.
For he hath set his hope on Me, and I will deliver him; I will shelter him because he hath known My name.
He shall cry unto Me, and I will hearken unto him. I am with him in affliction, and I will rescue him and glorify him.
With length of days will I satisfy him, and I will show him My salvation.

Psalm 90
Curated Discussion: “A Deeper Level of Thanksgiving”

Curated Discussion: “A Deeper Level of Thanksgiving”

Part I:

Start your meeting by listening to this clip from Father Thomas Hopko’s Speaking the Truth in Love: “A Deeper Level of Thanksgiving

(Click here to listen to the the full episode on Ancient Faith Radio.)

Part II:

After watching, take 2-3 minutes to write down your initial thoughts about the clip from the podcast.

Part III:

Then, discuss the following questions as a group, or in smaller groups:

  1. In the podcast clip, Father Thomas reads from the first chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, highlighting the dark and evil lives that ungrateful people have fallen into over the course of human history (Romans 1:21-32). What is gratitude? How does a lack of gratitude lead to a life of darkness and sin? 

If this is a difficult question, think of sin as missing the mark: How does a lack of gratitude cause us to miss the mark and how does that lead to dwelling in darkness?

  1. Why does Father Alexander Shmmeman say that “everyone capable of gratitude is capable of salvation?” What is the connection between salvation and gratitude?
  1. Father Thomas mentions our life “being gratitude & thanksgiving” and the importance of living eucharistically. Describe someone you know that encapsulates what it means to be thankful. How does that person differ from someone who simply gives thanks?
  1. The passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians that Father Thomas reads in the podcast (Ephesians 5:3-20) mentions a variety of things that we should refrain from doing in order to cultivate a life of gratitude towards God. Take another look at the things mentioned in this passage. How do they compare to the things that pull us away from a life of gratitude in today’s social climate and life on a college campus? Which of these things do you find to be your own greatest roadblock to cultivating a life of gratitude?

Part IV:

The Orthodox Church responds to the aspects of life that pull us away from a life of thanksgiving by offering us a rhythm of Divine Services that help us practice gratitude. However, to really achieve a life of gratitude we can’t solely rely on the broader rhythms of the Church. To become grateful ourselves, we must strive to practice gratitude on a personal level by engaging in each day of our lives with a positive, rather than negative, outlook.

In a planner, journal, or your phone, come up with a rythmic practice that will allow you to cultivate thanksgiving in your own life and to transition from a person who gives thanks to a person who is thankful.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Every morning, venerate an icon of Christ and give thanks for 3 unique and specific things in your life
  • Every evening, write down three things that you are thankful for from the day (after a month, it may be inspiring to look back on all the things you wrote each day of that month)
  • Set 3 alarms on your phone for particular times of the day; when those alarms go off, stop whatever you are doing for 10 seconds, and give thanks to God for something specific in your life

Part V:

Before departing, chant or read Psalm 135 (known as the second Polyeleos [the hymn of Great Mercy/Oil] from Festal Orthros).

For a reference to the traditional melody for chanting the psalm, listen to this recording

***Notes on chanting Psalm 135:

  • The phrase “Alleluia” (which means, “God praised,”) is inserted twice into each verse as a refrain, though it is not part of the text of the original psalm offered below. If you are chanting the hymn, make sure you know where to add the “Alleluia”s before doing so.
  • While most people know how to chant Psalm 135 in one mode, the recording above follows the tradition of changing modes every several verses; feel free to stick to chanting the melody in the mode you know best.

Psalm 135

O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods; for His mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the Lord of lords; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him Who alone hath wrought great wonders; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that made the heavens with understanding; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that established the earth upon the waters; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him Who alone hath made great lights; for His mercy endureth for ever.
The sun for dominion of the day; for His mercy endureth for ever.
The moon and the stars for dominion of the night; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that smote Egypt with their firstborn; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And led forth Israel out of the midst of them; for His mercy endureth for ever.
With a strong hand and a lofty arm; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that divided the Red Sea into parts; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And led Israel through the midst thereof; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that led His people through the wilderness; for His mercy endureth for ever.
To Him that smote great kings; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And slew mighty kings; for His mercy endureth for ever.
Seon, king of the Amorites; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And Og, king of the land of Basan; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And gave their land for an inheritance; for His mercy endureth for ever.
An inheritance for Israel His servant; for His mercy endureth for ever.
For in our humiliation the Lord remembered us; for His mercy endureth for ever.
And redeemed us from our enemies; for His mercy endureth for ever.
He that giveth food to all flesh; for His mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the God of heaven; for His mercy endureth for ever.

Curated Content Discussion: Beauty

Curated Content Discussion: Beauty

Curated Discussion: Beauty 

Begin your meeting with a minute of silence, a prayer, and by listening to or having already listened to “The Red Flower” on Dcn. Nicholas Kotar’s Podcast In a Certain Kingdom.

In this story, Beauty and Ugliness are brought to the forefront of our minds. Dcn. Nicholas ushers us through an examination of these concepts and how our understanding of them impacts our life. He shares that Beauty is appreciated for itself; as something worthy of simple contemplation, of simply being in its presence. 

Take a few minutes to reflect upon and perhaps journal about how Beauty has impacted your life. Try to think of a few specific instances, then discuss together what thoughts, feelings, or memories arose during your contemplation. 

Dcn. Nicholas also spoke about a kindergarten teacher in France. The man in this story articulated that his appearance is what he considered to be the best expression of himself and his personhood, and so was beautiful to him. However, this expression gave children nightmares and may make us a bit uneasy. It’s okay to challenge assumptions you may or may not know you hold by discussing together:

Is Beauty objective or subjective? What makes something beautiful or ugly? Is Beauty something individual that you can have by yourself, or is it something that necessitates being shared with others?

In The Red Flower, the Beast, cursed in a hideous form, is aware of his ugliness and comes to realize that his appearance is not reflective of his true self (who he is presently or is striving to become). Instead of succumbing to it, he transforms himself and his surroundings; he grows (literally) and manifests his internal beauty. But that is not the end! As Dcn. Nicholas puts it,

“The beast yearns to share this beauty, because he understands at this point, after having manifested it, that beauty and the experience of it is a communal thing. In it, individualism fades away. True beauty can only be experienced with others.”

When the beautiful young woman comes to love him, it is for – as he himself says – his kindness, care, and good heart. She herself learns to grow in virtue and her understanding of beauty. Kotar points out that it was a mistake to want to pick the red flower. . . 

Why was it wrong to want to pick the most beautiful red flower in the world? How is the flower an image of Beauty itself? How should we instead appreciate beauty?

Now, why is Beauty important for us to discuss as Christians? It is in fact integral for us and intrinsic to our Faith. 

Where do we see beauty reflected in the church? Where do we find it in the world around us?  From where or from Whom does it come?

To wrap up, read together the quotes given below and discuss these questions:

  • How can we grow in our ability to notice and appreciate Beauty?
  • What are some ways we participate in and share Beauty through joy and love with other people?
  • What is at least one way YOU can start putting Beauty in the world?

“We do not want merely to see beauty. . . We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” 

C.S. Lewis

“Realize how much your Creator has honored you above all other creatures. He did not make the heavens in His image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars or anything else which surpasses understanding. You alone are a reflection of eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness, an image of the true light. And, if you look to Him, you will become what He is, imitating Him who shines within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity. Nothing in the entire creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens can fit into the palm of the hand of God. Although He is so great that He can hold all creation in His palm, you can wholly embrace Him. He dwells in you.” 

St. Gregory of Nyssa

“Make the most of beautiful moments. Beautiful moments predispose the soul to prayer; they make it refined, noble, and poetic. Wake up in the morning to see the sun rising from out of the sea as a king robed in regal purple. When a lovely landscape, a picturesque chapel, or something beautiful inspires you, don’t leave things at that, but go beyond this to give glory for all beautiful things so that you experience Him who alone is ‘comely in beauty.’ All things are holy – the sea, swimming, and eating. Take delight in them all. All things enrich us, all lead us to the great Love, all lead us to Christ.” 

St. Porphrios of Kavsokalyvia
Curated Discussion : Building Christ-Centered Habits

Curated Discussion : Building Christ-Centered Habits

Start your meeting by watching together the Be the Bee episode “Habits” by Steve Christoforou.

Take some time to journal on your own:

  1. What habits (good or bad) are you currently growing in your life?
  2. What is one habit you’d like to uproot in your life?
  3. What is one habit you’d like to cultivate in your life?

Then, as a group or in smaller groups, discuss the following questions:

  1. What have you found to be effective in uprooting negative habits and cultivating positive habits?
  2. What do you do when you find yourself struggling to maintain good habits?
  3. How can your OCF community support one another in cultivating good habits?

On your own, journal and reflect on:

  1. What is one thing you’ll try this week to uproot a negative habit or cultivate a positive habit?
  2. If you implemented that change, how would your life look different in one month?

Finally, write an email to yourself with what you have outlined above. Schedule the email to send to your own account on the first day of Advent. Revisit this topic and the personal reflection questions when you get your email. How are you doing with your habits? What do you need to adjust? Is it time to check in with a spiritual guide to evaluate what is working and what is not? After you’ve done this, schedule yourself another email for the beginning of Lent. Any time is a good time to start building Christ-centered habits, and the Church gives us the fasting seasons to focus our energy on reorienting ourselves.

Conclude today’s meeting by praying Psalm 118(119):1-16

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the Lord!

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,

who seek him with their whole heart,

who also do no wrong,

but walk in his ways!

Thou hast commanded thy precepts

to be kept diligently.

O that my ways may be steadfast

in keeping thy statutes!

Then I shall not be put to shame,

having my eyes fixed on all thy commandments.

I will praise thee with an upright heart,

when I learn thy righteous ordinances.

I will observe thy statutes;

O forsake me not utterly!

How can a young man keep his way pure?

By guarding it according to thy word.

With my whole heart I seek thee;

let me not wander from thy commandments!

I have laid up thy word in my heart,

that I might not sin against thee.

Blessed be thou, O Lord;

teach me thy statutes!

With my lips I declare

all the ordinances of thy mouth.

In the way of thy testimonies I delight

as much as in all riches.

I will meditate on thy precepts,

and fix my eyes on thy ways.

I will delight in thy statutes;

I will not forget thy word.

Curated Discussion : Time & Eternity

Curated Discussion : Time & Eternity

Start your meeting by listening together to the episode “Why Time” of the podcast Time Eternal by Dr. Nicole Roccas

Then, as a group or in smaller groups, discuss the following questions:

  1. How do you experience time? Does time seem like a blessing? An opportunity? An access point to God? Or does it feel stressful? Nagging? Like a burden?
  2. Does time feel sacred? How have you experienced time as something sacred?
  3. How can our awareness of time make a real difference in our spiritual lives?
  4. “So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
    • As we begin this school year, what are some practical steps we can take to take advantage of time? What are some ways we can more regularly perceive time as sacred?

Conclude today’s meeting by praying the Prayer of the Hours

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.

Prayer taken from oca.org