Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Study Notes: Death by Baptism

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 July 2015

Nowadays, children get baptized for any number of reasons: because their family is Russian (Ukrainian/Greek/Serbian, etc.), because it is what they have “always done,” because the grandmother insists, because the parents want the child to be able to take communion or to go to Sunday school, or for any number of other reasons. But the Apostle Paul says that baptism is a manifestation of Christ’s death in our lives (Rom. 6:3)–no, no, not a symbol of His death, not a theatrical re-enactment, not a remembrance, but the “making-real,” the “making-present” of His death. Paul says that the baptized “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27)–but what kind of Christ? The one who was tortured. The One who was crucified. The One who died. The One whose wounds did not heal even in His glorious resurrection (Luke 24:39).

The fundamental vision of Christ’s death in our lives begins with the full acceptance of our own physical death. Unfortunately, here in the U.S., we have outsourced our death to various companies and are not acquainted with it anymore. Not all that long ago, people would die in their family homes, surrounded by several generations of relatives. Their bodies would remain in the home, in full view of everyone, for as long as was practical. Young siblings would die of disease, adult relatives would die in accidents, older people would dies of old age… Death was all around, it was real, tangible, visceral. Nowadays, babies no longer die, and if they do, it happens in neonatal ICUs; adult deaths are whisked away and disposed off; old people are hidden in hospices. Relatives come to visit hospice patients and say the strangest things: “How are you feeling? Hope you get well soon. You and I are gonna go fishing together!”–knowing very well that the person has a few days or hours to live, but being in denial all the same, denying the loved ones the right to say: “I am dying. Pray for me. See you on the other side.”

When the death is finally undeniable–that is to say, when the person is actually dead–they still try to deny its reality: they embalm the body to prevent natural decay, they decorate the dead body with makeup and dress it in nice clothing and spray perfume; by the time they are done with it, this dead body looks and smells far better in the coffin than it did in real life! All is fake, all is denial, all is pretense. It is as if Christ did not suffer and did not die. It is as if one minute He is teaching and preaching, and the next minute He is risen. But it does not work that way. In order for there to be Pascha, there has to be the Cross; in order for there to be resurrection, there has to be death. He, who has not died, cannot rise from the dead.

A Christian is to die every day, day after day, even minute after minute, for 525,949 minutes each year. The death that we accept at baptism is not symbolic at all; it is as real as the life that we accept. The life is Christ is no symbol, and neither is the death. Both are an ever-present reality of our condition. If we want to be living, we have to be dying. Christ’s death did not happen on that Good Friday. It was ever-present since at least before He agreed to create Adam. Maybe, this is the mystery of the Son’s ever-being-born–He is also ever-dying for the sins of mankind. A Christian’s death is not something that is “symbolized” when he is “dunked” in the font, but is something that he puts on as his very essence, his nature–the nature of life in Christ.

In this context, Christian asceticism is foundational to Christian life and is the very core of our daily dying in Christ–dying to sin, dying to the world, dying to self, in order to be born in Christ to the life with God. As Christians, we are called to live our life as a sacrament, or, even better, as a sacrifice.

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I think that one very troubling modern phenomenon deserves special attention: the phenomenon of morphine. Modern Americans most often seems to die in one of two ways: in hospice care or at a hospital. In both cases, the relatives often go through a denial of the approaching death and do not call the priest until the very last moments when it is already too late. By that time, the person is pumped full of morphine–either because they have become “restless” or because they are in pain. At that point, it is impossible for the person to have a confession, to pray, to take communion, or to hear words of comfort from the reading of the Psalms or the Gospel. Very often, these are also the people who have never had a confession or taken communion in their entire life or in the last several decades of their life–chronic illness, lack of mobility, extreme busyness of the relatives are some of the realities of the life of an older person that tend to prevent them from participating in the sacramental life of the Church. Thus, modern ways of dying in the “comfort” of morphine coupled with the lack of understanding of the progression of dying and the reality of death on the part of the relatives, deny these people their last rites even before death. It is as if the devil has successfully kept those people away from church sacraments during their life and has won a victory even in their death. Or, maybe, it is not “as if”? maybe, this really is what is happening?

See also:

Pastoring in the Shadow of the Cross

Funerals and Memorial Services

On the Significance of the Ritual of the Russian Orthodox Church Surrounding Death and Dying for the Grieving Process of the Bereaved

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How does the legalization of same-sex marriage affect the Church?

Posted in Reflections by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 29 June 2015

With the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to impose the legalization of same-sex marriage on all of the States, many people wonder how this will affect the Church. The answer is, of course, quite simple: it does not affect the Church at all in any way whatsoever. The Church has lived in the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Communist Empire, the Capitalist Empire, various democracies, monarchies, aristocracies, oligarchies, etc. and kept the truth she received from God unchanged. The Church has lived through ages of Roman immorality, Byzantine Christian state officialdom, the Middle Ages in Europe, the Muslim invasion of Palestine, the humanism of the Renaissance, the Soviet attempts to build communism, the American separation of Church and State, and many other ages and circumstances, and she still kept her truth because she received it from God. In other words, it does not matter what any given society in any given age chooses to “celebrate”–gay pride or burkas, cannabis or ecstasy, pornography or abortion, alcoholism or prohibition–the Church does not receive her truth from social movements or Supreme Court decisions. The Church receives her truth from God and that is why she is not blown in this direction or that by various winds or tossed by different currents.

Is homosexuality anything new? No. As far as we know, it has been around for a very long time. For the purposes of the teaching of the Church, the Apostle Paul mentioned homosexuality in his epistles in the first century, and various mentions of it can be found in the writings of the Fathers of the Church. The recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court does nothing to change the teaching of the Church (nor is it meant to).

Are homosexuals born homosexual? I do not know. This may be something for scientists to figure out. Ultimately, whether homosexuals are born that way or become that way through upbringing or in some other way–this makes little difference to the teaching of the Church. Scientists tell us that sociopaths are born that way and that murderers have genes that predispose them to murder. They also tell us that family members of sex offenders are five times more likely to commit sex offences. And it does not take a geneticist to notice that some people are born predisposed to anger problems, and others–to addictions. And yet we do not “celebrate” any of those behaviors, nor does research in genetics have any effect on what the Church considers a sin or not. This is not, of course, to propose that homosexuality is in any way similar to sociopathy, or murder, or addictions, but only to say that “being born” a certain way is neither here nor there as far as the Church is concerned.

Does the Church have a position on what marriage is? Yes, but it is not derived from the opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court any more than it is derived from the Sharia law or the ideas of the Hippie movement.

Does the Church have an opinion on homosexuality? Yes, but it does not depend on whether homosexuality is legal or is considered a crime by the State.

Will the Church be forced to marry homosexuals? No. It is true that marriages officiated by Orthodox priests are currently recognized by the State as legal civil marriages, and this makes priests de facto agents of the State. But if the State decides to force them to perform homosexual marriages, the Church will simply get out of the business of performing civil marriages altogether. This is the case in Russia and has been for nearly a century. The State issues official civil papers to whom it wishes in accordance with civil laws, and the Church blesses Christian marriages in accordance with the truth she received from God. Will our tax-exempt status be at stake? Maybe, but this is insignificant compared to the kinds of persecution that Christians endured over the course of history. We have prevailed, and even the gates of hell do not stand a chance against the Church.

Civil laws, social fads, public opinions, movements, debates, philosophical or political theories, governments of this world–none of that matters in the kingdom of God because God’s kingdom is not of this world. And this is the kingdom to which the Church belongs. Christians are citizens of God’s kingdom. We observe the civil laws of whichever state we happen to live in at this time, but we obey God’s laws and live according to Christ’s commandments.

The U.S. Supreme Court says that states have to marry homosexuals regardless of what the people in those states think about it. The Supreme Court also says that pornography is legal, and that abortion is legal, and that greed is legal, and that adultery is perfectly legal as well. But the Church is not worried about what is legal and what is not. The Church is focused on what is salvific. The U.S. Supreme Court will not tell us how to be saved, how to live with God, and what the laws are in God’s eternal kingdom, but the Church will tell us those things.

Having said this, I must admit that there are some questions to which I still have not found good answers. For example, if a young man and a young woman come to a priest and say: “We love each other and want to be together,” the priest is likely to say: “Great! Get married! May God bless you!” The assumption is (at least in the 21st century in the U.S.) that it is precisely this “thing” the young people call “love” that lays the foundation for a marriage. Of course, there are any number of qualifiers–the couple’s maturity, stability, commitment, etc., but it is this initial “love” that seems to get the Church “ball” rolling. We then propose that this same “love” expressed in commitment, care, support, self-sacrifice, and other acts is what makes a marriage, at least in part, an icon of Christ and the Church. Finally, while we pray for the young couple to have children, we do not insist on it: we will marry people who are barren due to medical conditions, and a couple of 50-year-olds who are not planning on having babies at that stage in their lives, and also two people who want to live as “brother and sister” and to preserve their virginity. Thus, as the Church, we state that marriage is not about procreation at all, but about the self-sacrificial love of two people for one another–however we choose to define love.

Now imagine that two young women come to a priest and say the exact same thing: “We love each other and want to be together.” Suddenly, the “love” does not matter, commitment does not matter, self-sacrifice does not matter, mutual support does not matter. The only thing that seems to matter is that their relationship is unnatural, and by this we mean their sexual relationship, of course, since neither commitment, nor self-sacrifice, nor mutual support is what we are talking about when we use the word ‘unnatural.’ So, is it about sex then? Because if it is, we need to talk about it, instead of getting piously-squeamish every time the very word is mentioned. If it is not the self-sacrificial love but sex that is the basis of our theology of marriage (since the two young women may very well possess this self-sacrificial love for one another), then it may be time to discuss sex more seriously within the Orthodox context.

One may object to such a discussion on the basis of something more intelligent than pretense-piety or false equal-to-the-angelness. One may argue that we should not let the world define the terms of our theology, and that the Church should not engage in any discussion of love and sex in the way that the world defines them. This is a valid argument, but one that requires not only a comprehensive theology of love and sex to be developed but also taught and preached with frequency and regularity. The problem is that while the decisions of the Supreme Court and social ideologies do not affect the teaching of the Church, they do affect the minds of our young people. In the absence of a meaningful discourse on love and sex in the Church, the young people learn about love and sex from their peers and Supreme Court decisions. The world has already convinced them that marriage is about “being in love” and that homosexual people can “be in love” as much as anyone else. These are the young people who in twenty-five years will be setting the course of the Church based on the very ideas and definitions of love, marriage and sexuality which they are learning from the Supreme Court and the society today.

So, where do we begin? There are several topics that can be addressed from a number of starting points. As one of them, I propose to begin with putting homosexuality into a scriptural context–not into the context of Leviticus, which, by the way, in addition to prohibiting homosexual relations, also prohibits the consumption of shrimp–the Lenten favorite of many Orthodox Christians (11:10). Rather, we could start with the context provided by the Apostle Paul. My personal opinion is that homosexuality must be treated in full accordance with the words of 1 Cor. 6:9-10: “…neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts [lit.: “men who lie with men”], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” I am convinced that homosexuals must be treated the very same way that we treat adulterers, alcoholics, or the greedy. As the Church, we seem to have much tolerance for divorce, even though Christ insisted that divorce equals adultery (Matt. 19:9). We do not demand that two people, who broke-off their previous marriages for reasons other than infidelity and entered into second marriages, break-off these second marriages as adulterous relationships before they are allowed to participate in the life of the Church. We offer healing, communion with God, support, and a Church blessing for their new “adulterous” marriages. We also seem to tolerate the drunks. We do not necessarily like them very much or think that drunkenness is a good thing, but we tolerate them–on their “good” days and “bad” days, we support them when they are in recovery and do not give up when they relapse. And we let the greedy come to church and take communion. Maybe, we wish that they would be less greedy and that they donate more to the church, but we tolerate them nonetheless and do not excommunicate them for their greed. The Scripture seems to imply equal treatment for all of those behaviors, including homosexuality.

Another point of departure could be a distinction between homosexuality as an orientation and homosexuality as a culture. Some quick internet research reveals that 28% (one out of every three!!!) of gay men have over 1000 (over one thousand!!!) sexual partners in their lifetime. By comparison, 20% of heterosexual males have only 1 partner and another 55%–2-20. I have never in my life heard of a heterosexual man having over 1000 partners (they may exist, but, certainly, not a whole third of all straight men). There appears to be a very simple explanation for why HIV spread so rapidly among gay men, compared to any other group of people. It really does not matter how reliable these numbers are as long as the general trend holds true. Thus, I think that there is a distinction between homosexuality as a sexual orientation and homosexuality as a lifestyle or a culture.

Finally, maybe it is time to address the question of whether the Byzantine model of ethnic Orthodoxy is the wrong way forward. Here is the U.S. we have a unique opportunity to deny baptism for ethnic or cultural reasons and to require a long catechumenate and full participation in the life of the Church. Perhaps, we could excommunicate the greedy and set a limit on how much alcohol a member of the Church can drink at one time. And perhaps, we could treat heterosexual adulterers with the same degree of strictness with which we currently treat homosexuals. Why do we see so many priests and bishops protesting the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriages, but no-one seems to be protesting the fact that heterosexual divorce, for example, in also legal in the U.S.? Why not?

We could be a much smaller Church, where people become members because they have “crucified their flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24), and not because of their ethnic origins or because a grandmother insisted that a baby be baptized. I think this to be a very important question which we are uniquely positioned to explore. Moscow is not the Third Rome; it may have been the Second Constantinople. Washington is the Third Rome–the imperial Rome, the pagan Rome, the Rome that worships its Founding Fathers as gods and its Constitution as holy scripture, the Rome whose senators buy the votes of the plebeians, the Rome that assassinates its emperors and demands “panem et circenses.” And if this is so, perhaps, it is not our tax-exempt status that should concern us but whether we can find a catacomb in which to offer sacrifices to our God on the graves of our martyrs, and not the opinions of the Supreme Court but the words of Christ: “Fear not, little flock…” (Luke 12:32). In the midst of this New Rome, are we ready to be the elect, the ecclesia, the “few who are chosen” (Matt. 22:14) or are we setting the 380 Edict of Thessalonica as our goal and ideal? Unlike during most times in the history of the Church, today in the United States we may have an opportunity to make a choice (and if we do not, the SCOTUS may eventually choose something for us).

See also:

There Is No Sex in the Church

Pastoring in the Shadow of the Cross

The Greater Hermitage

Coming soon: “Sex and Contraception in Christian Marriage” (subscribe to this blog to be notified when this article becomes available)

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Study Notes: The Greater Hermitage

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 27 June 2015

Many Christians seem preoccupied with identifying the sinful things about the world in which we live in an attempt to renounce or reject them. Whether it is the attitudes about gay marriage, or making the acquisition of material goods a life’s priority, or the immoral values of our modern society–some Christians devote their lives to fighting against the vile vices of this world. To be sure, we are called to fight “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). But for some reason this fight all too often turns into a battle against “flesh and blood” (ibid.). It is certainly easier to fight against their vices than against the sin that lives in my heart and to find something to renounce in them rather than to cultivate virtues in my own soul. But a certain level I find such an exercise counterproductive. I think it a much more worth-while pursuit to describe that which must be adopted.
One reason for this is that after describing that which is to be renounced I would still have to describe that which is to be adopted. If you see someone struggling to do something you could explain to him what he is doing wrong or you could tell him how to do it right. I find the latter to be a more productive approach.
The second reason is that the more one thinks about something–even about renouncing it–the more one… thinks about it and thus bring it into his life!
A young Buddhist monk came to his teacher and asked for a lesson. The teacher told him to not think about monkeys for three days. The young monk was puzzled: he thought it a very easy lesson since he was not is the habit of thinking about monkey in the first place. Three days later he returned and the teacher asked him whether he was able to complete the lesson. The young monk cried out: “All I think about now is monkeys!”
Thus, I propose focusing on that which we want in our heads, hearts, souls and lives. I will not write about Christ’s commandments, or Christian virtues, or love, or charity, of communion with God. All of those are good and worthy things. But here I would like to mention asceticism. The world is the very opposite of asceticism. If we adopt asceticism as a foundation of our way of life, our life will naturally be “not of this world.” We would not have to worry whether some attitude we encounter is to be renounce or not; rather, we will have adopted an attitude that naturally and organically renounces everything that is not it, everything that is not compatible with it. Personal and communal asceticism must become the distinguishing attribute of Christians (as it once was two millennia ago). When we learn to love asceticism, we will flee the world even if we are physically present in it. When we embrace asceticism, we will very naturally become alien to the world which is drowning in overindulgence. When we begin to breathe asceticism, questions of whether a cake is Lenten or not would lose their meaning along with so much other worldly minutia that traps us in a perpetual hair-splitting competition with the Pharisees of old.
I am told that the Buddhists have two kinds of hermitage. The Lesser Hermitage is when a person goes into the wilderness, away from the temptations of the cities, away from distractions, to practice his asceticism in solitude. But the Greater Hermitage is when a person practices his ascetic discipline while living in the city. He does not advertise it, his neighbors may not suspect it; he patiently labors in his discipline “in plain view” of his enemy, the world.
I do not know whether what I am told about the Buddhists is true, but we have our own Orthodox models that speak of the same reality. Every married couple and every parent will attest to how difficult it is to make one’s family a “monastery in the world”–but not altogether impossible. If we think about the very foundation of a monastic life, we can think of it in terms of rejection or renunciation. But we can also think of it in terms of adoption–the adoption of an ascetic worldview, mindset, and–ultimately–lifestyle. The foundation must be the same for the “monastery in the world.” If the lay faithful adopt the ascetic mindset, it will naturally make the worldly indulgences of the mind repulsive. If we adopt the ascetic worldview, we will naturally begin to live in a world vastly different from the secular one, even if we are physically still in it. And if we adopt an ascetic lifestyle, this will naturally exclude us from the life of the world, which will hate us because we are not of the world (cf. John 15:19).
In the rite of making a catechumen which takes place before the baptism, we renounce Satan and unite ourselves to Christ–in that order. Both acts of our free will are absolutely necessary, but if we get “stuck” on the former and never move to the latter, then we are not fulfilling our baptismal promise. The rite is very wise–it speaks of renouncing Satan is very general terms: “all his messengers, all his works, all his service, and all his pride.” The rite does not dwell on the specifics of satanic service. It dwells on the glory of Christ’s presence. We do not recite the detailed list of what we are to renounce. Rather, we recite–thrice!–the Creed, the detailed account of what we are to adopt. I believe that this is where the focus must be placed: having renounced something we are left with nothing, but having adopted something we stand filled with it.

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Study Notes: Models and Images of Spiritual Life

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 June 2015

Can the question of repentance be addressed in a short-term model of pastoral counseling? Is the culture of instant gratification and quick fixes helpful in our understanding of repentance? Can we as pastors work with the tools and terminology offered to us by the modern world and frame the Orthodox teaching of the spiritual life in those terms?

No, we cannot address repentance in a short term model. We should not even try to do this. We need to teach, and preach, and talk, and counsel about the fact that repentance is a process, and that short counseling sessions, or conversations with a priest, or advice received during confessions may serve as mile-markers, or guiding points, but certainly not as one-time magical cures.

It is true that modern culture promotes “magic pills” and instant gratification. But we should not allow modern culture to shape our understanding of repentance, even linguistically. Modern culture tries to define our understanding of repentance in the terms of problems and solutions–if one has a problem with sin, then he expects a quick solution: say a special prayer, drink some holy water, take communion, visit a holy place–and the sin magically disappears. As pastors, we must be very vigilant about this type of “magic” and offer to our parishioners models and images of repentance that best explain the Orthodox view and the Orthodox culture. People are not born with the modern mindset of instant gratification, they learn it. This means that they can also learn something different. We must not be afraid to teach, it is not a lost cause. We should come up with ways and images that are easily comprehended and convey the Orthodox understanding of the spiritual life.

Most modern people understand illness, and more and more people understand chronic illness. This may be the easiest image to use in pastoral work when we speak about spiritual healing. We can teach our flock that even a simple cold takes a few days to go away, and the more serious the illness, the longer the healing process. In some cases, it is a life-long struggle. Sin is a very serious and deadly disease and there is no quick fix for that.

Another image that I found very helpful is that of running. I often point out to people that if they want to win a marathon, they begin by running a mile, then two, then three–building up strength and endurance over a period of time. It takes will power, hard work, persistence, determination. Without all of these things, no-one can hope to win a race or even to complete one. For other people, the image of weightlifting also works. If they want to bench-press 400 lbs., they must start with 100 lbs. and work their way up over time, applying all of the same hard work, determination and patience needed for a marathon.

In my experience, these images seem to help many people understand why one confession or one prayer do not produce an immediate effect of making them holy or making the sin “go away.” One single run or one workout at the gym do not make an athlete and one trip to a doctor does not cure cancer. It takes years of daily discipline, exercise, special diet, sacrifice of time and effort to achieve athletic results, and it takes a long course of medications, procedures, regiment, and patience to recover from a serious illness. Similarly, it takes years of daily discipline, ascetic exercise, fasting, and sacrifice of time and effort to achieve spiritual results and to recover from the disease of sins and passions.

See also:

Three Levels of Sanctity

Mechanics of Salvation

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On the Gospel reading for the departed: John 5:24-30

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 23 June 2015

We heard in the Gospel reading that the Father gave all judgment to Christ, and that this judgment is righteous. We also know from Scripture that it is merciful. Why is this? Why does judgment belong to Christ, and why is His judgment righteous and merciful? It is because He knows what it is like to be us. He lived among us; He became one of us. He didn’t just look down from a cloud, but came down and lived the human life. He looked into the eyes of the righteous and the sinners, He spent time with politicians and prostitutes, He observed the Pharisee and the Publican. He experienced poverty, hatred, betrayal, torture, and death. He walked in our shoes. He knows what it is like to be us. This is why He is the one to judge; and this is why His judgment is righteous and merciful. I think this gives hope to all of us.

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Study Notes: On Preparation for Holy Communion

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 22 June 2015

The missional dimension of the Liturgy points to an act, a process of Christ’s salvific work. Therefore, no single element of the Ordo can fully or clearly manifest this missional dimension. It must be a process aimed at the same goals as Christ’s mission. Since Christ’s mission is to save man by re-establishing a communion between man and God within Himself, then we must identify a process by which we unite to Christ if we are to find that which manifests the missional dimension of the Liturgy. Of course, what unites us to Christ is the entirety of our Christian life. But if we were to take a more narrow perspective, then it seems that it is not so much the liturgical service as the preparation for this service that most clearly manifests the missional dimension of the Liturgy.

In the Russian tradition, there are three essential element of preparation for communion: fasting, confession and a certain prayer rule. When it comes to fasting, there is a great degree of confusion. No-one seems quite certain about how many days to fast. Four days (Wednesday through Saturday)? Two days (Friday and Saturday)? How does the frequency of communion affect the number of fasting days? Should Christians forego the fast altogether is they commune every week? Why? Are they able to prepare for communion without fasting? If so, perhaps, the faithful who commune every two weeks or once a month also could prepare for communion without fasting. How strictly should one fast? Should it simply be a vegan diet or should it be a real fast in the fullest sense of that word?

Most commonly one hears that the person’s spiritual father should offer guidance in all of these questions. While this sounds like a fine advice indeed, in practice, most people do not have spiritual fathers. They may have a parish priest who knows them more or less, but there is a limited number of people (very small) that one priest can know very well in any parish. In larger parishes, the priest simply does not know all of his parishioners very well and, thus, offers the same generic advice to everyone. The priest decides what rule appeals to his own sensibilities and promulgates it in his parish. The sad truth is that in large parishes pastoral work is more of a mass-production craft than a specialized individual-centered art. Perhaps, this is why after two millennia of celebrating the Liturgy we are still puzzled as a Church about fasting on a Saturday before Sunday communion, and if to fast then how strictly. This situation becomes even more confusing when pastors advise their parishioners to fast on Saturday before communion while they themselves observe no fast even though they are preparing to celebrate the Liturgy. (Although, I have heard of a diocese where the ruling bishop instructed all clergy to abstain from meat on Saturdays.) Perhaps, a comprehensive theology of Saturday as the Sabbath, the celebration of God’s creation is in order with a clear understanding of how this celebration is connected to the Eighth Day, the Day of the Lord which follows.

Two things could be done to help move the present situation in a positive direction. First, we must move away from the idea of fasting as a vegan diet with various dispensations–for the young, the old, those who study, those who work, those who do not feel well in any way, the clergy, those who commune often, those who rarely come to church (lest we scare them off by requiring them to fast), etc. This is nothing less than a profanation of fasting, a mockery. One thoughtful man once commented to me that it was healthier to eat a small piece of meat than to eat “ten plates of pasta.” He was most certainly correct, and yet for some bizarre reason the one who ate a small piece of meat would be considered breaking the fast and would have to repent of that transgression, while the one who stuffed his belly with ten plates of pasta or a vegan ice cream cake would be considered a pious faster. Isn’t it time we re-think this situation?

Confession is typically a standard in the Russian Church, and I do not wish to dwell on the specifics here for one simple reason: in the Russian Church, most people do go to confession before communion, even if it is every single week. The quality of their confession is truly something that should stay between them and their confessor. Some are skilled at watching themselves and noting the symptoms of their fallen nature, others are not as skilled. Some are comfortable about telling the priest the dirtiest thoughts they have ever had (this seems to be the usual “hang-up”–not murder or theft), others are not. But what should be noted here is that many people misunderstand what confession truly is.

It is often understood that to confess is to announce one’s sins and to feel sorry for having committed them. This leads to at least two problems. It is very much possible to continue to sin and to announce at every confession that I have sinned and do genuinely feel sorry about that. The second problem is what to do with sins which are not acts but conditions or states. I can confess that I was irritable this week, and yet I have already confessed that last week and have a pretty good idea that I will need to confess this again next week. Just as we discussed earlier, most people do not have a spiritual father who is able to spend a lot of time working with them and guiding them on their spiritual path. Parish priests, try as they may, have a limited amount of time to spend with a person during confession, especially if there is a queue of other parishioners waiting. Clearly, we as pastors should try harder and put more effort into guiding our flock. One simple mental dichotomy seems have been useful to some of my parishioners in the past.

I propose separating the terms ‘confession’ and ‘repentance.’ Repentance could be defined as a firm decision to turn away from sin and to change one’s life. Of course, with sins that are acts it may be possible to completely stop committing them, with sinful states in may be a long process of healing, but what is important is the person’s firm decision to begin the work of changing his or her mind–metanoia.

Confession, then, is the rite of sealing that sacramental work of repentance which took place in the person’s heart and mind, it is the prayer of the Church for the healing of this person and the ritual act of reconciliation of the repentant sinner and the Body of Christ. Clearly, repentance as a sacrament can happen and would be valid even without the rite of confession; confession, on the other hand, would be completely useless without repentance.

Defined in this way, it is not confession per se but repentance which is necessary preparation for communion. By placing the focus on repentance rather than the rite of confession we would form an understanding that the sacrament is not what happens in church, often in a rush, but what happens in the heart–perhaps, at a different place and a different time. In other words, the work of repentance is not limited to a few minutes under a stole, but continues throughout the week and, indeed, throughout life.

Finally, the prayer rule before communion–the last-but-not-least of the three parts of preparation–is yet another confusing point. While its content is undeniably edifying, it is not at all clear whether all are obliged to recite the entire rule in every situation. Is it, for example, more important to attend the evening vigil or to recite the rule if one had to choose only one? This is not an idle question. Many young families with several small children who live far from a church do find it difficult to find time for both on a Saturday night.

There are many pious people who do make the effort and take the time to recite the entire prayer rule before communion. But many others do not for various reasons, the main of which is usually identified as the lack of time. This is not always so; sometimes, it is the lack of desire or laziness. But even among those who do recite the entire rule, there is a concern that their recitation is not attentive, that they do it just to fulfill a prerequisite for communion, rather than as an expression of their inner prayer.

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) once noted that it is more important to pray more often throughout the day, than for longer periods at one time. Perhaps, this could be a way of looking at the prayer rule before communion. What if instead of “cramming” the rule into Saturday and Sunday between and around the vigil and the Liturgy, we reformatted the rule to envelop the entire week in the theme of preparing for communion? One pre-communion prayer could be added to morning and evening prayer throughout the week, thus allowing for twelve prayer to be said in six days. The evening prayers on Friday could be replaced with the akathist to the Theotokos, and the morning prayers on Saturday could be replaced with the canon before communion. Or, perhaps, some other format could be envisioned which would allow those who think they do not have the time to pray more often, rather than for longer on any given day, and those who do find the time but struggle with concentration could focus on just one prayer at a time and make it the most meaningful they can. The additional benefit would be that the entire week–not just a couple of days or a few hours–would become a spiritual journey filled with anticipation of communion with Christ.

Thus, if preparation for communion were transformed–through true ascetic discipline of fasting, prayer and repentance–from a list of chores to complete into a process of living in Christ, being crucified in Christ, rising in Christ and ascending in Christ, it could become a reflection of the missional dimension of the Liturgy. And the Eucharist could cease being the time when Christians “do church” and become the crown, the pinnacle, the crescendo of the rest of the week, that which manifests the meaning of the effort of the life in Christ and is a visible sign of the reality of Christ’s presence on all other days and at all other times throughout the week.

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Study Notes: Liturgical Minyan

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 20 June 2015

The principle of correlation or concelebration in Liturgy described by Fr. Alexander Schmemann brings the laity into the equation of the Liturgy and strikes at the very heart of clericalism. Clericalism, at least as it exists in the Russian Church, seems to elevate ordained priests to some strange position within the Church. People are convinced that priests are not normal humans, that they have some special “superpowers” acquired through ordination, and that they are very much separate from the rest of the faithful–as if they were some alien beings. And while these ideas may be correct in some specifics–I do believe that priests receive divine grace from God–they are wrong in principle.

What clericalism breeds with respect to the Liturgy is an attitude that the Liturgy is something that the priest does. The priest becomes a provider of services, and people come to consume these services: watch the Liturgy, pick up some holy water and blessed bread, receive communion, submit some names on a piece of paper, order a memorial service for grandma… The very language that has come into use in Church highlights this consumer attitude: people “order” various services; in fact, often they call and expect to be able to place an order over the telephone. And the most common question is, “How much does it cost?” People want to know the price and decide whether the “product” is worth it. They can always shop around and look for a lower price. To be sure, some people do have an understanding that they must participate in the life of the Church: when they submit a list of names for commemoration at the divine Liturgy it is the same list that they use in their private prayers, when they ask for a memorial service they expect to be there praying together with the priest, etc. But many lay people treat the Church as a boutique shop of spells and amulets and the priest as a shaman who dispenses them.

“Contrary to popular belief,” however, priests do not possess anything that the Church does not possess. Priesthood is the attribute of the Church which She receives like a crown from Her divine Groom, it is not an attribute of a few special individuals. The royal priesthood of the Body of Christ (1 Peter 2:9) becomes focused on an individual priest in the same way that sunlight can be focused by a lense on one spot. So, a priest does find himself in a “spotlight,” but it is not his light–it is the light that belongs to all the faithful, it is the light of Christ shining through His Church. Christ’s priesthood simply does not exist outside His Body, the Church. There cannot in principle be a priest outside the Church. Priesthood is not a quality or a possession of a person; it is the quality of the Church.

Furthermore, if priesthood is the quality of the Church and not of professional priests, then Liturgy is also the function of the Church and not of professional priests. Liturgy is the life of the Church in communion with Christ and not a product “produced” by the clergy and purchased by the lay consumers.

Unfortunately, the way our religious services are organized nowadays is very conducive to the spectator attitude of the laity. Commemorations at the Proskomede are done out of sight and hearing of the faithful, people have no way of engaging with the service and just stand and observe. Of course, people should be praying during the service, and we usually say that this is their way of participating, but consider the following illustration. If a priest is not serving and is simply praying in Church during a Liturgy officiated by another priest, we say that the priest is not serving, even if he takes communion at the appointed place. This is the status of the laity in our churches: they are not serving.

I really like the synagogue idea of a minyan. I am not aware that the Christian Church ever had such a requirement. It is true that a priest cannot serve the Liturgy all alone, but the “where-two-or-three-are-gathered-together” clause requires only one chantor in addition to the celebrant, and there exist various dispensations and exceptions to this rule. But imagine if we required a larger quorum in order to celebrate the Liturgy. People would actually feel the responsibility to be in church in order for the Liturgy to take place. Lay people would feel that their presence is necessary and required, that without them there just may not be a Liturgy–something that every priest feels very intimately. Think of the Liturgy as a family supper. Can the father sit down to a family supper alone? The answer is obvious: without the presence of the family, there cannot be a family supper. Could it be that without the presence of the community of believers, the Body of Christ, there cannot in principle be a Liturgy, even if the priest is all vested and ready to celebrate?

If we had the concept of a minyan for the Liturgy, the idea that the Liturgy begins with the process of the faithful coming together, with God’s children answering the call of the Father and gathering “like olive shoots around [His] table” (Psalm 128:3)–alive, growing, producing fruit, and connected to one root (cf. John 15:5), the idea that the Liturgy begins with my wilful act of “manifesting my membership in the Church” by gathering together with my brothers and sisters in Christ for the common work of the Liturgy may become more tangible, visceral and real for the lay faithful.

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Study Notes: Royal Inadequacies of the Royal Priesthood

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 16 June 2015

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”–Psalm 133:1

While there are many wonderful and holy pastors who labor in Christ’s vineyard, many others seem to experience problems of a peculiar nature. One way to identify the source of these problems to call it the lack of mentoring or apprenticeship. The situation is really quite simple: a newly-ordained priest gets assigned a rector and the only priest of a parish, which may be either in a remote location or the only Orthodox parish in a city. The dean may be too far and too busy to visit very often, the bishop may come once a year, other priests may visit only occasionally and not for the explicit purpose of offering any mentoring or advice. Thus, the newly-ordained priest is left to his own devices (and vices). Moreover, a priest is the leader of his community, and even older parishioners hesitate to play a mentoring role, and it would certainly not be their place to offer pastoring advice. Very few priests seem to be lucky enough to have real mentors who are actively involved in their lives and guide them in their spiritual and professional growth. There are some factors which could potentially mitigate the negative effects of the lack of mentoring of young or newly-ordained priests.

First, advanced age and Orthodox life experience may help deal with the lack of mentoring. In the U.S., however (and elsewhere, I presume), many priests are ordained too young–they are not yet fully formed as individuals, they can be impulsive, idealistic, see things in “black and white,” they have not yet had sufficient time to subdue their passions. Another category of candidates for ordination is zealous converts to Orthodoxy. They seem to be “on fire” for the faith, zealous for the Typicon and the canons, attend all services and read the Desert Fathers to their toddlers. Zeal, however, is not a good indicator of spiritual maturity. These converts may or may not be ready to teach others the Orthodox way of life mostly because they are not proficient at it themselves. The crux of the problem is, perhaps, in the lack of aspirants to the holy priesthood. Candidates are not always advanced to the holy orders based on their virtues, but rather on the lack of obvious vices or impediments coupled with the desperate need for more priests.

Second, fellowship with other clergy and sharing of experience may mitigate the lack of mentoring to some degree. Fellow priests are not senior mentors and cannot resolve all problems, but they can offer some advice and attempt to correct the most grievous problems if they notice them. In the U.S., however, there are too many parishes that are too far away from any other Orthodox communities. Some parishes are so remote that there are simply no other Orthodox priests around, and the bishop may visit once a year at best or even less frequently. Even in places where there may be other Orthodox churches, the frequency of clergy fellowship meetings may not exceed one per month, and level on which priests interact with each other may be only superficial–an occasional luncheon, a lenten Presanctified–not true and involved mentoring.

What happens in the absence of real mentoring is detrimental both to the spiritual life and formation of the priest and the life of his parish. In the absence of some system of checks and balances, the priest may be forced to “improvise”–both in his own spiritual journey and in the way he leads the parish. Any number of erroneous ideas, beliefs, practices, and “traditions” may creep in. Many years ago, I have been to parishes that had only been in existence for a few years, and yet they proudly told of their “local traditions” when asked why they served in a way that was different from the normative way in that diocese. And no, the parish had not been founded by a holy elder who brought with him ancient traditions from some famous monastery.

Isolated, unformed, unchecked priests may become their own local “patriarchs” and create their own peculiar brand of Orthodoxy–mostly because they have no other choice. And while I celebrate much diversity, the kind of diversity that stems from basic ignorance or lack of formation is, perhaps, to be avoided through purposeful mentoring of priests. In my opinion, no priest should ever begin his ministry as a rector. Rather, he should apprentice for a minimum of five years under a much more experienced older priest before getting his own parish.

Just as a lay person should not be a solitary practitioner of Orthodoxy lest he go astray, in the same way a priest should not be a solitary practitioner of pastoral ministry. The only ones that could get away with being far away from senior clergy are the ones who are mature as Christians, full of the Holy Spirit, and wise and experienced as pastors. For the rest of us, it is good to stick together, help each other, support each other, receive mentoring from those who are older and wiser, offer mentoring to those who are younger and less experienced, be evaluated by peers and receive feedback on our ministry.

It is a fact that in many cases in this country, the circumstances are such that less-than-perfect situations are what we have to work with. But I think that if these issues were brought up to the forefront of the Church’s consciousness and discussed frankly and openly, much could be done to improve this particular aspect of the life of the Church. In order to do that, the Church needs to re-evaluate its chronic condition of living in the mode of “damage control” and move toward purposeful proactive pastoral care for pastors. We are developing models and practices for pastoral care for our flock, and this is very good indeed. But we must not let our pastors “slip through the cracks.” We must recognize that priests are also humans, they are also Christ’s flock, they are also struggling to lead a Christian life, and they are also in need of pastoral care.

Parallel to pastoral care for parishioners, models and practices of pastoral care for pastors should be implemented and supported by the Church. Some of the healthy practices that come to mind are frequent (monthly?) visits and evaluations by the dean, frequent (monthly?) opportunities for confession and edifying fellowship with an older priest, frequent (weekly?) telephone check-ins from a dean or a bishop, regular (yearly?) spiritual retreats for pastors (organized and paid-for by the Church), sabbaticals every five to seven years, and many others. Of course, these are only random ideas, and a much more coherent approach toward this matter is desperately needed. But I firmly believe that the efforts necessary for this project would pay off many times over by keeping our priests and our parishes strong, stable and healthy.

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Study Notes: Three Levels of Sanctity

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 June 2015

From a lecture by A.I. Osipov:

There are three “levels” of sanctity

1. Humility: this is when a person realizes his true state of sinfulness, realizes that he is incapable of saving himself, and thus, realizes that he needs a savior. This person may not have had an opportunity to change his life (repent-metanoia), he has not fulfilled any commandment–he has not done anything at all, but he realized his condition and need for savior. An example of such a person is the Good Thief.

2. Righteousness: this person is what one may call a “good Christian”–he tries to fulfill all of the commandments and rubrics of the Church, he obeys civil laws, he follows the rules of morality in relation to others. A person at this stage still has passion which are not conquered or conquered only partially. If such a person also possesses humility, then he is on his way to step three and will actually not see his righteousness. Other people will see him as righteous, but he will not recognize it in himself. If he does not have humility, then he becomes proud of his righteousness and turns into a Pharisee.

3. Holiness: a person at this stage conquered or suppressed passions, and the seed of of the “new creature in Christ” which had been planted in his fallen nature flourished into that level of maturity which is possible in this earthly life. In this state, the person no longer needs any external religious or moral rules because the law of God (rather, the Law-Giver Himself) is present in his heart. Because such a person is no longer of this world, this world has less dominion over him: he may walk of water as did St. Mary of Egypt, or his flesh may glow as did that of St. Seraphim, or wild beasts may obey him, or his flesh may not be affected by the cold or the heat, or the rain and the wind may listen to his command–these examples abound in the lives of many ascetics. And this state of holiness is mostly achieved by those who renounced the world (see The Ladder ch. 1) for the same reason why any perfection is achieved through complete dedication. If I only dabble at the violin and occupy the rest of my time with studies, priestly duties, family life, travel, entertainment, etc., etc–then I will not be very good at playing the violin. But if I want to be a virtuoso, then I have to practice for 10 hours each day and forsake everything else.

See also:

Models and Images of Spiritual Life

Mechanics of Salvation

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Fun Maths

Posted in Reflections by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 7 June 2015

Русская версия здесь

It is often said that a certain portion of what we have belongs to God. In the Old Testament, we see the commandment to tithe. This commandment is interpreted in many different way by modern Christians, but all seem to agree that it is good to take some portion of what we receive for our labor and give it to God by donating it to the Church or to the needy.

Some also note that the same should be done with out time. Just as in the Old Testament the Sabbath day was for the Lord, so also Christians speak of Sunday as being the Lord’s Day thus acknowledging that a certain portion of their time is to be devoted to God. It is not my goal here to examine the exact meaning of the term “the Lord’s Day” or to elucidate the nature of tithing. This is just some fun maths.

If we treat our time the same we treat other things that we have, then 10% of it should rightfully belong to God. In a 24-hour day, that is 2 hours and 24 minutes. Some may feel that is is not fair because we have to sleep for 8 hours each day. Well, 10% of a 16-hour waking day 1 hour and 36 minutes. Even if we were to subtract another 8 hours of full-time employment and propose that the time that we actually have is only 8 hours, 10% of 8 hours is 48 minutes. Do we give 48 minutes of our day to God? Suppose, this could be time spent in prayer, reading the Scripture, helping those in need–do we spend at least 48 minutes of each day doing those things? Something to think about…

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Study Notes: Call No Man a Father…

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 4 June 2015

…soul-killing theatrics and the saddest comedy–elders who take upon themselves the role of the ancient Holy Elders, possessing none of their spiritual gifts–may it be know to them that their very intent, their thoughts and ideas about <…> obedience are false, that their very way of thinking, their mind, their knowledge are self-deception and demonic delusion…–Saint Ignatii Brianchaninov, On the Life in Obedience to an Elder

If priests were chosen on the basis of their life experience, spiritual maturity, spiritual gifts, and wisdom, then they could make excellent fathers-confessors and spiritual fathers. But this is no longer the case. Many priests are chosen only because they have an interest in becoming clergy, have some specialized education, and do not have any canonical impediments. In other words, rather than choosing a candidate on the basis of the presence of positive qualities, one is chosen on the basis of the absence of negative ones. Virtues and spiritual gifts are not considered a prerequisite for ordination.

Every parish priest is forced to be a father-confessor. This is not ideal, but there is very little most priests can do about it. Much damage can be done to the soul of a parishioner if a young priest, lacking life experience, spiritual maturity, and the wisdom that comes with age, gives bad counsel during confessions. But in our current situation, most young priests cannot avoid playing the role of a father-confessor.

When it comes to a Spiritual Father, however, priests must be counselled to reject every notion that they have anything to do with that title. Of course, a priest is a spiritual father to many of his parishioners in the sense that he may have brought them to Christ, he may have baptized them and instructed them in the life in Christ. But the term “Spiritual Father” is very often (if not almost always) misunderstood to mean a very different concept. In monastic literature, in which all of our faithful are encouraged to immerse themselves, the Spiritual Father is the Holy Elder, and the relationship between the Father and his Child is the complete denial of self will on the part of the Child and the acceptance of full responsibility of the part of the Father–a model which is impossible among lay people for practical reasons. When this monastic concept is wrongfully applied to a parish priest and his parishioners, it creates an extremely dangerous spiritual delusion for all involved. Priests play a theatrical role of an “Elder” having none of the spiritual gifts necessary for this vocation. Parishioners play an equally-theatrical role of obedient spiritual children, blind to the fact that only true obedience and only to a true Holy Elder leads to a greater communion with God. Theatrical obedience to a theatrical “Elder” is nothing but “self-deception and demonic delusion.”

Playing the “Father/Child” game may be fun, but it is “playing with fire.” The unfortunate “Child” may have a false sense of safety under the theatrical obedience to a “Father,” but this relationship will be barren at best and bear ugly and bitter fruit at worst. To be a real Spiritual Father, one must be anointed by God with the spiritual gifts necessary for this vocation. To paraphrase Saint Seraphim of Sarov, one must first acquire the Spirit of peace within himself, before those around can be saved. The misuse of the term ‘Spiritual Father’ in parishes to refer to any priest, and the misunderstanding of the entire concept of spiritual fatherhood (and “spiritual childhood”) found in monastic literature is a substitution of of the real Spirit and the real life in Christ for a fake spirit and a fake life, a pretend-life, a theatrical performance, a game. And this is the real danger: we know that the real life in Christ leads to salvation, but the same cannot be said about playing the game of a life in Christ.

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Study Notes: Amen to that!

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 June 2015

“[T]hese subtleties [of theology] are alchymized to a more refined sublimate by the abstracting brains of their several schoolmen; the Realists, the Nominalists, the Thomists, the Albertists, the Occamists, the Scotists; these are not all, but the rehearsal of a few only, as a specimen of their divided sects; in each of which there is so much of deep learning, so much of unfathomable difficulty, that I believe the apostles themselves would stand in need of a new illuminating spirit, if they were to engage in any controversy with these new divines. St. Paul, no question, had a full measure of faith; yet when he lays down faith to be the substance of things not seen, these men carp at it for an imperfect definition, and would undertake to teach the apostles better logic. Thus the same holy author wanted for nothing [but] the grace of charity, yet (say they) he describes and defines it but very inaccurately, when he treats of it in the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians. The primitive disciples were very frequent in administering the holy sacrament, breaking bread from house to house; yet should they be asked of the Terminus a quo and the Terminus ad quern, the nature of transubstantiation? the manner how one body can be in several places at the same time? <…> [The apostles] were well acquainted with the Virgin Mary, yet none of them undertook to prove that she was preserved immaculate from original sin, as some of our divines very hotly contend for. St. Peter had the keys given to him, and that by our Saviour himself, who had never entrusted him except he had known him capable of their manage and custody; and yet it is much to be questioned whether Peter was sensible of that subtlety broached by Scotus, that he may have the key of knowledge effectually for others, who has no knowledge actually in himself. Again, they baptized all nations, and yet never taught what was the formal, material, efficient, and final cause of baptism, and certainly never dreamt of distinguishing between a delible and an indelible character in this sacrament They worshipped in the spirit, following their master’s injunction, God is a spirit, and they which worship him, must worship him in spirit, and in truth; yet it does not appear that it was ever revealed to them how divine adoration should be paid at the same time to our blessed Saviour in heaven, and to his picture here below on a wall, drawn with two fingers held out, a bald crown, and a circle round his head. To reconcile these intricacies to an appearance of reason requires three-score years’ experience in metaphysics.

[T]he apostles often mention Grace, yet never distinguish between gratia, gratis data, and gratia gratificans. They earnestly exhort us likewise to good works, yet never explain the difference between Opus operans, and Opus operatum. They very frequently press and invite us to seek after charity, without dividing it into infused and acquired, or determining whether it be a substance or an accident, a created or an uncreated being. They detested sin themselves, and warned others from the commission of it; and yet I am sure they could never have defined so dogmatically, as the Scotists have since done. <…> If the same divines meet with anything of like nature unpalatable in St. Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. Hierom, or others of the fathers, they will not stick to appeal from their authority, and very fairly resolve that they lay under a mistake. Yet these ancient fathers were they who confuted both the Jews and Heathens, though they both obstinately adhered to their respective prejudices; they confuted them (I say), yet by their lives and miracles, rather than by words and syllogisms; and the persons they thus proselyted were downright honest, well meaning people, such as understood plain sense better than any artificial pomp of reasoning: whereas if our divines should now set about the gaining converts from paganism by their metaphysical subtleties, they would find that most of the persons they applied themselves to were either so ignorant as not at all to apprehend them, or so impudent as to scoff and deride them; or finally, so well skilled at the same weapons, that they would be able to keep their pass, and fence off all assaults of conviction: and this last way the victory would be altogether as hopeless, as if two persons were engaged of so equal strength, that it were impossible any one should overpower the other.”–Erasmus, In Praise of Folly (taken from Project Gutenberg) 

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Study Notes: On whether Christianity is Rocket Science

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 June 2015

Can Christianity be likened to rocket science or brain surgery? Does it rely on acquiring a tremendous amount of knowledge in order to be practiced? I find these analogies very imperfect, despite the fact that I have used them in the past. Equating Christianity to brain surgery is simply indefensible on any level. (I myself have used this analogy in reference to the Church as an institution, which is somewhat more appropriate, since the Church is so Byzantine.) The one I recommend adopting is that of a sport. Paul used it. Imagine the sport of running: it is a rather simple thing–certainly–not brain surgery– there is not much of a book that one can write, even though many do for various reasons. But no matter how many books you read, nothing replaces going out and running. Not even a little bit. If you do not run but read many books, you will not advance as a runner even an inch. But if you go running every day instead of reading books, you will become a half-decent runner. True, advanced knowledge about pacing, nutrition, recovery, injury-prevention and alike can greatly improve your running, but the core of the sport is still the actual act running, rather than the act of reading. It is the same with Christianity: no amount of book knowledge of theology can replace daily practice. Daily practice, on the other hand, will produce results even with only minimal book knowledge.

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Study Notes: On the Role of the Rational Mind in Theology

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 June 2015

Does the rational mind play a major role in our experience of God or in how well we can know God? Should we primarily rely on the academic study of theology in order to get closer to God? I love images, so consider this: it takes an active brain and a mind in order for me to experience the presence of a puppy. If I have no brain or if my mind is defective I may have problems or even be completely unable to experience the presence of a puppy. On the other hand, I do not have to know or understand how the puppy works in order to experience his presence. I do not have to have a Ph.D. in biology, or to dissect my puppy in order to experience him. Mephistopheles went even further and proposed that when it comes to a living being, to dissect is to lose every hope of understanding how the “thing” works, because once dissected, it is no longer a living being you are studying. In other words, what I think is important is to know where to stop. You can enjoy the love, and the licks, and the joyful bark, and the mess on your carpet–all with the necessary use of your brain with all of its faculties–but only for as long as you do not decide to dissect. In much the same way we can have the experience of the Trinity without figuring out or even trying to figure out all of the mechanics of how the Trinity works. We can also be under the protection of the Theotokos without trying to write a treatise on Her ever-virginity. This is not to denigrate the rational mind but to recognize its limits. We know very well that our physical body has its limits; we may push them at times, but we do not question them. It is the same with the mind–it has its natural limits. Everything has its proper place in our experience of God.

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Study Notes: Pastoring in the Shadow of the Cross

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 30 May 2015

We often think of pastoring as having one primary function–to take care of the flock. This may be expanded into a list of tasks: feeding, leading to green pastures, protecting from wolves, etc. But can there be other aspects of pastoring that are not found under the function of caretaking? For many years, I had a flock of goats, and in my experience, while protecting and feeding are very important in the work of a pastor, there are other things that cannot be ignored. For example, Paul so famously mentions that the pastor is also to take of the fat of the flock or of its milk. In other words, the relationship between the flock and the pastor is mutual in nature–it is not just the pastor who does things for the flock, but also the flock who does things for the pastor. If fact, in the case of my goats, this was why I kept them. I did not keep goats in order that I might take care of them; rather, I kept them because I wanted the milk, and caretaking was a means to that end. But while this reasoning works for people who keep flocks of animals, it cannot be true of the Church. God did not establish His flock in order to take care of priests and bishops. Neither did He establish His flock just so priests and bishops would have someone to take care of. Caretaking is a means but to what end?

Christ is the Lamb of God. To say this is not to say that Christ is a cute fluffy animal that God enjoys for a pet. To say ‘the Lamb of God’ is to say ‘the animal which has been chosen to be slaughtered as a sacrifice.’ Christ was born in an animal shelter–the way lambs should be born, in a field which had lambs being raised by a band of shepherds or pastors in the primary sense of the world. The one interesting thing about this arrangement is that those other lambs were raised for the temple sacrifice (yes, it was that large of an industry that they had herds of lambs being raised just for sacrifice). Moreover, Jews simply did not raise animals the way we do. Imagine a modern Christian farmer who is raising sheep. He may want to have his flock sprinkled with holy water, and he may even offer a lamb or two for a parish potluck, but we have lost the sense that what we have is not actually ours, but God’s. We think that what we have is ours, and that from that which is ours we offer something to God. The ancients did not think exactly that way. They thought that everything was God’s, everything belonged to Him, everything was to be sacrificed (brought, set aside) to Him in the icon of “the first and the best,” and only after it was brought to Him, the people partook of the leftovers. Imagine a king who is eating supper. His servants prepare for him the best cut of meat and eat the rest. But the servants know that what they are eating is the master’s food. At no time do the servants think that the food belongs to them and that they share their meat with their master. In other words, in essence, the servants eat the leftovers from the master’s meal. Something similar can be observed in the Eucharist. The people bring bread and offer it to God; they offer all of it to God; the best is chosen for the actual Lord’s supper, and the rest is distributed among the Lord’s servants as the antidorion. In other words, people share in the Lord’s meal, but they understand that it is the Lord’s meal, not theirs.

These are lofty concepts, of course, but how are they relevant? Christ did not come to us as the Lamb in order that we may feed Him or protect Him. He came to us in order that we may sacrifice Him for our sins in order to to partake of Him. And as priests, we do not get a flock of spiritual sheep in order to feed them or protect them, nor for them to feed us. No, there has to be a more profound reason. We raise them for a sacrifice. They have to become a sacrifice if they are to be in the Body of Christ–because this Body is the Sacrifice. We can talk about it in terms of ascesis, bearing the Cross, being crucified with our sins and passions, or using any other words or images, but we could also say: “We are counted as sheep for the slaughter” (Ps. 44:22; Rom. 8:36). When we look at our flock and think that Christ call us to “feed His lambs” (John 21:15) or “tend His sheep” (16), a thought should cross our minds that there is a reason why Christ calls them ‘lambs’–the real meaning of this word, the real purpose of a flock of lambs would not have been lost on Peter or any other disciple. Christ was not giving Peter a flock of pets; He was giving him a flock to be raised for a sacrifice to Him. Thus, Christian pastoring is always done in the shadow of the Cross.

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Study Notes on Pastoral Counseling: Mechanics of Salvation

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 29 May 2015

The idea that the parish is a hospital is very common; so common, in fact, that the very question of this assignment is quite rhetorical. Rather than asking whether I agree that the parish is a hospital, it seems to me that the assignment is assuming that I agree and asks me to explain why.

It should be said that the assertion that the parish is a hospital stems from the larger idea that the Church is a hospital, and any parish is the visible representation of the Church as a whole. There are many well-known scriptural passages and statements found in the writings of the saints that assert just that–so many, in fact, that it hardly seems necessary to recount them here. But the basic assumption, as I see it, comes from the Christian understanding of sin and its consequence. There are some views that sin is a transgression against God or His law, and that the wages of sin is death in the sense that every crime needs a punishment, and the crime of sin carries the penalty of capital punishment. Note, that death comes not as a result of sin, but as a result of punishment. In other words, unless someone decides to punish the criminal and carry out an execution, his crime in and of itself does not directly cause him to die. If this is not quite clear, I will explain the Orthodox position as a way to contrast.

In the Orthodox position, death comes not from any punishment, but from the very effect of sin upon human nature. I like pictures, so here is one to help me understand it. Imagine someone jumping off a cliff onto rocks below and getting bruised and broken, developing internal bleeding and then being on the brink of death from his injuries. Now imagine that you are a rescuer trying to save the person. To be sure, you may think that it was a really bad idea to jump off the cliff. It you are a park ranger and the event happened at your park, you may even be justified to view the dying person as a criminal–let’s say there was a law prohibiting jumping off cliffs. And now let’s say that as a ranger you have the right to charge that person with a crime or to issue him a warning, essentially forgiving his trespass. By now, most people would want to stop me and exclaim: “What are we even talking about? This is not important! Let’s save thing person–he is dying!”

The final imaginative exercise is to imagine that your are the father of the man who jumped off the cliff. Do you care whether your son committed the crime of jumping off the cliff? Will you beg the ranger to pardon your son and not to charge him with a crime? Or will you do whatever it takes to save his life? Christ revealed to us that God is our Father. It is only natural to assume that what is important to Him is to save our lives from the injuries that we caused to ourselves and that are killing us.

Thus, while we could talk about the Church’s role in addressing the crime and punishment side of sin, her primary, most important and immediate concern is to treat the injuries caused by sin. Those injuries can be grievous and plentiful. Just as a bad fall can cause cranial bleeding, punctured lungs, ruptured spleen, massive internal and external bleeding–and all of that needs to be treated at the same time in order to save a person’s life–in the same way, the injuries of sin are spiritual, emotional, physical–affecting the entirety of our nature. It is expected, then, that people feel that they can seek the Church’s help when they have spiritual struggles, or marital problems, or even a common cold.

However, this is where we need to draw some lines. It is not wise to seek cures from a common cold in the Church. The person who is sick would be absolutely correct to seek prayer, anointing with holy oil, counsel from a priest on the spiritually-beneficial understanding of the place of a common cold in our human experience, but the Holy Spirit has many talents for many different people, and one priest cannot possess them all. “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess the gifts of healing?” (1 Cor. 12:29-30) If you have a broken leg, do you go to your priest? A broken leg is most certainly a symptom of the broken and sinful condition of our nature and all of creation (I do not think that there are broken legs in paradise), but no, you go to a doctor. Why would you not go to a professional for advice on a broken marriage?

To summarize, I think that there could be a paradigm of not seeing the Church and then more narrowly, the parish as the hospital, but of seeing the parish, and then more largely, the Church as the place of healing. When I say ‘the Church’ in this context, I do not mean the ecclesiastical structure, but rather, all of the manifestations of Christ’s healing and saving power poured upon this ailing world. A doctor, or a therapist, or a park ranger, or a good friend may not even be Christian, but insofar as they participate in Christ’s work of healing the wounds of their fellow humans being, they share in the healing grace of Christ. Think about it, if a parishioner comes to us and asks to pray for a successful surgery, what are the words of the prayer? “O Lord… guide the hands of the physician…” We do not mean “against the physician’s will” or “like a puppet,” but with and through his will and actions. We ask for Christ’s divine blessing on the will and actions of this doctor, whom we do not know, and who may or may not be a Christian–but we ask and believe that God will bless the work of his hands nonetheless.

See also:

Three Levels of Sanctity

Models and Images of Spiritual Life

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Study Notes on Liturgics: Laicism

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 May 2015

Recently, I heard a new word: laicism. It is a made-up word, of course. I guess, what the speaker was trying to convey is a reference to a phenomenon of church life which is a reverse of clericalism (anti-clericalism). In other words, if clericalism can be described (to some degree of approximation, of course) as the attitude of the supremacy of those ordained to clerical ranks over the lay people, the attitude of “us versus them,” some notion that we are the “real” Church, whereas the ignorant, unchurched masses are the sheep, the animals to be led, who do not know what is good for them. The clergy often act as if they had some special and unique grace and right. Layicism, then, is the attitude of lay superiority over the clergy, some notion that the lay people are the “real” Church, and that the clergy serve at the pleasure of the laity, that priests are to be appointed and dismissed by a council of a few lay people who think themselves some guardians of the church, while a priest is merely a “hireling” (John 10?). In other words, both clericalism and ‘layicism’ are nothing more than the “us vs. them” bizarrely and abhorrently adorned in “churchy” terminology. But how can this be? “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13) Is there a ‘class’ of clergy and another of lay people? Are not both members of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12 but see the whole chapter)? Are not both the “royal priesthood” of Christ (1 Peter 2:9)? Paul teaches that in Christ, “there is neither Greek nor Jew” (Gal. 3:28). Did he really have to specify that there is also neither priest no church board member?

The way out of this standoff between clergy and laity is to realize that clergy’s special grace is not special to clergy; rather, it is special to the Church. Priesthood (in all of its degrees) is not the quality of the “men in black.” Rather, it is the innate quality of the Church. It is focused upon one man in the same way that sunlight can be focused upon a clump of tinder with the use of a magnifying glass; but sunlight does not uniquely belong to the clump of tinder, not even when it is being consumed by fire. Priesthood is poured upon one man in the same way that a waterfall can be be poured upon the man standing underneath it; but the man would be an unspeakable fool to think that the river belongs to him, especially when he is being knocked unconscious by the weight of the water. And while it is true that “priests are clothed is righteousness” (Ps. 132:9), if they dare think that it is their righteousness, then they are clothed in nothing but “polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6) (which is a very polite way of referring to used feminine hygiene products with all of the bloody implications of the Old Testament ritual purity laws). No, it is not our righteousness–it is Christ’s. And no, it does not belong to us–it belongs to the Church, the Body of Christ.

But what of the ‘laicism’? There once was a very old custom of human sacrifice. For their sins, people sacrificed the best of what they had: the first and best fruits, the unblemished animals, and their own innocent children. Finally, they could find nothing higher or better than to sacrifice the incarnate God Himself. And it is 2000 years past time that we recognize it for what it is: priesthood is a sacrifice. From the beginning, it was supposed to be the sacrifice of the best person that a particular community had to offer. Perhaps, it is no longer that way (or is it?). But the fervent proponents of ‘layicism’ should ask themselves: “Do I want to be the one sacrificed? Do I want to be the one ‘standing in the gap’ (Ezekiel 22:30)? It is like saying: “Wow! They beheaded this dude on the altar… I wish it were me!” No?! You don’t wish that on you or your loved ones? Well, then have some sacred respect for those who took the iconic place of Christ. He is the one and only Sacrifice. He is the Lamb. You would not dare mess with Him, would you? Then do not mess with His “sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom. 8:36).

Every sacred sacrifice deserves respect, because it is the best you have to offer. It is nothing more than what you have managed to produce: through your labors, your laziness, your righteousness, your sins–you own it. For better or worse, honor it! Because if you you do not honor your own sacrifice, how will God honor it?

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Worried about getting enough iron during Lent? Read this!

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 May 2015

Why an iron fish can make you stronger

  • 17 May 2015

When Canadian science graduate Christopher Charles visited Cambodia six years ago he discovered that anaemia was a huge public health problem.

In the villages of Kandal province, instead of bright, bouncing children, Dr Charles found many were small and weak with slow mental development.

Women were suffering from tiredness and headaches, and were unable to work.

Pregnant women faced serious health complications before and after childbirth, such as haemorrhaging.

Ever since, Dr Charles has been obsessed with iron.

Anaemia is the most common nutritional problem in the world, mainly affecting women of child-bearing age, teenagers and young children.

In developing countries, such as Cambodia, the condition is particularly widespread with almost 50% of women and children suffering from the condition, which is mainly caused by iron deficiency.

The standard solution – iron supplements or tablets to increase iron intake – isn’t working.

The tablets are neither affordable nor widely available, and because of the side-effects people don’t like taking them.

Lump of iron

Dr Charles had a novel idea. Inspired by previous research which showed that cooking in cast iron pots increased the iron content of food, he decided to put a lump of iron into the cooking pot, made from melted-down metal.

Children holding an iron fish in Cambodia
Half of the villagers who used the iron fish in cooking were no longer anaemic after a year
The lucky iron fish
The iron fish is modelled on a species commonly eaten in Cambodia

His invention, shaped like a fish, which is a symbol of luck in Cambodian culture, was designed to release iron at the right concentration to provide the nutrients that so many women and children in the country were lacking.

The recipe is simple, Dr Charles says.

“Boil up water or soup with the iron fish for at least 10 minutes.

“That enhances the iron which leaches from it.

“You can then take it out. Now add a little lemon juice which is important for the absorption of the iron.”

If the iron fish is used every day in the correct way, Dr Charles says it should provide 75% of an adult’s daily recommended intake of iron – and even more of a child’s.

Trials on several hundred villagers in one province in Cambodia showed that nearly half of those who took part were no longer anaemic after 12 months.

‘Better than tablets’

Prof Imelda Bates, head of the international public health department at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, says the iron fish is a welcome development.

“These sort of approaches are so much better than iron tablets, which are really horrible.

“If it’s something that is culturally acceptable and not too costly, then any improvement to anaemia levels would be of great benefit.”

Around 2,500 families in Cambodia are now using the iron fish and the Lucky Iron Fish company has distributed nearly 9,000 fish to hospitals and non-governmental organisations in the country.

What pleases Dr Charles most is the fact that villagers appear to have accepted the smiling iron fish, which is 3in (7.6 cm) long and weighs about 200g (7.1 oz).

An iron fish being stirred into soup in Cambodia
Cambodian villagers are encouraged to boil up water with the 3in iron fish in the pot

One woman and her daughter, who are part of a current trial in Preah Vihear Province, told the BBC they would use it during cooking.

“I’m happy, the blood test results show that I have the iron deficiency problem, so I hope will be cured and will be healthy soon.

“I think all the people in Sekeroung village will like the fish, because fish is our everyday food.”

Scale of anaemia

The World Health Organization estimates that two billion people – over 30% of the world’s population – are anaemic, mostly due to iron deficiency.

It says stopping iron deficiency is a priority – for individuals and countries.

“The benefits are substantial. Timely treatment can restore personal health and raise national productivity levels by as much as 20%,” it has said.

And it emphasises that it is the poorest and most vulnerable who stand to gain the most from its reduction.

But there are other forms of anaemia. It can also be caused by vitamin B12 and A deficiencies, parasitic infections, such as malaria, and other infectious diseases.

That is when it gets complicated, says Prof Bates.

“Anaemia is a multi-factorial problem. It’s the end product of many different health issues.

“And measuring whether people have enough iron or not in their bodies is very difficult in developing countries,” she said.

As a result, she says, knowing how many people really are iron deficient isn’t easy to work out.

Rice diet

In those with iron-deficiency anaemia, the cause is often poor diet. And that’s the case in Cambodia, Dr Charles says.

“They have a really poor diet – a big plate of white rice and maybe a small cut of fish.

vegetables and fruit
Spinach is not as rich in iron as red meat

“That’s their two meals a day. And it’s just not meeting their nutritional requirements.”

What’s missing from their diet are iron-rich foods, particularly red meat. Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, are not as rich in iron and mustn’t be overcooked if they are to offer any benefit at all.

The Lucky Iron Fish project has a plan to get fish to every part of the world that needs them, including countries like Canada, the US and Europe.

So should everyone be putting recycled metal car parts in their soup?

According to the experts, there is no reason not to – although levels of anaemia are far lower in developed countries, and there is easier access to iron-rich foods which can make all the difference to pregnant women and vegans, for example.

We could all eat iron filings instead, of course, but they wouldn’t taste half as nice.

A line

What does iron deficiency do to the body?

Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition where a lack of iron in the body leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells.

Iron is used to produce red blood cells, which help store and carry oxygen in the blood.

If there are fewer red blood cells than normal, your organs and tissues will not get as much oxygen as they usually would.

This means you can suffer from tiredness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and a pale complexion.

If left untreated it can make people more susceptible to illness and infection.

Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable. Anaemia is thought to contribute to 20% of all deaths during pregnancy.

Source: World Health Organization

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Исцеление слепорожденного

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 May 2015

Originally posted on Священник Сергий Свешников:

English: The Healing of the Man Born Blind

Христос воскресе!

Уже недолго осталось нам слышать эти удивительные слова с церковного амвона.  Подходит к концу всецерковное празднование величайшего торжества, этого спасительного делания Божия.  Вместе с ангелами на небесах мы пели воскресение Христово; встретившись со Спасителем, вместе с апостолом Фомой восклицали: «Господь мой и Бог мой!»; вместе с мироносицами мы бежали к пустому гробу, неся Воскресшему нашу боль, нашу печаль, нашу скорбь, и услышали в ответ радостное благовестие; как расслабленного, воздвигал нас Христос из греховной смерти к чистой жизни; и, как некогда самарянке, бросившей свой глинянный кувшин у древнего колодца и побежавшей возвестить горожанам о пришествии Мессии, Христос и нам предлагает оставить мутную воду мирского и греховного и напиться из неиссякаемого Божественного источника, текущего в жизнь вечную.

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“See, you are well! Sin no more…”

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 3 May 2015

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool … which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years… Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked…
Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” (John 5:2-14 RSV)

Often, when we hear this passage, we immediately recognize that there is a connection between sin and illness. Commenting on this passage, the Fathers note that the paralytic may have committed some sin for which he was then punished with a bodily affliction (see, for example, Saint Theophylact of Ohrid). And equally as often, we misunderstand the nature of this connection. We envision a child who is spanked by the parent for being naughty, and we think that when we do something bad, God “spanks” us with an illness. Perhaps, this image works well so some people and keeps them from being naughty, just as a child can be fearful of the punishment. This is also how the ancient Jews understood their relationship with God: if they did something bad, God punished them, and if they did something good, He rewarded them. But as the Apostle Paul said to the Hebrews, children get milk, but those who are mature eat solid food–a deeper understanding of the teaching (Heb. 5:11-14).

The Church teaches us a deeper truth about the connection between soul and body, the spiritual world and the material, sin and bodily illness. Secular education trains us to separate the physical world from “personal belief.” It teaches us that the physical world is real, and that the spiritual world is not, and that is why scientists do not study it. But this is not how God created the world–a “real” physical world and some separate fantasy land to entertain our imagination. God created one world with both the physical and the spiritual dimensions. Spirits do not live in a spiritual world; they live in the one created world in which the spiritual and the physical interact with each other. Likewise, humans do not live only in a physical world. We have body, soul, and spirit, and we live in both the physical and the spiritual dimensions at the same time.

As humans, we are not a mechanical composition of separate parts, but a wholesome organism. Just as the Holy Trinity is not three separate Gods but One, in the same way, body, soul, and spirit are not three separate pieces but one human nature. In an organism, what happens to one member affects all others. If I have a toothache, I will also be grumpy; and if my soul is joyful, the toothache may go away or become more tolerable. But this connection is not limited to our teeth and emotions. A spiritual illness or injury may affect our mind and even our body.

God did not invent commandments just for the sake of inventing something. Just as any good parent strives to protect his child, God warns us about the dangers of breaking the laws of the spiritual part of our world. If a parent tells his child not to jump off a roof, it is because the child might break a leg; and if a parent warns the child not to stick his finger in an electric outlet, it is because the child might get electrocuted. If the child ignores the parent’s advice and breaks a leg, can we blame the parent for punishing his child with a broken leg for disobeying the parent’s commandment? And if we disobey the laws of the spiritual world–which are just as real as the laws of physics–and get hurt, can we blame God for punishing us? The state of our spiritual health directly affects the whole of our nature. Breaking spiritual laws may directly affect our mind, or body, or both!

We are made aware of this direct connection between body and spirit when we fast. Through the exercise of the discipline of the flesh, we are trying to elevate the spirit and affect the soul. We do not fast because we want to lose weight, nor do we make prostration because we want to get some physical exercise. Rather, we do both because we know that what we do to our body affect our soul.

The Apostle Paul made this connection very clear when he noted that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). When Corinthians, following the teachings of Plato and other Greek philosophers, argued that they can remain spiritual while giving in to the passions of the flesh, Paul insisted that there cannot be a mechanical division, that the flesh and the spirit are two parts of one indivisible human nature (12-13). But Paul was not the only one to outline this principle. Ancient Romans wondered whether there could be a healthy spirit in a healthy body, and a well-known saying proclaims that cleanliness is next to godliness–once again, tying the material to the spiritual. The Christian monastic tradition refined this proverb to highlight not just any cleanliness, but the purity of the body and of the life of the body.

So, does God smite us with ailments of the flesh? He, certainly, could, if this would be for our salvation. But it seems to me that more often than not, we suffer injury to our flesh because we fail to heed the loving advice and warning that God offers to us. When God says “Thou shalt not,” it is a warning meant to keep us safe. Let us obey spiritual laws as we obey physical ones. Let us keep ourselves from sin to avoid injury to our souls, mind, and bodies. Let us remember that sins of the flesh destroy the soul, and that sins of the soul can affect the health of our flesh. So, let us keep far away from every sin; and if we happen to fall, let us hear the call of Christ: “Rise up and walk, but sin no more, that nothing worse befall you!”

See also: The Sunday of the Paralytic: “Do you want to be made well?”

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What Pornography Does to the Human Brain (VIDEO)

Posted in Practical Matters, Reflections by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 30 March 2015

According to surveys, nearly one-third of Orthodox Christian teens are unsure whether pornography is right or wrong. This is approximately the same number as that of teens who are unsure whether premarital sex is right or wrong. This is very telling in two ways. First, teens who are unsure about premarital sex are probably also unsure about pornography. And second, while the Church makes its position very clear–premarital sex and pornography are wrong–it needs to do a better job of explaining why. In this short paper, I would like to step away from the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ After all, Christ did not come to bring us laws and legislations. Sins are not right or wrong because someone issued a regulation. Instead, I would like to talk about things that are good for you or bad for you.

The Church teaches us that sexual intimacy is an important part of the sacrament of marriage: there, it has its rightful place; there, it helps the two become one; and there, it fulfills all of its functions–from the expression of love and commitment to the co-creation with God in continuing the human race. Marriage is a sacrament with the “principal and ultimate goal [of] the spiritual and moral perfection of the spouses.” As with any sacrament, that which is sacramental, should not be used for profane purposes. Imagine that a priest throws a party in the holy altar, and then on Sunday, after having picked up the trash, he serves the Divine Liturgy there. Or, he uses the chalice to drink his coffee in the mornings, and then on Sunday he uses it for the Eucharist. Even on an intuitive level we understand that this would be blasphemy. And yet, it is the same with our bodies. The Apostle Paul teaches that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19), and it belongs to your spouse for the fulfillment of the sacrament of marriage (7:4)–whether we are married now or will one day be married. Imagine your love for your spouse as a cup filled to the brim, and you want to give all of it, the fullness of it to your beloved. If you start bumping into strangers along the way or allowing them to take some of what you are carrying, then you will not be able to preserve the fullness of your love, and will hand to your beloved a cup half-empty, if not altogether unworthy of a sacrament.

All of this can be said about premarital sex in general, but what about pornography? Pornography is just as bad as premarital sex, but more dangerous. When a person engages in a sexual act with another person, both are aware that they are giving up a part of themselves; and the more partners a person has, the more fractured he or she becomes. But pornography camouflages itself as something unreal, virtual, something that is one’s private business, something that does not hurt anyone. Our culture tells us that we are free to do whatever we want, as long as it does not hurt anyone. Let us heed this advice and remember that ‘anyone’ means us as well. Let us make sure that whatever we do does not hurt us physically or spiritually.

Christ said: “…every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). The reason Christ equates looking lustfully, the very definition of pornography, with adultery, a physical act, is because we are not some bags full of disconnected parts–body, soul, mind, spirit, will, etc.–but whole and interconnected beings. If we have a toothache, our mind may become irritable; and if our mind is anxious, our whole body may ache. This is why when we allow pornography to enter into our eyes and our mind, our entire being is affected. The “virtual” sin of pornography most often leads to very physical masturbation. And once something is seen, it cannot be unseen–it imbeds itself in the mind, the memory, the subconscious. We would not want to share our spouse and our marriage bed with a bus-load-full of porn actors and actresses. But in reality, this is what we do when our minds are polluted with pornorgaphy and we enter into the sacrament of marriage bringing all those “passengers” along. On second thought, porn ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’ perform sexual acts for money, and there is another term for that–prostitution. The Apostle Paul says that “he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her” (1 Cor. 6:16). These are very powerful words. This means that when we commit adultery in the heart–watch pornography–we become one with that prostitute, instead of our spouse. This is not only destructive to the sacrament of marriage, but also to our own souls: with how many prostitutes can one become one before the soul is completely broken, damaged, fractured, and polluted?

Ways to Fight Against Pornography

  1. Avoid those television shows, movies, magazines, and websites that arouse sexual passion. It is much easier to fight against sin while it is still a little worm than to battle it once it becomes a fire-breathing dragon.
  2. Do not underestimate the brute power of sexual desire. People have killed and died under the influence of the sexual passion. Do not play with fire or you risk being burnt.
  3. Remember that demons, including those of lust, are best resisted through prayer and fasting. Pray often and ask God for help. Keep the real fast, not a vegan diet.
  4. Keep your eyes and your mind on our Savior and His Most Pure Mother. If you spend time on the computer or watch television–place an icon next to the screen. If looking at what is on your screen and in the eyes of Christ at the same time makes you uncomfortable or ashamed, then something is wrong with what is on your screen. Do something about it! (There is an OFF button on every device.)
  5. Seek healing in repentance. Once something is seen it cannot be unseen. But God can heal and restore the soul. Remember: repentance is not feeling bad about something. It is a firm decision to turn away from sin and turn to God. It is a decision to fight against sin, not merely feel bad about having committed it. It is a sacrament of reconciliation with God, not a formality of entering a guilty plea on a heavenly court docket.

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“Metropolitan” Salad and “Lay” Salad

Posted in Fasting, Recipes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 March 2015

Русский здесь

“Metropolitan” Salad

In Orthodoxy, a metropolitan is addressed as “The Very Most Reverend,” which is probably supposed to mean “truly most reverend” (‘very’ from ‘veritas’), lest there be any doubt. My salad is very most simple. That is to say, it really is very simple.

Add chopped parsley and umeboshi vinegar to shredded cabbage, mix and enjoy. That’s it. This salad is not only very most simple, but also very most lenten and very most tasty.

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“Lay” Salad

The life of a lay person is difficult and thorny–anything can happen. This salad is a “mixed bag” just like a human life.

cooked quinoa

cooked lentils

tomatoes (heirloom or Campari)

cucumber

Kalamata olives

parsley

garlic

lemon juice

umeboshi vinegar

You may also add onion, which I do sometimes, and olive oil, which I do not add. All proportions vary according to your individual taste. By the way, this salad is a source of complete protein, so fast to your health!

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Ladder of Divine Ascent

Posted in Fasting, Reflections, Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 March 2015

On the fourth Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of Saint John, the Abbot of Mount Sinai. For centuries, his work, The Ladder, has been a favorite Lenten reading for those who wish to ascend from earth to heaven, and many pastors urge their parishioners to learn from this treasure chest of ascetic wisdom.

Much can be said about the gems contained in the work of Saint John of the Ladder, but I have been thinking about the very image of the ladder. A ladder is not a wormhole; it is not a teleportation device. A ladder has steps, and one has to step on one before stepping on the next, climb on the lower level before continuing to a higher one. The image of a ladder reveals to us the gradual nature of ridding ourselves of passions and acquiring virtues.

(more…)

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Study Notes: 20 MAR 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 20 March 2015

Study notes on liturgics

“… Pictures as windows is a Western tradition. Think of a typical painting of a landscape hanging on a wall–it is like a window to the outdoors. By the way, picture frames also symbolize window frames. In pictures of people, the spectator is “spying” on the person who is depicted. This corresponds with the Roman Catholic devotional practice of imagining various scenes from the Bible and “observing” all of the details through imagination–“spying” on Christ or the saints. (See my paper on mental imagery in Catholicism and Orthodoxy–it should still be somewhere online.) Perspective in Western paintings is forward: two parallel lines come to a point in the scene of the painting.

In Eastern iconography, the perspective is reversed: two parallel lines come to a point “in front” of the icon, right where a person who is looking at the icon would be standing, and come apart in the icon itself. Done properly, parallel lines come together in the middle of the chest of the person looking at the icon. Thus, it is the exact opposite of the Western concept: instead of me “spying” on Christ by looking into heaven through a window, He is looking into my heart from heaven. An icon is a window, but it is not a window into heaven; rather, it is a window from heaven into our world.

Another feature which can be observed in Eastern iconography is saints “coming out” of the icon. Think of an icon which is recessed into the board with the border “sticking out” around the edge. The saint depicted will always have a hand or part of the halo coming out of the image and onto the border, or Saint George’s spear and the hoof of his horse come out onto the border–as if the saints are in the process of coming out of the icon into our world.

in Western art, the human is the subject (the viewer) and the painting is the object. In Eastern iconography, the Lord or a saint is the subject (the viewer) and the human is the object. It is not so much that we are looking at them as it is that they are looking at us, they are the “cloud of witnesses.” This is also true of architecture. The Western spire “pokes” at heaven, tries to pierce it–it is as if the humans are trying to build a tower that can reach into the heavens. In Eastern architecture, the most ancient forms have a heavy low dome that looks like the sky (and is painted with stars on the ceiling). It is as if heaven lowered itself, came down to earth. The Russian “onion”-dome style symbolizes drops of oil dripping out of the sky. Oil, of course, is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, of anointing, of grace. In other words, the grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit comes down to us here on earth. Art, architecture, theology, worldview–we could go on and on, all of it is connected…”

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New Lenten Sandwich

Posted in Fasting, Recipes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 March 2015

Русский здесь

I was making lunch sandwiches for my children to take to school this morning and accidentally “invented” a new sandwich.

The photo seems self-explanatory.

Bread (in the photo is rye sourdough)

Tofu (in the photo is extra firm, but firm should work just the same)

Guacamole

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“Monastery” Salad Dressing

Posted in Fasting, Recipes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 March 2015

Русский здесь

This is a very simple salad dressing which I “spied” at the Holy Archangels Monastery in Kendalia, TX (PHOTOS ARE HERE)

5 tablespoons of tahini

juice from 2 small lemons or 1 large one

2 cloves of garlic, grated

1/2 teaspoon of salt

3 tablespoons of water

The monks also added copped fresh dill, but I did not happen to have any.

Put everything into a bowl, mix with a fork, and pour on your salad. All ingredients can be adjusted to taste: more of less garlic, water, salt, you may add pepper, dill, chives, etc.

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Study Notes: 15 MAR 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 March 2015

Notes on the study of the Liturgy.

This phrase “It is time for the Lord to act.” is pronounced just before the beginning of the Liturgy in the exchange between the deacon and the priest. The explanation that I was taught is as follows. During the Liturgy of Preparation (Proskomedia), people do what they can: they bring offerings (prosfora), they say prayers “again and again” (these prayers are now placed in the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word), they prepare the bread and the wine and place them in sacred vessels. But they are unable to make bread become the Body of Christ or, even more importantly, we ourselves cannot become the Body of Christ by our own doing. In other words, no matter what people do–all the right things–they cannot save themselves. The Father must will for this to be so. Christ must offer Himself as the sacrifice. The Spirit must come down upon the faithful. We have done all that we could and fell short. So, now “it is time for the Lord to act.” This is somewhat similar to our Lent. Lent proper ends on Palm Sunday. We fast, we pray, we strive, and we greet Christ at the height of what we are capable of–we greet Him with palm branches, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” This is all that we are capable of. But this is not enough; we fall short. Only a few days later, the same crowd will be yelling: “Crucify Him!” These are not different people, bused in from another part of the country. These are the very same people. Our best is just not good enough. Everything we do during Lent–fasting, praying, venerating the Cross, reading The Ladder of Divine Ascent, chanting the Great Canon for four hours straight–all of this is simply not enough, we cannot save ourselves through any of that. And so, our Lent ends on Palm Sunday, and then “it is time for the Lord to act.” What happens next is not what we do, but what He does–Passion Week. Passion Week is His doing, His acting. While He is washing His disciples’ feet, one of them is betraying Him (John 13). While He is giving them His broken Body, they are arguing about who will be the greatest (Luke. 22). While He is praying to the point of sweating blood, the disciples are sleeping (Mark 14). And while He was being arrested, beaten, and crucified, they flee and hide (Matt. 26; John 20). We tried and we failed. Now it is time for the Lord to act!

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The Third Sunday of Great Lent: The Veneration of the Cross of Christ

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 14 March 2015

Originally posted on Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov:

Русский: Третье воскресенье Великого поста: Поклонение Честному Кресту Господню

Today we have reached the midpoint of Great Lent; we have travelled half of our path to the Holy Pascha of our Lord.  Having come to the center of Lent, we piously venerate the life-giving Cross of Christ.  In the synaxarion for today we read that since the Cross is the Tree of Life, and this tree was planted in the center of the Garden of Eden, in the same way the holy fathers placed the Tree of the Cross in the middle of Great Lent, reminding us of Adam’s fall.  At the same time we are delivered from the fall through the tree, for partaking of it we no longer die, but inherit life.

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Study Notes: 12 MAR 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes, Women in the Church by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 March 2015

Notes of the study of liturgics

On whether the Apostle Paul’s comments about women are politically incorrect

NB: these are only random thoughts which are not necessarily correct.

In Orthodoxy, we see God not so much as a judge who punishes criminals, but rather as a physician who heals the sick. Thus, when God gives a punishment, it is not meant as torture but medicine. This medicine may be bitter, and the medical procedure may be painful, but pain is not the goal. For example, when a surgeon takes a knife and cuts into a man to remove cancer, he is not doing this because he enjoys hurting men, but rather because he wants to heal them: “He did not actually curse Adam and Eve, for they were candidates for restoration” (Tertullian).

Furthermore, when we look at the medicine, we can guess at the diagnosis. For example, if I know that you take antihistamine, I may guess that you have allergies. If I know that you take ibuprofen, I may guess that you have some inflammation.

So, when we look at the kind of medicine that God gave to Adam and Eve, we may begin to make guesses about their afflictions. To Adam God said: “You will work hard” (Gen. 3:17-19). Perhaps, Adam was lazy? Perhaps, instead of cultivating the garden of his soul, he let it get overgrown with weeds? Perhaps, he did not fertilize it enough with virtues? To the woman God said: “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” (16). It is immediately after that that Adam called his wife’s name–that is to say, he asserted authority over her (20). This, of course, is a reversal of what God had said prior to sin: “A man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife.” Since Adam did not have a mother and father (and, presumably, was not expected to leave God), this was the social order for their descendants (2:24). And yet what happened after the fall is the exact opposite: the woman leaves her father and mother (her family) and cleaves to her husband. And the visible symbol of this is that she changes her family name and takes on her husband’s family name.

If such is the medicine–submission to her husband–what, then, was Eve’s illness? Perhaps, she aspired to rule over Adam? This is not immediately clear to us from the text, but since we are studying worship, let us look at the fall through that lens. Certainly, the story of the fall is not about a stolen apple (or pomegranate).

Who is so foolish as to think that God, in the manner of a gardener, planted a paradise in Eden, toward the east, and … that a person could be a partaker of good and evil by eating what was taken from the tree? … I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries. (Origen)

Adam and Eve were to partake of the fruit, which is communion with God, but they needed to prepare themselves first. They needed to till the garden of their souls and partake of the fruit as a gift from God. Instead, they chose to steal it. Eve saw the fruit and thought three things: it is good for food, it is delight to the eyes, and it gives knowledge. She fell into the “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life” (1 John 2:16). It is as if one were to go up for communion in church and think within himself: “Hmmm… This is a pretty chalice, I wonder if it is an antique. The wine is quite tasty (now, the bread could be better). And I am glad that everyone is looking at me; they think that I am so spiritual.”

So, rather than partaking of the fruit as a sacrament, with due preparation and from the hands of God, Eve just took it of her own human will, and “she also gave some to her husband, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). In other words, she communed him, she asserted her role above Adam. Instead of Adam receiving the fruit directly from God, Eve asserted her role as an intermediary between Adam and the fruit–it was in her possession, she usurped the right to distribute it.

If such was Eve’s illness, it makes sense that God gave her the medicine that He did, and that the Apostle Paul said what he said about Eve having been deceived in the garden. Thus, it is not about political correctness at all, but rather, it is about medicine. If someone were to ask us to undress, we would think such a request odd and politically incorrect. But when a doctor asks us the same thing, we just do it, because we know that it is for our benefit. And we patiently subject ourselves to various procedures, poking and probing, pills, mixtures, needles, etc.–all the things we would never tolerate from anyone except a physician.

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On whether women epitomize humanity and men epitomize divinity

The problem is that divine nature is different from human nature. By nature, we are not the same as God. But for men and women, nature is the same–the one human nature. By nature (ontologically), men are the same as women. This nature is manifested in two different forms–male and female–and in many different persons (or, rather, through many different hypostases), but it is one and the same nature. This is why the Apostle says that in Christ, there is neither male nor female. That is to say, both males and females by nature have equal access to communion with Christ, salvation in Christ, theosis, sanctity, etc. Women are not “lesser” creatures. They certainly do not “epitomize” humanity while man “epitomizes” divinity. One could argue that as a general rule, men seem to rely more on rational thinking while women seem to rely more on intuition or the feeling of the heart. But this only proves that women are closer to the spiritual world, since the spiritual world is not understood by the rational mind and is instead experienced through the heart.

If men are to be icons of the divinity and women are to be icons of the humanity, then we may find a bit of difficulty in tracing the two different paths to salvation. If we propose that all men somehow naturally are icons of the divinity (what does that even mean?), and all women are somehow equally naturally born as icons of the humanity, then we may have a hard time explaining this concept with any degree of intelligibility. And if we propose that men and women are born the same, but then for the sake of salvation men have to represent divinity while women must try to represent humanity, then that makes even less sense and presents an even larger theological difficulty (at least, in my mind).

Furthermore, this goes against the Scripture. Note that when Paul speaks about men being like Christ and women being like the Church, he is essentially (ontologically) talking about the same thing. Christ is both divine and human, and so is the Church. There is no Christ without His Body, which is the Church. There is no Church without Christ. Without Christ, a “church” becomes a Bible-study club or a Christian song concert. The Church, in order for is to be the Church, has to be fully human and fully divine. Christ and His Church are “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” united into one. What is even more fascinating, in Eph. 5:31, Paul introduces this concept by re-establishing the original order of Gen.: a man will leave his father and mother–it is almost as if he were trying to say that the Son of God left His Father and cleaved to His Church to become one flesh with Her.

Finally, the priest may be an icon of Christ’s divinity for the people, but at the very same time he represents the people or Christ’s humanity before God, he is also an icon of the Church. When he turns to the laos and says, “Peace be unto all,” he bestows Christ’s blessing on them. Yet in the very next minute he turns to the Theos and offers prayers for and on behalf of the people.

In other words, I would have a difficult time justifying a concept of women being icons of humanity and men being icons of divinity, or even comprehending this concept. But perhaps, I do not fully understand your argument? What precisely do you mean when you say that, “The man is essentially a microcosm within humanity of God, whereas the woman is the ultimate representation of humanness. As such, humanity in relation to God is feminine. God in relation to humanity is masculine.” What exactly do you mean by this? If it is feminine to be meek, and humble, and to serve, rather than to be served, if it is feminine to obey the will of the masculine, and to love, then Christ is… the perfect example of femininity! His interaction with His Church is expressly feminine. Eve are created a helper, a servant for Adam? (Gen. 2:20) Then she is an image of Christ, because Christ is the Servant (see Isaiah 52-53, Matt. 8:17 and Acts 8:34-35), He is the one who washes feet (John 13). By the way, in this context, to become an icon of Christ is to strive toward what is commonly misunderstood as feminine traits, not masculine ones.

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The original YOLO discovered!

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 6 March 2015

The original YOLO has been discovered, and it reads “YODO”–“you only die once.”

“And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Heb. 9:27 RSV)

You only live once, and you only die once, so make it count, always keeping in mind that we will have to answer for our actions!

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Simple (and completely Lenten) Hummus

Posted in Fasting, Recipes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 28 February 2015

Русский здесь

This hummus is very simple and ‘fully’ Lenten–it uses no added oil at all.

2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans (I cooked my own in a pressure cooker, but canned would work just the same)

1/4 cup of tahini

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin

1-2 cloves of garlic

Juice from 1 lemon (I also put lemon pulp in my hummus after taking out the seeds)

Enough water to make it creamy

Add any other spices you like.

Put everything into a food processor, mix and enjoy on bread or a a dip for raw vegetables!

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Fasting during the First Week of Great Lent

Posted in Fasting by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 February 2015

“On the first day of the first week of the the holy and great forty-day [Lent], that is to say, on Monday, one is not supposed to eat at all, and it is the same on the second day. On Wednesday, after the completion of the Presanctified, a meal is served, and we eat warm bread, and of warm vegetable food, and wine mixed with water, and honey drink [1]. Those who cannot keep the first two days, eat bread and drink kvass [2] after vespers on Tuesday. The elderly do the same. On Saturdays and Sundays we allow oil and also wine. In other weeks, we fast until evening for five days, and eat uncooked food [3], except on Saturdays and Sundays. And may we not dare to eat fish for all of the forty-day [Lent], except on the feast of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos and Palm Sunday. <…> If a monk spoils the holy forty-day [Lent] through his gluttony and eats fish, except on the feast of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday, let him not partake of the Holy Mysteries on Pascha, but repent for two weeks and make 300 prostrations each day and each night.”

Типикон, сиесть устав. Киев, 1997, гл. 32. Trans. Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

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Translator’s notes:

1–“оукропъ съ медомъ”–Usually, ‘оукропъ’ is wine mixed with water, but in this particular phrase, rather than ‘wine mixed with water and honed drink,’ the phrase could potentially mean ‘a mixed honey drink,’ that is to say, water mixed with honey. The reason for keeping ‘wine’ in the translation is that on days when the Liturgy is served, a small amount of wine mixed with water is given to communicants after partaking of the Holy Mysteries.

2–kvass is a fermented drink made with grains and/or berries

3–xerophagy: bread and uncooked vegetables

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Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (pdf)

Posted in Fasting by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 23 February 2015

Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (pdf)

The Great Canon is read on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the first week of Great Lent.

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See also:

What to watch during Lent

Fasting for Non-Monastics

 

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What to watch during Lent

Posted in Fasting, Practical Matters by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 20 February 2015

Here are some videos to watch during Lent. I will keep adding new ones as I find them.

Dr. Jay Gordon: No one needs meat for health

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Following up on one of the most influential documentaries of all time, Forks Over Knives, comes Forks Over Knives – The Extended Interviews. This video includes never-before-seen footage from the film’s expert interviews, covering several themes in greater depth and addressing important issues that weren’t touched on in the movie. Forks Over Knives – The Extended Interviews covers more than 80 topics.

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In this fiery and funny talk, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman weighs in on what’s wrong with the way we eat now (too much meat, too few plants; too much fast food, too little home cooking), and why it’s putting the entire planet at risk.

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Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn argues that heart attacks, the leading cause of death for men and women worldwide, are a “food borne illness” and explains why diet is the most powerful medicine.

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Celebrated Cornell University professor T. Colin Campbell Phd, presents the overwhelming evidence showing that animal protein is one of the most potent carcinogens people are exposed to.

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Olympic gold medal winner Carl Lewis describes how his best athletic performances came after he eliminated all animal products from his diet.

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He’s VEGAN — James “Lightning” Wilks, an MMA fighter best known to many for winning The Ultimate Fighter TV challenge, US vs. UK. James holds a Black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a Brown belt in Brazilian Jui Jitsu. Listen to James relate decision to go 100% plant-based.

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A fateful blizzard on a drive to Tahoe led to a conversation about food and nutrition, which inspired bodybuilder Joshua Knox, a Google employee, to go vegan for a week. One week turned into a 1.5 year lifestyle experiment with bodybuilding and diet.

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Study Notes: 19 FEB 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 19 February 2015

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Study Notes: 13 FEB 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 14 February 2015

…and yet, Cain killed Abel. One may suppose that since Cain’s sacrifice of the fruits of his labors had not been accepted, he may have decided to offer a greater, human one–his younger brother. What is really interesting in this story is that God points out Cain’s sin (Gen. 4:7), and Cain immediately goes and slaughters Abel (8). Was this in a horrifically-mistaken effort to atone for his sin? Clearly, God saw this act as a great sin and cursed Cain in much the same way that He had cursed Cain’s father (12 cf. 3:17, 23).

Abraham’s sacrificing of Isaac probably would have been expected or even required in the land from which he hailed (Ur of the Chaldees). Abraham may have mistakenly thought that Sarah’s barrenness was due to some sin, and that if they were to have many children, a human sacrifice for that sin was required. According to some rabbinical as well as modern scholars, God’s demand of offering Isaac as the sacrifice may have been not so much a thundering voice from heaven as a religious duty that Abraham would have felt in his heart. (This, of course, is not the common interpretation of many of the Church Fathers.) God again showed that He did not require a human sacrifice, that a sacrificial lamb is not a replacement for human sacrifice, but an icon of the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world.

Both Abel and Isaac are biblical icons of Christ.

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Study Notes: 4 FEB 2015

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 4 February 2015

Notes on bioethics:

“There are two misunderstandings about marriage which should be rejected in Orthodox dogmatic theology. One is that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation. What, then, is the meaning of marriage for those couples who have no children? Are they advised to divorce and remarry? Even in the case of those who have children: are they actually supposed to have relations once a year for the sole purpose of ‘procreation’? This has never been a teaching of the Church. … Another misunderstanding about marriage is that it should be regarded as a ‘concession’ to human ‘infirmity’: it is better to be married than to commit adultery (this understanding is based on a wrong interpretation of 1 Cor. 7:2-9). Some early Christian sectarian movements (such as Montanism and Manicheanism) held the view that sexuality in general is something that is unclean and evil, while virginity is the only proper state for Christians. [Needless to say, they have since died out.–S.S.] The Orthodox tradition opposed this distortion of Christian asceticism and morality very strongly. In the Orthodox Church, there is no understanding of sexual union as something unclean or unholy.” —Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev)

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Study Notes (31 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 31 January 2015

Русский перевод здесь

Notes on bioethics:

The scriptural admonition is for married couples *not* to deny each other sexual relations, except by mutual consent for the purpose of prayer and fasting. Abstinence from sexual relations (by mutual consent) is certainly appropriate the evening before receiving the Holy Sacraments, and during the day that one receives them. It is certainly *not* an absolute “requirement” of the Church to abstain on all fast days (and on the eves of fast days), or during the 11 days after the Nativity when marriages are not permitted. The Russian Church in the 13th century issued guidelines for married clergy on these issues, and they included as days of mandatory abstinence only the first and last week of Great Lent, the two weeks of Dormition Lent, and Wednesdays and Fridays during Nativity Lent and the Lent of the Holy Apostles. The married state is blessed and the marriage bed is undefiled. The Holy Church in protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of the spouses, as well as encouraging procreation and the raising of “fair children” has no interest in creating artificial impediments to preclude spouses from “rejoicing in one another.” —Archpriest Alexander Lebedev

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Study Notes (29 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 29 January 2015

Apostolic Canon 9(10) — 49 (51) A.D.

All those of the faithful that enter into the holy church of God, and hear the sacred Scriptures, but do not stay during prayer and the holy communion, must be suspended, as causing disorder in the church.

Апостольское правило 9 — 49 (51) г. по Р.Х.

Всех верных, входящих в церковь, и писания слушающих, но не пребывающих на молитве и святом причащении до конца, как безчиние в церкви производящих, отлучать подобает от общения церковного.

Толкование. Иже не пребывают во святе церкви до последния молитвы, но еще святей службе поемей и совершаемей, исходят из церкве, таковии яко бесчиние творяще во святей церкви, да отлучатся.

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Study Notes (26 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 26 January 2015

Notes from a lecture on bioethics:

Fundamentalism and fanaticism are not the same as Orthodoxy.

The clergy may be experts in some fields but they cannot be experts in all fields. And yet the clergy, bishops in particular bur also priests, are routinely asked to offer opinions on the widest variety of topics. Unless the clergy learn to consult with and listen to the real experts in whatever field the question belongs to, they often give erroneous opinions due to their lack of knowledge on the matter.

Just because we can do something goes not mean that we should. Just because we can build a nuclear weapon does not mean that we should, or just because we are technologically capable of polluting our own planet (from which we as of now have no way of escaping to a different one) and killing off many species of animals, does not mean that this is good idea. Technology must be guided not by scientific curiosity, or some notion of “progress,” or geopolitical greed or fear, but by moral and ethical values of what is truly good for humanity.

“The passion of greed is revealed when one is happy in receiving but unhappy in giving.” –St. Maximus the Confessor

For many people, their belief in technology is greater than their belief in God, and so they measure God against technological  or scientific advances instead of measuring technological advances against God’s purpose for our lives.

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Study Notes (25 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 January 2015

Notes from a lecture on Liturgy:

Orthodox worship is not something that people create in order to please God, but something that God reveals to people as an icon of the heavenly worship. Heaven comes down to earth and we see a glimpse of its glory. We enter into communion with it on its terms; we converse with it using its language; we do not begin anything here and now but rather enter into something that is eternal. We do not reenact or remember the Mystical Supper of Christ but partake of the one and only.

Worship is not intellectual of contemplative, even though it contains both of these elements.

Worship is not prayer, even though it certainly contains prayer.

Worship is communion with God.

We commune with the eternal God while being temporal beings and are thus bound by the limitations of our current state: we have times for services, daily, weekly, yearly and other cycles. But through this temporal communion with Christ we aspire to the eternal communion with Him: “Grant us to partake of Thee more fully in the unwaning day of Thy kingdom!” (from the Divine Liturgy)

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Study Notes (15 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 16 January 2015

Notes from 15 JAN 2015 lecture on youth ministry: 

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them… –Luke 18:15*

They, the parents, not youth pastors or Sunday school teachers, were bringing their children to Jesus, and it is still the solemn responsibility of parents today to bring their children to be touched by the Lord. As we see from this verse, this responsibility begins even when a child is only an infant.

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Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)

This advice is given to a parent, not to a youth pastor or a leader of a youth group.

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Come, O sons, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. (Ps. 34:11)

Once again, this is not an example of a youth pastor or a Sunday school teacher speaking to his or her youth group members or pupils. This is a father speaking to his sons. Similar verses can be easily found throughout the Bible.

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Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me… (Prov. 4:1-4)

Yet another example of advice quite different from: “Hear, O sons, your youth group leader’s instruction, and be attentive to your youth pastor, that you may gain insight… When I was a son with my father, he always dropped me off at Sunday school.”

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Very similarly, Church Fathers–notably, Saint John Chrysostom, who is often quoted in these matters–spoke to parents about the proper instruction of their children, not to youth pastors. To the best of my knowledge, there was not a separate youth ministry with a youth pastor, secretary, and treasurer in the Archdiocese of Constantinople under Saint John.

Family is the first and fundamental community in which a Christian must learn and nurture in his or her heart the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23 RSV)

The spiritual growth of every child is best facilitated in a strong, loving, and supportive Christian family. 

A Christian family begins with the sacramental marital union of husband and wife. The “principal and ultimate goal [of Christian marriage is] the spiritual and moral perfection of the spouses.” (“The Mystery of Marriage in a Dogmatic Light.” Bishop Artemy Rantosavlievich. Divine Ascent: A Journal of Orthodox Faith. (Vol. 1 Nos. 3/4), 48.)

 

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Study Notes (14 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 14 January 2015

Notes from 14 JAN 2015 lecture on bioethics:

Embalming of a body routinely performed by funeral homes in the U.S. is a violent procedure in which blood is drained out and dangerous and harmful chemicals are pumped in instead. The blood of the human actually goes down the drain after being treated with chlorine. In the Scripture, blood is treated as very important and the substance that contains a creature’s life or soul. Christ Himself gives us His Blood in the Gifts of the Holy Communion. Without going too deep into theology, it seems that embalming goes completely against Christian anthropology and worldview and must be avoided. In those rare cases when embalming is unavoidable, blood must be preserved and placed into the grave with the body.

A Christian Ending is a handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition.

http://www.achristianending.com/

More on Orthodox burial: https://frsergei.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/funerals-and-memorial-services/

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Substance abuse, brain injuries, and chronic depression–all can decrease the function of the frontal lobes of the brain which negatively affects logical thinking, reasoning, and planning. This problem is especially compounded in people younger than 25 when the brain is still developing.

New research in neuroplasticity shows that the brain is able to heal to a great degree. In many ways the brain is not hardwired by substance abuse or even brain injury. It can recover much if its normal functioning by building new neuro-pathways. In Orthodoxy, we know the power of repentance. The original Greek work for repentance is metanoia–’the changing of the mind.’ And indeed, the mind, even the brain, can and does change–for worse if we choose to live in sin, and for the better if we choose life with God.

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Study Notes (13 JAN 2015)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 January 2015

In his introduction to our doctoral cohort, one of the speakers mentioned that many people in America are preoccupied with their bodies more than they are with their souls. The example he gave is of people who religiously go to the gym, spend many more hours working out than they do praying or attending church services, and spend a lot more money on gym memberships than they donate to the church. By these actions, the speaker proposed, they show what their true priorities are. And perhaps, some people truly do devote their lives to worshiping their own flesh by becoming “health nuts”; but it seems that workouts and gym memberships are not the only ways that people reveal their true priorities.

For some reason which I do not understand there is a custom among some Orthodox Christians to look down on people who take care of their health. But the same people do not seem to find it un-Orthodox when someone ruins his or her health. For whatever reason which I also do not understand it is considered perfectly Orthodox to consume large amounts of starchy, greasy, sugary foods–even during Great Lent (dark chocolate is lenten, is it not?). People can spend more money on nutritionally-empty products that ruin their health than they donate to their church and spend more time on the couch than they do in prayer or at church, and somehow no one accuses them of having wrong priorities. Or what about people who buy luxury cars instead of giving more money to their church or helping the poor? Or what about people who buy many more clothes than they actually need? Or what about people whose television sets are the latest and the largest (and the most expensive)? There are so many ways that people waste their time and money instead of praying or feeding the poor or helping the church, that it is rather odd that those trying to stay healthy and take proper care of the body God gave to them are singled-out as having wrong priorities.

When people do not take care of their health or even damage it through their lifestyle choices we do not accuse them of being un-Orthodox. But when people eat healthy foods and go for a jog every morning or workout at the gym we accuse them of loving their flesh too much. Something is wrong with this thinking. It seems to me that it is the people who suffer from gluttony and laziness who are the ones that love their flesh too much. They give in to its desires and pleasures. But healthy eating and exercise take a lot of discipline of the body, denial of the body, willpower to fight against the demands and urges of the body, asceticism, if you will. Everyone who tries to follow a healthy diet will attest to how difficult it is, and how much willpower it takes, and how it is very much like fasting. Everyone who regularly exercises knows how much effort it takes and how much energy it gives in return for being able to pray and attend services. But how much effort or willpower does it takes to eat a donut or to sit on the couch? And what spiritual benefit is gained from being overweight or from owning a large-screen television set?

Of course, the seminary speaker was not talking about people who just eat broccoli or go for a light jog in the morning. Also interestingly enough, the seminary has a very nice gym right on campus, and both of my professors this term regularly go to the gym. But I think that comments like that should be moderated lest these comments are misunderstood by the faithful to mean that exercise is bad and candy bars are good. Perhaps, there can be promoted an understanding that moderation is best in everything–time spent at the gym as well as amounts of cakes or french fries eaten or unnecessary clothing, or gadgets purchased. Balance and moderation may be a much better pastoral approach than the customary pseudo-monastic vilification of those Christians who choose go to the gym or the questioning of their priorities. Otherwise, what is next? Will we proclaim that people should not brush their teeth because that means that they value their flesh too much? And maybe cavities in the teeth should be seen as sent or allowed by God just like obesity, hypertension and diabetes? According to the CDC, adult obesity rate in the U.S. is 34.9% (that is more than one in every three people!). Perhaps, rather than questioning the priorities of those who choose to exercise in order to remain healthy and productive members of the Church, pastors could turn their efforts toward promoting the understanding of the human body as a gift from God to be respected and properly cared for.

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Study Notes (12 JAN 2015 / 2)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 January 2015

Notes from 12 JAN 2015 lecture on bioethics:

End-of-life care in the United States often includes great pain and heavy sedation, especially when someone is dying from advanced cancer. When it is not cancer, medical treatments can include feeding and breathing tubes which obstruct the person’s mouth. Even when a person is dying of old age with no other complications, a “failure to thrive” state may make the person unable to think clearly or to swallow. All of these circumstances may prevent a person from giving their last confession or receiving Communion.

It is very important not to wait! If your loved one is ill, especially if he or she is elderly and ill, it is extremely important to call a priest immediately. Let the priest come while your loved one can still give a confession and receive Communion. Perhaps, the illness will last a long time–the priest can continue to come once a week to give Communion to your loved one. Perhaps, the person will get better–he or she can come to church and give thanks to God for healing. Whatever may happen later, do not wait to call a priest today. The best way that we can show love is not by giving someone false hope or by bringing them “get-well-soon” cards, but by making sure that that have access to the sacraments of the Church when they need them.

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Study Notes (12 JAN 2015 / 1)

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 January 2015

Notes from 12 JAN 2015 lecture on youth ministry:

The foundation of a child’s worldview is formed in the first five years of life. This is why it is important to regularly bring babies to church. Children who were raised in the church from an early age will always feel at home there even if they go through a period of struggles later in life. Children who were kept away from church by their parents often feel uncomfortable in church. Children who are brought to church only rarely or not at all until they are older often want to leave the church immediately, cry, refuse to take communion and cause much grief to their parents.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6)

“Train up”–actively train, work with your child from an early age, do not neglect the task of actively teaching your child the way of Christian life and salvation

“a child”–a very young child; start working with your child from the earliest age; ‘a child’ does not mean ‘a teenager’; if you wait until your child is grown, it will be too late and you will have missed the formative years

“will not depart from it”–people go through different periods in their lives and some may fall away from God and the Church for a time; but if they have a solid foundation that their parents gave to them from an early age, they will always have a path to return to their roots, to God, and to the Church

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Is It Good to Watch TV?

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 December 2014

Most people today consume a lot of various media content. This may be in the form of television shows, movies, music, books, magazines, the internet, and, perhaps some other forms of media of which only teenagers are aware. Most people are aware that some content–such as pronography, for eample–is not compatible with the Christian faith, even if they are not sure why this is. But in many other cases, it may be difficult to determine whether a movie or a song is appropriate, or whether it is compatible with the Christian faith. I hope that the following points will prove helpful in this matter.

YOLO

That is correct: you only live once. Somehow, this very helpful reminder has become a license to do things that one would otherwise be prudently-hesitant to do. But this catchy phrase should really remind you that there is a limited amount of time that you have in this earthly life. We rarely value this time, even though on a smaller scale, we all understand what it is to have a large task and very little time to finish it. We all know what it is like to work against a deadline (think of writing a paper the night before it is due). It is the same in our lives: we are working against a deadline. This deadline is our physical death, and the task is truly great–we must prepare for life with God. And this means that we must have our priorities in an order that will help us complete this great task. Now think of how much time you can spend watching useless television shows, movies that excite your senses in the moment but leave you with nothing worth having two-and-a-half hours later, or browsing other people’s lives on social media, instead of living your own. If you spend only one hour each day on this (many people spend a lot more!), that is an entire day missing out of your month, or an entire week out of a year. Maybe this does not sound like much, but it amounts to an entire year by the time you are fifty–a whole year completely wasted! If you were given a year to do whatever you wanted, would you really just sit on a couch watching TV and “liking” other people’s FaceBook posts? So, this is the first problem: television wastes a lot of time that can be much better spent living the life that God gave us for a specific purpose: to learn to be with Him.

You Are What You Eat

We often have a lot of good sense about what we eat. If something is fresh and healthy we eat it. If something is rotten or poisonous, we stay away from it. And we know that if we eat something poisonous, we will become ill and can even die. Why, then, do we not have the same good sense about our brains? Why do we allow things that are poisonous to enter into our minds? What we allow to enter into our minds through the eyes and ears can be even more dangerous than bad food. Bad food can only afflict our bodies; bad television can corrupt our minds and souls. Well, is it ok to watch something that is only “a little” bad? Is it ok to eat food that is only a little spoilt? We would not do that. We would not take the chance of getting sick. Why not apply the same wisdom when it comes to our minds? Once you see something, you cannot unsee it. Your stomach can vomit, but your mind is not so easily cleansed.

Many television shows and movies are not produced for our benefit. Their goal is to earn money for those who produce them. And producers will appeal to every base and sinful passion in order to keep our attention. There is a reason why shows are steadily becoming more sexualized and violent–sex and violence capture and keep people’s attention. But they also introduce sin into our minds. This sin in the form of thoughts and memories remains in our brains long after the show is over, and buries itself deeper into our being. In this we see that “we are not just struggling with bad habits, pornographic television, and the various weaknesses of our bodies. We are also struggling with evil spirits, and we must take the fallen angels and this struggle seriously.” Media influence on our minds is tremendous. Often people will believe a lie just because they saw it on TV, become accustomed and desensitized to sin just because “everyone” in movies is doing it, or go and buy something that they had no idea existed, but an advertisement told them that they deserved it and had to have it.

What to Do About It

  1. As Christians, our primary goal is life with God. Make a rule to spend at least as much time on your spiritual life as you do on entertainment. This spiritual life has many different expressions: prayer, reading from the Scripture, participating in church services, or helping and supporting other people. But it is important that in fifty years, you will not have spent an entire year of your life sitting in front of a screen, but instead working on your relationship with God.
  2. Guard your soul at least as well as you guard your stomach. Be vigilant about what you put into your mind at least as much as you are vigilant about what you put into your body, and even more so, because your soul is at stake. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Php. 4:8).
  3. Try technology-free days. Perhaps, once-a-week, perhaps, once-a-month, but try turning off your television, telephone, computer, whatever other device and engaging with the world which God has so beautifully fashioned. The best time for limiting technology distractions and time wasted is our fasting periods. In Russian, the word for ‘fast’ is the same as the word for ‘guard.’ Be on guard, guard your soul from those who want to exploit the weaknesses of your nature for their personal gain and from demons who want you to be as filled with filth as they are.

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Useful Information For Those Who Fast

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 June 2014

Greetings on the beginning of the Apostles’ Fast 2014! Here is some useful information for those who keep the fast. I will try to add a new item every one or two days.

  • Spirulina has more protein than beef! 100 g of beef has only 26 g of protein, but 100 g of spirulina has 57 g of protein.
  • One serving of steamed goosefoot (aka lamb’s quarters, chenopodium album, лебеда садовая) contains 60% of the vitamin B1, 40% of the vitamin B6, 60% of the calcium and 70% of the magnesium daily recommended intake.
  • Fasting For Non-Monastics (click here)
  • 100 g of kale contains 15% DV of calcium and 8% of iron. It even has 4.3 g of protein!
  • If you do not like to eat kale plain, here are a couple of recipes for smoothies from simplegreensmoothies.com:

Recipe 1

2 cups kale, fresh
2 cups water
2 cups pineapple
1 banana
2 tablespoons coconut oil

Blend kale, water and coconut oil until smooth. Next add the remaining fruits and blend again.

* Use at least one frozen fruit to make the green smoothie cold.

Recipe 2

2 cups kale, fresh
2 cups water
3 bananas
1/4 avocado

Blend kale and water until smooth. Next add the remaining fruits and blend again.

* Use at least one frozen fruit to make the green smoothie cold.

  • Quinoa, which is also a chenopodium (goosefoot, лебеда), is a lenten source of complete protein (8 grams in a cup of cooked quinoa) and an excellent source of iron (15%), magnesium (29%) and vitamin B6 (10%).
  • 1 cup of cooked buckwheat (гречневая каша) contains 6 grams of complete protein (and this is in addition to 20% of iron, 20% of vitamin B6, and 98% of magnesium!).
  • A good explanation of what makes a complete protein can be found herehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complete_protein
  • Incomplete sets of amino acids eaten within 24 hours are combined in the body to make complete protein. For example, rice for lunch and beans for supper will provide the body with complete protein just like rice and beans eaten together.
  • Soy beans contain complete protein. 1/2 cup of firm tofu has 10 grams, and 1/2 cup of soy tempeh–15 grams of complete protein.
  • “And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt, and put them into a single vessel, and make bread of them.” This recipe from Ezekiel 4:9 makes a complete protein.

 

 

to be continued…

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NOW ON KINDLE: There Is No Sex in the Church!

Posted in News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 7 May 2014

BookCoverPreview

NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE

There Is No Sex in the Church! On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender in Orthodoxy.

Please follow the link to read it on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K5RU3T6

Readers’ Comments:

–This book is a catalyst for a much-needed conversation in the Orthodox Church. I find it very insightful and fascinating.

–Father Sergei Sveshnikov does not offer definitive answers in this book –rather, he offer subjects for exploration. These are talks from the heart –scholarly, humorous, and with the distinct savor of Holy Orthodoxy. A good companion to the recent books by Father Lawrence Farley (“Feminism and Tradition” and “One Flesh”).

–Fr. Sergei takes a very fair approach in his analysis of sexuality within the Orthodox Church- a subject that is rarely discussed directly. As an Orthodox Christian with a Master’s in Religious Studies, I highly recommend his work.

Follow this link to see other books and articles by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov: https://www.amazon.com/author/sveshnikov

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New Low Price on “Break the Holy Bread, Master!” [Kindle Edition]

Posted in News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 6 May 2014

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New Low Price on the Kindle Edition of “Break the Holy Bread, Master!”

Get it now for just $2.99!

Follow the linkhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B004Z8N5DC

Follow this link to see other books and articles by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov: https://www.amazon.com/author/sveshnikov

 

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Prayer: A Personal Conversation with God? [Kindle Edition]

Posted in Articles, Practical Matters by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 5 May 2014

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Prayer: A Personal Conversation with God?

What is prayer and why we pray

AVAILABLE NOW ON KINDLE

Please follow this link to read it:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K57YSDI

Follow this link to see other books and articles by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov: https://www.amazon.com/author/sveshnikov

 

 

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Fasting for Non-Monastics [Kindle Edition]

Posted in Articles, Fasting, Practical Matters by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 27 December 2013

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AVAILABLE NOW ON KINDLE FOR $1.44:  

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K5B0GF8

INTRODUCTION

A curious phenomenon can be observed in the interactions between pastors and their parishioners at the beginning of each major fast of the Church. Pastors attempt to call their parishioners’ pious attention to the spiritual heights of fasting: the fighting against sin, the conquering of passions, the taming of the tongue, the cultivation of virtues. In turn, parishioners pester their pastors with purely dietary questions: when fish is allowed, whether soy milk or soy hotdogs are Lenten foods, whether adding milk to coffee is breaking the fast, or whether there is some dispensation that can be given to the young, the elderly, those who study, those who work, women, men, travelers, the sick, or those who simply do not feel well. In response to the overwhelming preoccupation with dietary rules to the detriment of the spiritual significance of fasting, some pastors, seemingly out of frustration, began to propose in sermons and internet articles that dietary rules are not important at all: if you want yogurt during Lent, just have some as long as you do not gossip; if you want a hamburger, then eat one, as long as you do not devour a fellow human being by judging and backstabbing. Unfortunately, such advice rarely helps eradicate gossip, judging or backstabbing. Rather, it seems to confuse people into thinking that since they have not yet conquered these and many other vices in their hearts, they do not have to fast from hamburger either. Thus, I would like us to discuss the very topic which fascinates so many lay people: what the fasting rules are and how they are to be followed by those of who have not taken the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

(more…)

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September Is Marriage Month / Сентябрь-месяц святого супружества

Posted in News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 August 2013

SCROLL DOWN FOR ENGLISH

СЕНТЯБРЬ—МЕСЯЦ СВЯТОГО СУПРУЖЕСТВА

В сентябре отмечается память сразу нескольких пар святых супругов: святых мучеников Адриана и Наталии (8 сент.), святых Петра и Февронии Муромских (15-го сент.), пророка Захарии и праведной жены его Елизаветы (18 сент.), и святых и праведных богоотец Иоакима и Анны (22-го сент.).

В связи с таким изобилием благодатных примеров святого супружеста, объявляем сентябрь месяцем святого супружества в нашем приходе!

За каждой воскресной Литургией (кроме 1-го сентября) после чтения Евангелия будут возноситься особые молитвы о супругах, а также особые службы и молитвословия в дни памяти святых супругов. Все особые службы, содержащие молитвы о супругах и супружестве, отмечены в расписании знаком * (см.расписание).

Да благословит Бог брачный союз православных супругов, и да управит его во святой образ Христа Своего и Его Невесты-Церкви!

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SEPTEMBER IS A MARRIAGE MONTH

In September, we commemorate the memory of several pairs of holy spouses: holy martyrs Hadrian and Natalia (Sep. 8), saints Peter and Fevronia of Murom (Sep. 15), holy prophet Zacharias and his righteous wife Elizabeth (Sep. 18), and the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna (Sep. 22).

In recognition of such an abundance of grace-filled examples of holy marriage, we declare September to be a Marriage Month in our parish!

At each Sunday Liturgy (except September 1), following the reading of the Gospel, there will be special petitions for spouses proclaimed during a litany. Also, special services and prayers will be held on the days of the commemoration of the saints. All special services are marked in the schedule with the sign * (see schedule).

May God bless marriage unions of Orthodox Christians, and may He lead them to the holy image of His Christ and Bride the Church!

NOTE: THE SCHEDULE OF SERVICES IN ENGLISH WILL BE AVAILABLE SOON!

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An Interview About Sexual Identity on OCN

Posted in Interviews, News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 July 2013

Orthodox Christian Network

“Sexual identity is all over the media right now, but where is the Orthodox voice on gender and sexual identity when we turn on the news or read the papers? Here to talk about one news story that’s getting national attention is Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov of Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia Orthodox Church in Mulino, Oregon.”

The interview begins at minute 11 of the track.

Listen to the Interview! (click here)

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See also:

The Problematics of Orthodox Sexuality

and

An Interview About Gay Marriage on OCN

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Help Our Church!

Our church is the first church in the world dedicated to the memory of the holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia, and it is the only Russian-speaking Orthodox parish in Oregon.

Our church exists solely on donations.

Support our church! Make a small donation today!

To donate through PayPal, click here

Or mail a check to Russian Church, PO Box 913, Mulino, OR 97042

Click this link for the donation page

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There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

Posted in News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 30 June 2013

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!:

On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

This work is a collection of essays written over the years on topics related to human sexuality and gender issues within Russian Orthodox Christianity: marital sex, homosexuality, ritual impurity, and others. In an introduction to one of the sections, the author writes:

“…Having written a couple of opinion papers touching on the difficulties of discussing matters of human sexuality in the context of the Russian Orthodox Church, and having pointed out the existence of a wide spectrum of opinions on what Christians should do in bed—ranging from the strictest and almost total prohibition of any form of sexual behavior with possible exceptions for the most penitentiary of position and then only a few times in a lifetime specifically for the purpose of procreation, to an attitude of total permissiveness brushing off any questions with assertions that the marriage bed is undefiled and whatever married people do in their bedroom is all blessed—I have, quite naturally, been asked to clarify my own position on what should and should not be allowed… I should like to discuss three topics: 1) the idea that a husband and wife should attempt to live “like brother and sister,” that is to say, abstaining from sex altogether or limiting it only to specific times and forms necessary for procreation; 2) the idea that a husband and wife can do whatever they want as much as they want in the privacy of their bedroom and none of it is the Church’s business; and 3) a possible middle ground which does not reject the joy of the married state moderated by a certain measure of ascetic discipline of the body and the soul…”

WARNING 

This book deals with adult subject matter and is intended for adult readers. If you are offended by the discussion of human sexuality, this book is not for you. Some sections of this book contain very graphic language and reader discretion is strongly advised.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Contents: (more…)

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An Interview About Gay Marriage on OCN

Posted in Interviews, News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 June 2013

Orthodox Christian Network

“Join Fr. Chris as he speaks with Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on the topic of gay marriage. Why does the Orthodox Church hold the view it does? How do we communicate that view with Christian love? You won’t want to miss this open and honest conversation!”

Listen to the Interview (click here!)

+

See also:

The Problematics of Orthodox Sexuality

and

And Interview About Sexual Identity on OCN

Thinking Out Loud About Gay Marriage

+

Help Our Church!

Our church is the first church in the world dedicated to the memory of the holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia, and it is the only Russian-speaking Orthodox parish in Oregon.

Our church exists solely on donations.

Support our church! Make a small donation today!

To donate through PayPal, click here

Or mail a check to Russian Church, PO Box 913, Mulino, OR 97042

Click this link for the donation page

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Help our church!

Posted in News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 April 2013

Our church is the first church in the world dedicated to the memory of the holy new martyrs and confessors of Russia, and it is the only Russian-speaking Orthodox parish in Oregon.

Our church exists solely on donations.

Support our church! Make a small donation today!

To donate through PayPal, click here

Or mail a check to Russian Church, PO Box 913, Mulino, OR 97042

Click this link for the donation page

Commemorations during the Paschal Liturgy on May 5, 2013 (pdf)

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There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

Posted in Articles, Practical Matters, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 16 April 2013

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!:

On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

This work is a collection of essays written over the years on topics related to human sexuality and gender issues within Russian Orthodox Christianity: marital sex, homosexuality, ritual impurity, and others. In an introduction to one of the sections, the author writes:

“…Having written a couple of opinion papers touching on the difficulties of discussing matters of human sexuality in the context of the Russian Orthodox Church, and having pointed out the existence of a wide spectrum of opinions on what Christians should do in bed—ranging from the strictest and almost total prohibition of any form of sexual behavior with possible exceptions for the most penitentiary of position and then only a few times in a lifetime specifically for the purpose of procreation, to an attitude of total permissiveness brushing off any questions with assertions that the marriage bed is undefiled and whatever married people do in their bedroom is all blessed—I have, quite naturally, been asked to clarify my own position on what should and should not be allowed… I should like to discuss three topics: 1) the idea that a husband and wife should attempt to live “like brother and sister,” that is to say, abstaining from sex altogether or limiting it only to specific times and forms necessary for procreation; 2) the idea that a husband and wife can do whatever they want as much as they want in the privacy of their bedroom and none of it is the Church’s business; and 3) a possible middle ground which does not reject the joy of the married state moderated by a certain measure of ascetic discipline of the body and the soul…”

WARNING 

This book deals with adult subject matter and is intended for adult readers. If you are offended by the discussion of human sexuality, this book is not for you. Some sections of this book contain very graphic language and reader discretion is strongly advised.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Contents: (more…)

Comments Off on There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

Liturgy: parallel Slavonic / English Text (PDF)

Posted in News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 8 April 2013

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Thinking Out Loud About Gay Marriage

Posted in Articles, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 3 April 2013

Not long ago, I was invited to participate in a discussion on gay marriage on a radio program of Oregon Public Broadcasting. The occasion seemed timely enough—a proposition to legalize gay marriage was on a ballot in Washington, a neighboring state. A few days later, I found out that the main guest on the program would be Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Robinson had published a new book which was being introduced on the show. Naturally, the author received most of the airtime. The host, Dave Miller, did allow me a few minutes in which to represent my point of view—hardly enough to even begin to develop an intelligent argument. The issue of gay marriage, however, is most certainly here to stay. Thus, I have decided to put down a few thoughts on the digital equivalent of paper…

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

+

An Interview About Gay Marriage on OCN

Other Books by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

+

Support our church! Make a small donation today!

To donate through PayPal, click here

Or mail a check to Russian Church, PO Box 913, Mulino, OR 97042

Click this link for the donation page

 

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Symposium “Prayer in the Church Fathers”

Posted in News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 18 February 2013

Large crowds attend the Institute’s San Francisco Symposium

(http://www.sforthodoxinstitute.org/222-sf-symp-initialreport)

The Institute’s second regional symposium in San Francisco took place over the weekend of 16th-17th February at the Old Cathedral of the Holy Virgin, led by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, joined by Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg) and Fr. Serge Sveshnikov (click here for a program of the symposium’s events and talks). Some 200 participants took part in two full days of talks, panel discussions and Divine Services, focusing on the common theme of Prayer in the Church Fathers and in the life of Orthodox Christians today.

Following the pattern established by the Institute’s first San Francisco Symposium last year (entitled Living Icon: Symbolism in the Divine Liturgy), this year’s event brought together a collection of speakers to address a common theme from various viewpoints — historical, theological, practical and personal. With paper titles ranging from ‘Prayer and Creation,’ ‘The Fathers on the Beginnings of Prayer,’ ‘The Jesus Prayer in Daily Life,’ ‘Prayer: A Conversation with God?’ to ‘Prayer in Liturgical Worship and With the Holy Icons’ and others, participants were able to hear reflections on the life of prayer in Orthodoxy that aimed not only to expand their understanding of history and theology, but ultimately (and above all) to increase their love for prayer and preparation for growth in its practice.

This was exemplified by the central feature of the two-day symposium: the celebration of the Divine Services in common, at which symposium participants were joined by faithful from the parish community for the services, presided over by Metropolitan Kallistos and concelebrated by many participant clergy from the symposium. It was a joy for many to see the Old Cathedral packed to the rafters with faithful, eager to pray in common and receive the divine life of the heavenly Mysteries.

True to the mission of the Institute, the Symposium drew an authentically pan-Orthodox audience, with participants representing every Orthodox jurisdiction present in North America, together with several non-Orthodox participants. The combination of so many Orthodox cultures allowed for fruitful opportunities to explore differing traditions, discuss differences in practice and approach, etc. — but all within the deeply unifying experience of a common drive towards growth in the Orthodox life of prayer.

Following the conclusion of the two-day symposium proper, a special dinner event with Metropolitan Kallistos took place at the nearby New Cathedral of the Holy Virgin, at which the Metropolitan spoke on the engaging and unusual topic, The Place of Humour in Orthodoxy, reflecting on the nature of humour and laughter, and their relationship to the seriousness of Orthodox life.

Throughout, participants were able to experience expert talks, interactive discussions and question-and-answer sessions, short outings and pilgrimages, common meals, personal time with the speakers, and much more; and with letters already received at the Institute office via e-mail with comments such as ‘This event changed my life,’ and ‘never did I know that an educational conference could so profoundly affect my desire to pray with more depth and grow closer to God,’ we are hopeful that the Institute’s aim of fostering life in the Church through its educational activities will find itself well met by this weekend’s activities. Our sincere thanks to all our speakers, participants, and the generous and wonderful, self-sacrificing hosts at the Old Cathedral of the Holy Virgin.

Photos: Day 1

Photos: Day 2

http://www.sforthodoxinstitute.org/

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Support our church! Make a small donation today!

To donate through PayPal, click here

Or mail a check to Russian Church, PO Box 913, Mulino, OR 97042

Click this link for the donation page

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Meaningful Action

Posted in News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 14 December 2012

As reports of another mass shooting were reaching people on the West Coast, I think that I was not the only one experiencing shock and disbelief.  Oregonians are still trying to make sense of the tragedy that happened at the Clackamas shopping mall–only a quarter of a mile from my children’s school.  And now another shooting–this time at an elementary school.  Somehow, when senseless violence is directed at a random group of people, it seems easier (but not easy!) to handle this emotionally than when it is focused, concentrated, and specifically targeting children.  I must admit: I find myself utterly unable to make any sense of this latest act of unspeakable evil.

When people are faced with such overwhelming and difficult emotions, it is natural for them to try to do something.  Bloggers will blog, facebookers will update their stati with stuff like “Re-post if you….,” school principals will review their schools’ safety principles, and politicians will politick.  I wanted to write something, but things like “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” while certainly reflecting how I feel, do not seem relevant or somehow enough.  Instead, I really want to explore a phrase in President Obama’s speech which caught my attention. The President called for “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this.” (more…)

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On the Importance of the New Russian Martyrs

Posted in Interviews by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 February 2012
Sophia Moshura (PravMir.com): Why is it important for Orthodox Christians outside of Russia (Americans, Europeans) to revere the Russian New-Martyrs? We understand what they did for Russia, but why should they be revered outside of Russia? (more…)

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Life As a Sacrament

Posted in Practical Matters, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 December 2011

Русский: Жизнь как Таинство

A talk given at St. Herman Orthodox Youth Conference on 24 December 2011 in Ottawa, Canada

Introduction

We all know of the sacraments of the Church and recognize them as certain events or milestones in our Christian lives: we get baptized, we prepare for confession and Communion, get married, and some may get ordained to the holy priesthood…  These important markers provide us with the time and place to be face-to-face with God, to unite with Him within His Holy Church, His Body.  But what about the rest of our life?  Well, we pray for a few minutes in the morning and also in the evening.  But what about the rest?  All too often, our lives are fractured: there is the Christian part—Church sacraments and services, prayers and readings; and there is the secular part—school, work, a party at a friend’s house, a movie on Friday night—and the two parts seem to be as far apart as the east is from the west.  Indeed, what is so spiritual about cooking breakfast?  Or, how can one be (or not be) a Christian while brushing one’s teeth?  The very mechanistic separation between Church and the rest of life seems to be as commonplace in modern Christianity as the separation of Church and state.  But can there be another model?  Is there a way to reconcile the broken pieces of the modern fractured life and to live one whole and simple Christian life?  Here, we will discuss the meaning of the word “sacrament,” the role that sacraments play in our life, and also some ways in which we can guide and shape our everyday life toward a greater connection with God and His Church. (more…)

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Funerals and Memorial Services

Posted in Practical Matters by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 14 November 2011

Russian: Отпевание и панихиды 

Translated from Russian by Fr. Michael van Opstall

The final hours before death

The leaving behind of the earthly life full of suffering, and the translation into eternity is the most solemn moment in the life of any Christian. However, friends and relatives, sometimes removed from Christian traditions, bear the death of a loved one with great grief. They often lose their orientation and leave the important job of the setting an Orthodox Christian on his final path in the hands of a funeral home. (more…)

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Break the Holy Bread, Master [Kindle Edition]

Posted in News by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 7 May 2011

Break the Holy Bread, Master: A Theology of Communion Bread is now available in the Kindle edition

BREAK THE HOLY BREAD, MASTER

A Theology of Communion Bread

a book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

This work examines the history, theology, and praxis of the use of sacramental bread in traditional Christianity. From the Last Supper to the Great Schism, and from Christology to ecclesiology and Christian anthropology—the symbolism of bread has dominated Christian history and belief. What kind of bread did Christ offer to His disciples at the Last Supper? Why do Roman Catholics and the Orthodox disagree on how to bake bread? What is the significance of the symbolism of bread for Christian theology and praxis? This book addresses these and many other questions. Scholars and bakers, clergy and lay folk alike—all are invited to take a closer look at that which speaks of our unity—one loaf to represent one Body.

Published with the blessing of His Eminence Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America, Russian Orthodox Church.

“I am very pleased to offer my recommendation in support of Fr. Sergei’s work “Break the Holy Bread, Master.”  Within its pages, the reader will find a wealth of information that explains and outlines the historical and ecclesiastical development of the use of leavened bread in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  The thesis will benefit anyone who wants to learn more about the liturgical practice of both the Eastern and Western Rite.”

    † Theodosy, Bishop of Seattle, 26 February 2009

An interview for the Orthodox Christian Network: click here to listen

Jane G. Meyer’s review of the book for Ancient Faith Radio: click here to listen

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE KINDLE EDITION

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Sermon on the Day of the New Russian Martyrs (2008)

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 4 February 2011

Russian: Слово в день памяти свв. новомучеников Российских (2008)

In the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit!

Dear in Christ Fathers, brothers, sisters, and children,

Today we celebrate the memory of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, the heavenly intercessors for our parish.  Their memory is precious to us for many reasons—some personal, some that relate to the entire Russian Church.

Since ancient times, the Christian Church has been strengthened by examples of its martyrs’ unshakable faith.  These examples, passed down through generations of Christians, have nurtured and strengthened the Holy Church.  From the times of the Apostles, Christians have gathered around the holy relics of martyrs, celebrating their memory and looking up to their standing in faith despite torture and persecution as a source of strength and inspiration in their own spiritual lives. (more…)

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Sermon on the Day of the New Russian Martyrs (2007)

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 4 February 2011

Russian: Слово в день памяти свв. новомучеников Российских (2007)

Translated from Russian by Priest Michael van Opstall

Dear fathers, brothers, sisters, and children!

Today we celebrate the memory of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. This day is notable for us for several reasons.

A quarter of a century ago, the foundation of our church was laid in the memory of the Holy New Martyrs and under their prayerful protection. Ivan Vladimirovich and Lyudmila Raymondovna Assur founded this church in the memory of Ivan’s father, the New Martyr Vladimir, who was killed for preaching Christ. Metropolitan Veniamin (Fedchenkov), the well-known churchman and writer blessed New Martyr Vladimir to preach. The history of this small parish in its picturesque setting is similar to the mountains which are visible to the northeast: there have been peaks and there have been valleys. The ever-memorable Hieromonk Seraphim Rose once prayed at Divine Liturgy in this solitary place, and later heavy trucks roared along Route 213, destroying the usual prayerful silence. The parish grew and became strong in the Truth. We need not recall all of the days of difficulties, but there was a schism in 2001, the deep wounds of which are not yet healed to this day. By the prayers of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, may the Lord strengthen us, and may the trials which are sent to us be for our spiritual growth. (more…)

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On the Blessing of Homes On Theophany

Posted in Practical Matters by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 18 January 2011

Russian: Об освящении домов крещенской водой

Why Bless a Home?

The Orthodox Church teaches that we do not have two separate lives–a secular one and a spiritual one–but one human life, and that all of it must be holy.  We must not be Christians for just a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, spending the rest of our life godlessly, that is to say, without God.  The person who has united with Christ in the sacrament of baptism cannot be a part-time Christian, but must be faithful to Christ everywhere and at all times–in church, at work, at home, in relationships with other Christians, and in those with non-Christians–we must be faithful to Christ in the fullness of our life.

The Holy Orthodox Church teaches us that a temple is not only a building in which we worship, but that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16); that the Body of Christ is not only that of which we partake at the Divine Liturgy, but that we are the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27).  And just as the Gifts of the Eucharist are treated with reverence and kept in sanctified vessels in the altar, so should every Christian’s life be full of reverence and sanctity not only during a church service, but likewise outside the walls of the temple.  A Christian’s home must become a small temple, work–labor for the glory of God, and family–a small Church. (more…)

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There Is No Sex in the Church!

Posted in Articles, History, News, Practical Matters, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 January 2011

This paper explores the attitudes within the Russian Orthodox Church toward marital sex by putting the issue into historical,theological, and pastoral contexts.  It strives to begin a dialogue between the laity, married clergy, and monastic hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church about one of the important aspects of every Christian marriage–marital sex.

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy

+

Other Books by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

+

Support our church! Make a small donation today!

To donate through PayPal, click here

Or mail a check to Russian Church, PO Box 913, Mulino, OR 97042

Click this link for the donation page

Comments Off on There Is No Sex in the Church!

The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 12.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 December 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 12

Introduction

As we are slowly but steadily progressing through the service of the Divine Liturgy, I hope that we can keep one thing in sharp focus: the Liturgy is not an ancient memorial to people and events long gone, it is not an archeological artifact, and it is not a magical rite or a compilation of formulae designed to produce specific results when done properly.  Rather, the Liturgy is one of the most intimate expressions of our relationship with God.  And like any human relationship, our relationship with God requires that not only He shows us His love, but also that we respond in kind.  Therefore, one of the most dangerous things in Christianity is to become a spectator who observes all, but is not willing to participate.  Deacon Andrei Kuraev once likened such people to those who are terminally ill and know which medicine can save them; they know where to get it, they read studies and reports about its benefits, they know all there is to know about this medicine, but they do not take it themselves.  It is easy to see that knowing and partaking are two very different things and lead to two very different outcomes. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 11.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 4 December 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 11

The Small Entry, continued

The Holy Table

When the royal doors are opened for the Small Entry, the faithful are able to see into the altar.[1] The most prominent item in the altar is the holy table[2].  The modern holy table has much stylized beauty about it—glittery vestments, ornate crosses and Gospels, etc.—but its original simple purpose and meaning are still preserved in the Liturgy.  The holy table is just that—a table.  If we recall an icon of the Last Supper, we will remember that Jesus and His disciples are sitting or reclining at a table.  The earliest Christian catacomb frescoes also depict Christians sitting or reclining around a table during the Eucharist.[3] Thus, the modern holy table is the heir of that ancient table in the Upper Room[4] or a Roman Catacomb which bore the Food of Life, the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist.  In the course of the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Gifts are placed onto the holy table, consecrated, and then distributed to the faithful in Holy Communion.  Often, the Eucharist of the Early Church was served on the sarcophagi containing the relics of Christian martyrs, or at their burial sites.  Today, we also serve our Liturgy on the relics of Christian martyrs—they are placed inside the holy table or sewn into a cloth called the antimins[5] which is then placed onto the holy table. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 10.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 28 November 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 10

Introduction

Whereas during the singing of the first two antiphons the clergy and faithful just stand, the third antiphon is different both in its content and in the sacramental act that takes place during it.  Because the clergy begin to do something during the third antiphon—walk in and out of the altar, but the faithful typically remain standing just as they do for the first two, there is a possibility of a disconnect between the actions of the clergy and the participation of the lay people, or lack thereof.  In this lesson, we will learn about the content of the third antiphon, its place in the Liturgy, and the meaning of the clergy’s movements. (more…)

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Nativity Fast and Thanksgiving Turkey

Posted in Practical Matters by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 23 November 2010

Russian: http://osergii.wordpress.com/

Published on Orthodoxy and the World

In two days, on November, 25, America is going to celebrate Thanksgiving Day which has a very significant role in American families because it is one of the few times a year that the family gets together. Thanksgiving Day is also called a Turkey day because it usually involves a meal with turkey or at least a more elaborate meal. Most American Orthodox Christians started the Nativity Fast on November, 15. How can an Orthodox Christian navigate these family gatherings, often with family who are not Orthodox, and still keep the Nativity fast? (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 9.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 22 November 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 9

Introduction

The first three sacramental prayers that we discussed in the previous lesson showed us some very important things.  First, their “secret” is the truth about God that we as Christians are supposed to proclaim from rooftops.[1] Second, we as Christians need to know this truth for our own spiritual benefit and in order that we may proclaim it.  What good is a lamp if it is hidden under a bushel?[2] And again, “there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.”[3] In this lesson, we will continue our discussion of the first part of the Liturgy—the Liturgy of the Catechumens. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 8.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 November 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 8

Introduction

According to the current practice, while the deacon proclaims the petitions of various litanies during the Liturgy, the priest “secretly” recites other prayers.  These prayers are even called the secret prayers.[1] This, however, may be a misunderstanding.  In the early Church, Christians indeed hid from persecution and often participated in the sacraments—such as the Eucharist—in secret.  However, this was not in secret from each other, but in secret from those who were not Christian.  Additionally, some of the Christian knowledge, especially with respect to the praxis of the Eucharist, but also to some of the core Christian beliefs—as the latter are inseparable from the former[2]—comprised what was known as the disciplina arcani and was not revealed even to the catechumens until they were fully initiated into Church.  As we mentioned in the previous lesson, the catechumens had to leave the church before the Eucharist began, and as a symbol of the exclusivity of some of the Christian praxis, the deacon calls on the faithful to guard the doors—both of the temple and of our tongue—before the faithful join together in the recitation of the sacred wisdom—the Creed of the Orthodox Faith: “The doors!  The doors!  In wisdom let us attend!” (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 7.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 23 October 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 7

Introduction

In the previous lesson, we began our discussion of the Divine Liturgy with its very first words—the blessing given by the priest and the response of the faithful.  In this lesson, we will continue our discussion of the structure of the Liturgy and the fundamentals of the Orthodox faith revealed to us through this service.

The Liturgy consists of two parts: the Liturgy of the catechumens and Liturgy of the faithful.[1] The first part of the Divine Liturgy is called the Liturgy of the catechumens because in ancient times the catechumens attended this part of the service, but had to leave the church when the part called the Liturgy of the faithful began.  Catechumens are people who have decided to become Christian and are preparing for baptism.  In ancient times, this preparation consisted both of instruction in the form of classes, lessons, and lectures, but also of praxis, such as prayer and fasting.  The length of this preparation varied by century, location, and circumstance.  The Apostolic Constitutions, a document which was compiled at the end of the fourth century but is based on much earlier documents, contains the following rule: “Let him who is to be a catechumen be a catechumen for three years.  However, if anyone is diligent and has a good-will to his earnestness, let him be admitted [to baptism].  For it is not the length of time that is to be judged, but the course of life.”[2] (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 6.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 16 October 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 6

Introduction

The most common Liturgy used in the Russian Church is the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom (349-407).  But other Liturgies also exist, and some are used more or less frequently.  One of the most ancient Liturgies in use today is the Liturgy of the Holy Apostle James († 62).  The Russian Church also uses the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great of Caesarea in Cappadocia (330-379) and the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts attributed to Saint Gregory Dialogus (ca. 540-604).[1]

Most Churches that experienced Byzantine influence in their liturgical worship, and this includes the Russian Church, celebrate the Liturgy of Saint Basil ten times a year: on the five Sundays of Great Lent, on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday, on the Eves or the Feasts of the Nativity and Theophany—depending on the days of the week on which these feasts fall, and on the feast day of Saint Basil— 1 January according to the Church calendar.[2] The Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts is commonly celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent.[3] And the Liturgy of Saint James is celebrated on the feast day of the saint, but practically never in parish churches.

Many volumes of detailed studies have been written on the origins and histories of each Liturgy, but it suffices to say that it is more likely than not that none of the discussed Liturgies was actually “written” by any of the saints to whom it is ascribed.[4] Almost certainly, when we say “The Liturgy of the Holy Apostle James” or “The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom” what we actually mean is “The Liturgy of the Church of Jerusalem” and “The Liturgy of the Church of Constantinople.”  In the case of the Liturgy of Saint James, it was likely recorded in writing after the repose of the Apostle based on the unwritten liturgical tradition established by him.  Moreover, “the words, probably, in the most important parts [of the Liturgy of Saint James, and] the general tenor in all portions … [descended to us] unchanged from the apostolic author.”[5]

The liturgical traditions of the Churches in Caesarea and Constantinople[6] already existed by the time that Saint Basil and Saint John were born and were based on the tradition of the Church of Jerusalem.[7] Both saints—Basil and John—are credited with, perhaps, unifying, somewhat modifying,[8] and strengthening existing traditions through writing them down, but certainly not with composing their own Liturgies “from scratch.”  Thus, it is most appropriate to think of the Liturgy as a living tradition of the Church, which nourishes the entire community and is preserved, supported, and maintained by the entire community, including the Apostles and the Fathers who expressed the very foundations of the apostolic faith through the sacred words of the Liturgy.  In this course, we will focus mostly on the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom as the most common in the Russian Church, and refer to some parts of the Liturgy of Saint Basil where appropriate. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 5.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 9 October 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 5

Introduction

Having prepared ourselves, we are now ready to enter into God’s temple.  But let us now pay attention—there should be nothing mechanical in our actions, everything we do must be deliberate and intentional, filled with reason and meaning.  Let us return to the beginning: we are now ready to enter into God’s temple.  First, it is God’s.  We have been invited by the Creator of all—not just the Earth, and the stars, and the galaxies, but of the very space, and matter, and time, and amazing things of whose existence we cannot even guess—to enter into His innermost Holy of Holies, to enter into communion with Him, and to quite literally enter into His Body even as He enters into our bodies.  Second, it is a temple.  It is a space and time sanctified, set aside, for the service of God—and only and exclusively for this purpose.[1] (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 4.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 2 October 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 4

Introduction

Beginning with the next lesson, we will examine the structure of the Divine Liturgy.  We will not, however, concentrate on all of the actions of the clergy, the way a seminary student would learn how to serve when he is ordained a deacon or a priest.  Rather, we will focus our attention on the meaning of the various parts of the Liturgy, that is to say, the fundamentals of our faith contained in the Liturgy, and on the way that the faithful participate in the service.

In this lesson, we will briefly discuss how one must prepare for participation in the Divine Liturgy.  We will come up, as it were, to the very door of the temple, without entering in until next Sunday.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (Mark 1:3)

Every good deed begins with preparation, and so does the Liturgy.  The daily cycle of services in the Orthodox Church does not begin with the Liturgy—it culminates with it; it finds its highest point in the Holy Eucharist.  In this course, however, we will not study the services that precede the Liturgy—a topic which we hope to cover next year.  This year, we will fast-forward directly to the service of prothesis,[1] also known by another Greek word—proskomedia, or “an offering.”  But first, let us discuss what is necessary to begin the Divine Liturgy. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 3.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 18 September 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 3

Introduction

In the previous lesson, we undertook the difficult task of defining some key terms for our discussion of the Eucharist.  As tedious as this task was, it allows us to come closer to the main topic of this course and begin our study of the Eucharist.  As we discussed earlier, the Eucharist is a sacrament or even The Sacrament—it is the covenant between God and His people, the means by which Christ enters into us and we enter into His Body—and the two shall be one flesh.  Thus, we uncover one more meaning of the word sacramenta covenant.

In our discussion of sacraments we noted that there seem to be many sacraments of which Christians partake, but really there is only one—the sacrament of our salvation.  We can now apply the same paradigm to covenant.  God has established many covenants with the human race: the covenant with Adam, the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the covenant with the patriarchs, the covenant with Moses, and many others.  But if we examine all of these covenants, we will realize that they are not separate covenants, but instead the same covenant between God and man, which was confirmed and reassured at different times and in different ways.  Let us now try to place the Eucharist in the context of only three sacred covenants: the covenant of Adam, the covenant of Moses, and the covenant of Christ. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 2.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 September 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 2

Introduction

Before we begin our study of the Liturgy and the foundations of our faith expressed through this service, we must define a few key terms that will help us in our discussion: sin, Eucharist, sacrament, baptism, and repentance.  Because this course is designed for people who are not theologians by training and is not intended to produce professionally trained theologians, our definitions and discussions will necessarily be incomplete.  We will try to examine only a few of the key ideas in ways that are easy to understand, but I urge all students to note things that seem interesting, ask questions, refer to the works of the authors whose names are mentioned in the lessons, and study the source texts directly. (more…)

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The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith. Lesson 1.

Posted in The Law of God: Foundations of the Orthodox Faith by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 5 September 2010

English-language supplement for the Law of God classes for adults at the Holy New Martyrs of Russia Church in Mulino, OR

Lesson 1

Introduction

When we visit different places, if we pay attention, we can usually tell to what purpose a certain place is dedicated, and what different people find most important or interesting.  At a library, we see shelves with books and comfortable chairs with lamps—this place is designed for storing books and allowing people to enjoy reading them.  At a university, we see large rooms with many seats and a lectern in front of them—this place is designed for allowing professors to lecture students.  At a concert hall, we also see many seats and a stage in front of them—this place is designed for allowing musicians to perform for spectators.  And at a friend’s house, we may see posters of a famous actor on every wall—this tells us that our friend likes this actor, finds him interesting, and spends time reading about him and watching his films.  It is much the same with Orthodox Christians: by observing how we build our churches, how we decorate them, and what we do, we can learn a lot about what we see as most important to us, what we are most interested in.  It does not at all mean that we are not interested in anything else—quite the opposite: we enjoy good books, good music, and good films.  But our relationship with our God is more important than all other things put together, and we express our understanding of this relationship in church. (more…)

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The Feast of the All-Merciful Saviour

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 2 August 2010

1/14 August 2009

All-Merciful Saviour Monastery, Vashon Island, WA

Those who are lucky enough to call this monastery their home parish, and those who came here from other cities and towns in order to partake of the sanctity of this holy place—I greet you with the Feast of the All-Merciful Saviour and His Most Holy Mother. (more…)

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Saint Seraphim will help!

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 August 2010

Russian: http://osergii.wordpress.com/

A talk given at the celebration in the Western American Diocese on 2 August 2003, Monterey, California

One of the organizers of the celebration of the glorification of Saint Seraphim of Sarov was a Russian patriot, General Vladimir Feodorovich von der Launitz, governor of Tambov in 1903. The General devoted his whole life to serving the Tsar and his Fatherland, and was eventually killed by a terrorist revolutionary while leaving a church. When he was asked how such a grand ecclesiastical celebration as the glorification of a saint can be organized, Vladimir Feodorovich crossed himself with a sweeping motion and responded, “Saint Seraphim will help!” These words of the Russian nobleman of an ancient boyar family were meant to express that which united over three hundred thousand people gathered from all corners of Russia in the Sarov monastery in July 1903: the hope with which the faithful turn to the God-pleasing saint for almost two centuries now, beseeching him for prayers and intercession before the Lord. (more…)

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Rauschenbusch’s “The Social Principles of Jesus” and the Identity of Western Christianity

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 10 July 2010

It is said that Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) was “the leading spokesman for the theology of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism” (from the introduction by Pelikan, 586).  Although a Baptist minister, Rauschenbusch apparently rejected biblical literalism in favor of historical criticism—a method of biblical analysis that originated in Rauschenbusch’s fatherland in the first half of the nineteenth century.  This method, quite popular even today, allowed Rauschenbusch to see the Gospel through the prism of the contemporary understanding of history, which in the age of social revolutions was dominated by the struggles of the lower classes.  In a series of books and essays, Rauschenbusch applied principles he believed were found in the Gospel as calls for social reform that continue to ring true for many modern Christian theologians.  In “The Social Principles of Jesus,” Rauschenbusch’s last essay published in 1918, the author attempted to use his reading of the Gospel as a foundation for social philosophy.  It is this reading, however, that, in our view, makes the foundation rather shaky.

The problem is in the fact that Rauschenbusch’s historical analysis turns Jesus into a failed Jewish revolutionary, and the Church into a piece of corrupted machinery with aimlessly spinning wheels (587-8).  Of course, Rauschenbusch curtseys to the traditional notions of Christ’s divinity in the opening paragraph of the essay, but immediately announces His losing in the “great spiritual duel … between him and the representatives of organized religion” (586).  As such, however, neither Jesus nor His Church can serve as a foundation for anything, except perhaps something like Vladimir Lenin’s “we will follow a different path.”[1] (more…)

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Varietal or Generic? On William James’ “The Will to Believe.”

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 9 July 2010

For approximately a millennium, from the era of the first few Ecumenical Councils and through the Reformation, Christian faith was guided by a rather small number of established traditions.  This was not the case in the first few centuries of Christendom, as many competing views on core Christian teachings were vetted, and theologians sought ways of talking about new concepts and doctrines.  The result was not only the development of uniquely Christian ideas, such as the full humanity and divinity of Christ, but also the crystallization of a new theological language.  This new language gave new definitions to already existing philosophical terms and developed many new ones.  And as Christianity struggled to give precise definitions to such terms as hypostasis or ousia, among many others, strong traditions of Christian theology were established in part through the precision of language and clarity of thought.  Thus, the formation of traditional Christian theologies can be seen as the result of the polemic between the greatest thinkers that Christendom could produce.

A very similar process appears to have been restarted in the West, as post-Reformation Christendom fell apart into various creeds and theologumena.  And just as fitting definitions were sometimes elusive in antiquity, the language employed by modern thinkers is sometimes marked by a lack of clarity.  Apart from the issue of inclusivity—a type of thinking that purposefully avoids rigid definitions on the basis that someone is sure to disagree—some modern Christian theology often lacks definitions as if unintentionally.  Perhaps, this murkiness is due to a more intuitive understanding of faith that does not rely on reason as heavily as did the medieval scholastics.  More likely, however, this is due to a more simplistic approach to faith, rejection of the old dogmas, and a renewed process of finding “new and improved” definitions.  In this sense, in the last four hundred years Western Christian thought has been going through a process of discovering its own beliefs not unlike that of the first five centuries of Christendom.  Whether this is an ascent on the eternal spiral of human self-discovery, or the West’s attempt at reinventing the wheel is a topic for a different paper.  It suffices to say here that while some of the ideas born by modern Christian theologians do excite the taste with their freshness, many others fail to find their way out of the graveyard of ancient heresies. (more…)

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The Problem of the Central Persona in Eliot’s “The Waste Land”

Posted in Articles by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 2 July 2010

I must admit that faced with the task of writing a short paper on “The Waste Land,” I agonized over the difficulty of pinpointing a topic—the poem seems bizarre, to say the least, and defies standard analytical thinking.  I was certainly glad that I did not have to study the poem in school; although my wife, who did, could not recall either a line or a theme from the work.  Perhaps, like esteemed critics of old, I too approached the poem “structurally looking for underlying mystic, symbolic, or formal coherence” (Davidson 6). (more…)

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On Tithing

Posted in Practical Matters by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 July 2010

Russian: http://osergii.wordpress.com/

The Church is the Body of Christ, and just as Christ united in Himself human and heavenly nature, in the Church the heavenly is united with the earthly.  The Church is not only comprised of apostles, saints, and holy monks, but also of us—exactly in as much as we submit our earthly selves to the heavenly—”I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20); in as much as we live in Christ.  As the Lord builds His Heavenly Church through the saints, He builds the Earthly Church through us. (more…)

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The Third Sunday After Pentecost: Seek First His Kingdom And His Righteousness

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 11 June 2010

In today’s Gospel reading (Matt. 6:22-33), Christ urges us not to be anxious about our lives and bodies—what we shall eat, drink, or wear (25).  But how can this be, if we must eat and drink, and clothe ourselves?  Are we not earthly beings, who are bound by laws of biological existence?  Do we not come from our forefather Adam, who is dust (Gen. 3:19), and as he was so we also are (1 Cor. 15:48)?  This is true; we are descendants of Adam, and find ourselves in a fallen state.  We sustain our lives by devouring the created world, we wrap out bodies in that which is corruptible, our soul draws its inspiration from the lusts and desires of our bodies, and our spirit feeds on the passions of the soul.  This is the order of life that has become habitual to us, but it is not natural for us; God did not create us for such an existence. (more…)

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On the Significance of the Ritual of the Russian Orthodox Church Surrounding Death and Dying for the Grieving Process of the Bereaved

Posted in Articles, Practical Matters, Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 7 June 2010

Presented at the Pastoral Conference of the  Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church

San Francisco, California, 18 March 2008

Imprimatur: † Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America

Introduction

For them that mourn and grieve who look for the consolation of Christ, let us pray to the Lord! (From the Great Litany during the Panikhida or the Requiem Service)

This workshop was designed to be presented to the clergy of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad during the Spring 2008 Lenten Conference in San Francisco, California.  The purpose of the workshop is to provide the clergy with another tool in their work with grieving parishioners and their families as well as to raise the level of awareness of the stages of the process of grieving and the healing properties of the Church rituals which may be explored in relation to the grieving process.  As Lundquist writes in Ethnic Variations in Dying, Death, and Grief: Diversity in Universality, “death [in the dominant culture of the U.S.] is frequently treated as a taboo topic in conversation” (32).  This cultural conditioning of Orthodox Christians living in the U.S. goes against the millennia-old tradition of the Church Who reminds Her children that death is the ultimate culmination of the earthly life of every human.  The conversation about death, therefore, must be continued and supported within the Church which teaches, “in all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin” (Sirach 7:36 NRSV).  The participants of the workshop were invited to look at the meaning of Church rituals not only as the expression of Her beliefs concerning the fate of the reposed, but also and primarily, for this exercise, as a pastoral tool in helping the bereaved to transform the period of grieving and loss into a period of spiritual development and gain. (more…)

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The Second Sunday After Pentecost: The Feast of All Saints of Russia

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 4 June 2010

Today, on the second Sunday after Pentecost, we continue to explore the meaning of sanctity in our lives through the examples provided to us by the Church.  The Church guides us in the celebration of the memory of the saints who are the closest to us in culture, and often in time.  The numerous holy princes and peasants, learned and simple, monastics and soldiers, hermits and martyrs, men, women, and children—they are our ancestors and neighbors, parents and children, past and present.  Sanctity in the holy Church of Christ did not end in some long-ago century, but has always persevered, and is set as a standard for our own lives here and now.  Sanctity did not stop with the Apostles, or the Fathers, or even the New Martyrs of Russia, but reveals itself in the lives of the saints here in North America, some of whom many present here can remember personally.  And those who remember, for example, the life of Saint John of San Francisco, know that sanctity is not in spectacular fireworks or drumbeat from the sky, but in taking one’s cross and following Christ (Matt. 10:38). (more…)

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The First Sunday After Pentecost: On Sanctity

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 3 June 2010

Today, on the first Sunday after Pentecost, the Holy Church celebrates the memory of all saints.  Just as Pentecost is not the pouring out of the Holy Spirit two millennia ago on the Apostles only, but on the whole Church—that is to say, on us—now as then; in the same way the Feast of All Saints is not a memorial or a tombstone on the graves of some ancients, but a call to sanctity for us here and now.  And if anyone is dead to this call, if anyone is a stranger to sanctity and considers it to be for someone else, in some other place, and at some other time, he must ask himself whether or not he is in the Church, the living and holy Body of Christ, or whether he is a tree that does not bring forth good fruit (see Matt. 3:10).  But what is sanctity?  And what does it mean to partake of it? (more…)

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Blessed Augustine’s View of Self

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 May 2010

It has been asserted that Saint Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) has had enormous influence on the formation of Western thought and Western civilization.  Some, as F.J. Sheed, for example, have even argued for St. Augustine’s “towering importance in the history of mankind” (Augustine 323).  It is not my goal in this paper to examine whether St. Augustine’s importance was indeed towering in the history of all mankind.  Nor do I wish to examine Jasper’s assertion that St. Augustine is “by far the most important hermeneut of the early Christian church”[1] (Jasper 39) from the position of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Both issues, however, are of utmost importance to our discussion, but the authors’ statements and my implied questions are merely rhetorical.  One fact cannot be denied: St. Augustine indeed played a prominent role in the formation of the Western mind.   

Sheed notes that St. Augustine’s was “the one light that shone steadily” for the seven centuries between St. Augustine’s death and the twelfth century, when “first-rate thinkers were once more in action in the Church” (Augustine 324).  Despite the lack of an obvious reference to the Western Church, the context of Sheed’s remark leads me to believe that he would not challenge a hypothesis that the East was nourished by its own lights, while being somewhat shaded from the rays of St. Augustine’s “enormous intellect” (Augustine 324) by the cultural and ecclesiastical divide between the two parts of the Roman Empire.  Although, even in the West, such theologians as John Scotus Eriugena, whom Sheed apparently considers a second-rate thinker, were studying the Eastern Fathers (Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus the Confessor, the Cappadocians, and others, in Eriugena’s case), and were not blinded by the illustrious Augustine.  In his discussion on the issue of the filioque, the Irishman apparently was not convinced by the Doctor’s arguments and preferred to search for answers, alas!—self-admittedly, in vain, elsewhere.  

Herein lies the area of my interest: if the East and the West are different (and I choose to presuppose that they are), and if the ecclesiastical, cultural, theological, and even intellectual divides have not been healed, despite centuries of pontifical[2] efforts, then it may be possible to find some early signs, some symptoms of the early stages of the looming Great Divorce, in the persona of St. Augustine of Hippo who “single handed… shifted the center of gravity” for the West (Martindale, qtd. in Augustine 324).  I do not wish to imply that St. Augustine’s work was the sole source of the estrangement between the East and the West—this matter is too complex to be addressed in a short paper.  But if St. Augustine’s influence in the West was as great as it is touted to be, then “cut off from its intellectual sources” in the East (Augustine 324), cut off from the ecclesiastical life within the Grace of concensus patrum, the West may have inherited not only the greatness of Bishop Augustine of Hippo, but also his individuality, peculiarities, oddities, and (ready?!)… flaws (!).  Quite apart from looking for straws in St. Augustine’s eyes—thankless pursuit indeed—I shall embark on a voyage of celebrating some of the differences in his and “the Easterns’” (as Pius IX referred to us in his [in]famous epistle) view of self. (more…)

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Ascension of Our Lord

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 May 2010

Russian: http://osergii.wordpress.com/

Today we celebrate one of the twelve great feasts of the Church, the Ascension of our Lord.  This feast, unlike immovable holidays, is directly related to Pascha and Pentecost.  Ascension crowns the celebration of Pascha and prepares us to receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

All this time, from Pascha to Pentecost, listening to the words of the Gospel and of church hymns, we as if again and again recall and relive the joy which encompassed the holy apostles.  Forty days from Pascha to Ascension they rejoiced in communion with the risen Savior (Acts 1:3): He came to them (Luke 24:36), stayed with them, ate with them (Luke 24:43), taught them and explained scriptures to them (Luke 24:45).  We also, keeping our paschal joy like the flame of a small candle, feel the Savior’s presence, commune with Him in the sacrament of the Eucharist, listen to the holy scriptures and teachings. (more…)

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The Healing of the Man Born Blind

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 8 May 2010

Русский: Исцеление слепорожденного

Christ is risen!

It is not for much longer that we will hear these marvelous words from the church ambo.  The all-Church celebration of this great solemnity, this salvific work of God is coming to an end.  Together with the angels in heaven, we sang the resurrection of Christ; together with Apostle Thomas, we called out, “My Lord and my God!” having met the Savior; together with the myrrh-bearers, we ran to the empty tomb, carrying our pain, our sadness, our sorrow and received the good news; like the paralytic, we were raised by Christ from the death of sin to pure life; and like the Samaritan woman who left her clay pot by the ancient well and ran to tell the people in the city about the coming of the Messiah, Christ urges us to leave the muddy waters of the worldly and the sinful and drink from the ever-flowing Divine source, leading us into eternal life. (more…)

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On The Parable of the Talents/Minas

Posted in Theology by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 5 May 2010

“He Put Before Them another Parable” (Matt. 13:24)

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. (Matt. 13:34)

Of all the passages in the Gospels, some of the best known and most often retold are probably the parables of Christ.  The stories of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Rich man and the Beggar Lazarus, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Talents and others have not only given rich homiletic material to preachers from across the full spectrum of Christian denominations, but have served as staples of Christian children’s education for many generations of the faithful and have become part of the collective cultural make up that has shaped the Christian world.

Perhaps due to this assimilation and acculturation of the Parables of Jesus within the Western mindset, many preachers and Sunday school teachers tend to forget the fact that Jesus was not an American televangelist and that his audience did not live in the American Suburbia.   Relatively recently scholars began the colossal work of putting many familiar stories into their proper first-century Palestinian context.  The shear amount of material uncovered by the historical social sciences will be enough for schools of theologians to sift through for years and decades to come.  Yet, as Richard Rohrbaugh writes in his recently published work The New Testament in Cross-Cultural Perspective (2007), very little work specifically on the parables of Christ “has taken into account recent efforts to use the social sciences in New Testament interpretations.  That is certainly the case with the parable of the talents…” (109) (more…)

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The Sunday of the Samaritan Woman: “Give me this water!”

Posted in Sermons by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 30 April 2010

Русский: Неделя о самарянке: «Дай мне этой воды!»

Christ is risen!

Last week we heard the Gospel story about the healing font in Jerusalem, and about Christ, the Source of all healings, raising a paralyzed man.  And, as if in unison with that man, we asked the Savior to raise our souls that are paralyzed by sins.  On Wednesday we celebrated Mid-Pentecost, recalling the Savior’s teaching at a synagogue that He had come to heal the whole man (John 7:23) and to give him life; and also, remembering that Christ is the Source of life (John 7:37), we blessed the waters, asking God to give us His healing grace through the visible matter of water.  Today, as if continuing to point to the salvific font, to the spring of pure water, the Holy Church offers us a Gospel reading about Christ which likens His coming to the water of life, which quenches all thirst and flows into eternal life. (more…)

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More to the Point: Should Nuns Light Their Icon Lamps?

Posted in Women in the Church by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 28 April 2010

As a continuation of the discussion started in my previous paper, “On ‘Ritual Impurity’: In Response to Sister Vassa (Larin),[1] I now would like to address some of the issues that have been raised in greater detail.  The problem that has been posed by Sister Vassa is as follows:

When I entered a convent of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in France, I was introduced to the restrictions imposed on a nun when she has her [monthly] period. Although she was allowed to go to church and pray, she was not to go to Communion; she could not kiss the icons or touch the Antidoron; she could not help bake prosphoras or handle them, nor could she help clean the church; she could not even light the lampada or iconlamp that hung before the icons in her own cell: this last rule was explained to me when I noticed an unlighted lampada in the icon-corner of another sister.[2]

The conclusion at which Sr. Vassa arrives after a study of early Church writings and contemporary opinions expressed by a handful of ecclesiastical bodies is that the rules surrounding “ritual impurity” are “a rather disconcerting, fundamentally non-Christian phenomenon in the guise of Orthodox piety.”  In my previous paper, I raised some very general concerns about Sr. Vassa’s methodology in addressing the issue of ritual impurity in the Orthodox Church.  In this paper, I wish to attempt to find some constructive ways forward…

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On “Ritual Impurity”: In Response to Sister Vassa (Larin)

Posted in Women in the Church by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 27 April 2010

I recently read an interesting paper by Doctor Sister Vassa (Larin) concerning the issue of ritual impurity in the Orthodox Church. This topic is extremely important both because the bodily functions that give rise to this issue have been around presumably since the fall of Adam and Eve and because they are not likely to go away any time soon, save for an imminent parousia.  Namely, Sister Vassa explores the attitudes in the Church toward menstruation, although the issue of ritual impurity is broader than that, and I shall return to this point.

In a sort of deconstruction of the Orthodox tradition with respect to menstruating women’s participation in the liturgical life of the Church, Sister Vassa briefly examines the evidence of this tradition and conflicting opinions from various sources—the Old Testament, the Protoevangelium of James, writings of the Church Fathers—and notes some of the recent developments which point to the instability of the tradition.  The conclusion to which Sister Vassa arrives is that ritual impurity “finds no justification in Christian anthropology and soteriology.”  But is this really so?  I believe that a few comments made by Sister Vassa deserve further examination.

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