Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Prayer of the Optina Elders

O Lord, grant me strength to meet with serenity everything forthcoming today. Grant me to submit completely to Thy holy will. At every hour of this day guide and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of this day, teach me to accept it with calmness and the conviction that all is subject to Thy holy will.

In all my words and actions direct my thoughts and feelings. In all unexpected occurances, do not let me forget that all is sent down by Thee. Teach me to deal straightforwardly and wisely with every member of my family, neither embarassing nor saddening anyone.

O Lord, grant me strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it. Direct my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive and to love. Amen

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Death of The Innocent

In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous novel, Ivan is the Karamazov brother who collects stories of children tortured, beaten, killed — babes caught on the points of soldiers’ bayonets, a serf boy run down by his master’s hounds, a child of 5 locked in a freezing outhouse by her parents.
Ivan invokes these innocents in a speech that remains one of the most powerful rebukes to the idea of a loving, omniscient God — a speech that accepts the possibility that the Christian story of free will leading to suffering and then eventually redemption might be true, but rejects its Author anyway, on the grounds that the price of our freedom is too high.
“Can you understand,” he asks his more religious sibling, “why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? ... Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much?”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What is Spiritual Direction?

One who climbs a mountain for the first time needs to follow a known route; and he needs to have with him, as companion and guide, someone who has been up before and is familiar with the way. To serve as such a companion and guide is precisely the role of the “Abba” or spiritual father—whom the Greeks call “Geron” and the Russians “Starets”, a title which in both languages means “old man” or “elder”.

        Since the essence of spiritual life consists "in healing our impaired will, uniting it with the will of God and sanctifying it by this union," and since "in order to do the will of God it is necessary to know it,'' spiritual direction is a careful process by which we first learn and then apply the principles of spiritual life, thus coming to know God's will for us with assurance. Some very few saints and righteous ones, finding themselves in circumstances where healthy and genuine spiritual direction was not available, were able to do this for themselves through a very patient, prayerful, and life-long study of sacred texts. Such, for example, was the great Saint Paisius Velichkovsky, the eighteenth-century Russian monastic reformer and teacher. Most of us, however, must imitate the Ethiopian in the Book of Acts and cry out, “How can I understand unless someone guides me?”

         Spiritual direction consists not only of learning ancient techniques of prayer, but it requires detailed instruction by the director, as well as guided reading and study and learning inner attention. But it also has an important dimension of asceticism -- that is, certain kinds of bodily practices that, in Orthodox spirituality, go hand in hand with prayer and learning. Such practices may include learning how to live a quieter lifestyle, adopting (with the permission of one's director) additional fasting and abstinence exercises, and more frequent attendance at Divine services -- all of which are calculated to slightly challenge and tax the body and its natural energies, putting it under additional discipline and control.

           In most cases, a spiritual director will take his spiritual child "from strength to strength," beginning with the simplest and easiest "ABC's" of spiritual striving. He will first inquire to know at what level the student is in his spiritual life -- and it does not matter how basic or even primitive the student may be -- and the director will also want to know in some detail about his state in life -- married or single, with children or without, what kind of job, and what the student does for entertainment. Slowly but surely the director will introduce the student to certain hallowed principles and ideas. He will assign reading and will carefully discuss that reading with the student.

         The director will expose his spiritual child to various methods of prayer which are time-honored in the Church (for spiritual life is in many ways as much a science as an art). He will also assign a Prayer Rule, very simple at first, and then gradually more complex, and he will carefully supervise the student's progress in prayer. He will also act as confessor to his spiritual son or daughter, for in this great Mystery of Repentance the director is most able to act as a spiritual physician. In this context, a spiritual father strives particularly to show his spiritual children the way to repentance, which means "a change of mind that is accompanied by deep regret over one's past life or over some particular act which one has committed," so that "there is a profound change of orientation, a sudden shift of the center of gravity of one's total being from the material to the spiritual, from the physical world to God, from concern for the body to concern for the soul.''

          Not least, a spiritual father will be available as a sympathetic ear and a healthy and objective "sounding-board" when his spiritual sons and daughters are in need of this.

Priest Alexei Young

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The patristic and undivided church has always understood humanity’s main problem to be the illness or disease of the soul.  This spiritual disease has symptoms which the bible calls sin or “missing the goal”.  Perhaps sin should be translated in the English word “miss”.  The cure for this disease according to the apostolic church is “conversion,” or perhaps in contemporary English “reorientation”.  I know these words are not commonly used for these terms, but they nevertheless get at the heart of the meaning of the original terms (sin, conversion) that are in today’s English speaking world weighed down with other connotations.  The ancient church also prescribes a medicine to obtain this cure, it is a therapy applied by the church’s doctors, or priests.  Consider the unanimous teaching of the undivided church on this matter:

It behoves those who have received from God the power to loose and bind, to consider the quality of the sin and the readiness of the sinner for conversion, and to apply medicine suitable for the disease, lest if he is injudicious in each of these respects he should fail in regard to the healing of the sick man. For the disease of sin is not simple, but various and multiform, and it germinates many mischievous offshoots, from which much evil is diffused, and it proceeds further until it is checked by the power of the physician. Wherefore he who professes the science of spiritual medicine ought first of all to consider the disposition of him who has sinned, and to see whether he tends to health or (on the contrary) provokes to himself disease by his own behaviour, and to look how he can care for his manner of life during the interval. And if he does not resist the physician, and if the ulcer of the soul is increased by the application of the imposed medicaments, then let him mete out mercy to him according as he is worthy of it. For the whole account is between God and him to whom the pastoral rule has been delivered, to lead back the wandering sheep and to cure that which is wounded by the serpent; and that he may neither cast them down into the precipices of despair, nor loosen the bridle towards dissolution or contempt of life; but in some way or other, either by means of sternness and astringency, or by greater softness and mild medicines, to resist this sickness and exert himself for the healing of the ulcer, now examining the fruits of his repentance and wisely managing the man who is called to higher illumination. For we ought to know two things, to wit, the things which belong to strictness and those which belong to custom, and to follow the traditional form in the case of those who are not fitted for the highest things, as holy Basil teaches us.       Quinixext Ecumenical Council,  Canon 102

Spiritual therapy is the medicine appointed by the church, and while actual therapeutic medicines are not mentioned, historic practices show these to be “reorienting forms of worship”.  The medicine may be “times of quiet”, making the soul still, or particular times of prayer, spiritual readings, fasts, & c… The point being, the medicine of the soul is the reorienting worship of the true God in Christ. It is only our willful presence before the Lord that heals our souls from its disease. Consequently, the Christian should be not only proficient in worship, but eager to participate in it.

For the reason the church has put together its main prayer book, the “Horologion.”  In it the therapy abounds, and it behooves every Christian to it understand thoroughly, and to use it regularly under the guidance of a spiritual therapist.