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