Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

“A more perfect union”: Thoughts on the Election Day

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 8 November 2018

I went to vote last Tuesday. Many people did. And as I cast my vote, I remembered something that happened a very, very long time ago—almost too long ago to remember, something that almost seems as if it were from a different life.

I was a child growing up in the Soviet Union. It was an election day there as well. I was too young to vote, but an election day was a big deal, and I recall that very clearly.

It was late in the evening, and my parents were talking about getting ready to go to the polling place before it closed. The place was very close—only about 300 meters-or-so away, at the school where I attended.

While they were talking about getting dressed, our doorbell rang. It was the police officer assigned to our precinct. No, he was not rude, he did not shove an AK47 into my parents’ faces. In fact, I remember him being very polite and professional. Nonetheless, the police came to our door because my parents had not yet voted. They had to go.

As we all entered my school’s auditorium where the polling place had been set up, I remember it being festive, brightly lit, with red (of course, red!) carpets and table cloths, and with a large red box that had a gold emblem of the Soviet Union on the front (that easily-recognizable round one, with amber sheaves of grain surrounding the map of Eurasia from sea to shining sea).

I remember the ladies, the poll workers, all dressed up, one blond with a hairdo that she had clearly paid a lot of money for earlier that day at some salon, smiling and being very happy and polite. At least, I thought they were happy and polite. They gave my parents their ballots and directed them to a private booth. I suppose, my parents wanted to give me a lesson in civic duties as they showed me their ballots, let me touch them, and explained what the different parts were.

The ballots were printed on thick, fancy paper, with gold embossed letters and emblems at the top—much, much fancier that what I was given on Tuesday at my local polling place in Portage, Wisconsin. In very high quality jet-black ink, printed on the ballot, was one name of one candidate and a box to check next to his name. I very clearly remember that, as I remember my father smirking meaningfully when he showed it to me. Apparently, that was how it almost always was.

I was too young and it was too long ago for me to remember now what kind of an election it was or who was on the ballot. But the next day it was announced that the candidate won by a landslide—with almost 100% of the electorate voting to elect him. I am not quite sure why it was ‘almost’ 100%, except that to announce on national news that it was 100% would have been awkward and incredible. Maybe, some people just didn’t check the box rightfully assuming that it did not matter.

This was a “long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” I was young, there are surely things I do not remember correctly. But let us not forget what we have here in the United States, let us not take it for granted, and let us not become complacent. No our union and our system are not perfect. I always made fun of the phrase from the Preamble “a more perfect union”: “How can something be more perfect? It is either perfect, or it is not.” But now I see the wisdom of those who chose to use this term over any other. The ultimate perfection is likely unattainable—not by us, not in this life. But what we have is so good in comparison to so many other systems that it could be called “as perfect as we could make it, and we can make it even more perfect, if we work at it.” (There is a reason why caravans are moving toward the United States, not away from it—not even to Canada, not after Obama was elected, and not after Trump was elected.) Perfection—not heavenly perfection, but our, earthly, often less perfect, perfection—can indeed be a sliding scale. Things can indeed be more perfect, as long as we remain of the proper scale (unlike men, not all scales are created equal) and keep moving in the right direction. We should not stop; we should keep trying to make our union “more perfect… and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”


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Death to Halloween! (Very Scary!)

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 29 October 2018

It is that time of year again when Orthodox and some other Christian writers attempt to warn people about the evils of Halloween. They assert—and I have done no less in my much younger days—that Halloween is a pagan holiday, and thus everyone who participates in its celebrations by default participates in the ancient Gaelic harvest festival called Samhain (“summer’s end”). As I grew older I saw that the people who dress up as princesses and Marvel super heroes have about as much to do with devil worship (for this is often the claim) as people who send each other Christmas cards or Easter candy have to do with worshiping Jesus Christ. This is all that I will say about it, and it may be a topic for another time. For myself, I still do not see any need to celebrate Halloween any more than I do the Chinese New Year, the Parinirvana Day, Eid-al-Adha, or Yom Kippur. But I am no longer interested in writing pseudo-pious articles linking my neighbors’ children to devil worshipers for merely dressing up in costumes any more than I am interested in condemning Russian Orthodox Christians for making (and partaking of!) pancakes on Maslenista, since pancakes are an ancient pagan symbol of the cult of the Sun (round, yellow, hot—reminds of anything?).

However, the grinches of Halloween (of whom I am chief) just might see the death of it after all. And no, it is not our fiery blog posts and inspirational sermons that are killing the evil practice of carving pumpkins and exchanging miniature candy bars. No, the butcher of Halloween is the modern phenomenon of super-sensitivity and hyper-offendedness. It is insensitive to dress up as a princess because this is a class misappropriation and may offend real princesses. Likewise, one should not dress up as a prince or a knight, unless the same is in fact a prince or a knight. No more Count Dracula costumes—they may be insensitive towards ethnic Transylvanians and persons bearing the noble title of count. Definitely, no Cowboys or Indians—for very obvious reasons. The Little Mermaid costume may offend persons with sirenomelia. A pirate costume is insensitive to people who have been victims of real pirates. (And it may also offend Somali-Americans due to the Western stereotyping of Somali pirates in the MSM.) Certainly, no more skeletons, zombies, or any other costume with reference to injury or death, because they may trigger traumatic experiences in some people. And no, no more children dressed as teddy bears, cats, or any other animal—speciesism and misappropriation! No more black capes. Period. They offend Orthodox clergy. Obviously, nothing sexy due to the abomination of objectification! No more nurses, nuns, witches, firemen, or clowns. I should not have to go on; the pious reader will understand the principle by which any costume is inappropriate unless worn by the very actual person it pretends to portray.

Halloween decorations are no less harmful in our culture. Heads carved out of pumpkins risk offending people who are sensitive to all of the recent beheadings committed by Islamic terrorists. Fake hanging corpses are unacceptable because they trigger the historical trauma of lynching. Spiders and spider webs are offensive to people with arachnophobia; and the fake RIP tombstones are insensitive to those who recently lost their loved ones. No more scarecrows in the yard, because they may scare people who are scared of scarecrows. There simply is not a single piece of Halloween decoration that is not insensitive or outright offensive to someone!

It is very possible that in our lifetime, the greeting “Happy Halloween!” will finally be replaced with the neutral “Happy holidays!” and everyone will walk around dressed strictly as themselves, exchanging carrot and celery sticks. (Candies are offensive to people without dental insurance and may be a conspiracy of the dental lobby.) Perhaps then, Orthodox bloggers with stop writing about the horrors of Halloween and focus instead on the memory of the Evangelist Luke or Saint Joseph of Volotsk, whose memory we celebrate on October 31 (those on the new calendar will have a pick of several of the Seventy Disciples.)

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#MeToo Two

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 6 October 2018

As the Kavanaugh saga unfolds (he has not yet been confirmed as of the moment of this writing), a few more thoughts and observations can be added to my previous post which is quickly becoming outdated. (Alas! Such is the nature of social commentary—it becomes outdated almost before it can be posted.) Ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends have been enlisted in the battle on both sides, false accusers have come forward and have been debunked, and someone even volunteered to take the blame for the assault on Christine Blasey by claiming that it was he, not Brett Kavanaugh, who attempted the assault in 1982. Of course, if true, this will be an accusation against Christine Ford for making a false accusation against Brett Kavanaugh. This nesting-doll-style carousel appears to follow the pattern on the first #MeToo-er, Asia Argento, who accused Harvey Weinstein, was then herself accused by another actor, who was then himself accused by an ex-girlfriend… “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19) And while it is best not to comment on the substance of the allegations, since most of us know nothing of this matter that our favorite website of network did not tell us, a couple of thoughts do come to mind.

It is interesting that our society has divided into those who believe Christine Ford and those who believe Brett Kavanaugh. I always thought that matters of faith and belief are reserved for the realm of religion. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) Since when have Ford and Kavanaugh become prophets to be believed, or their testimonies become foundations of faith? Of course, it is understood that 36 years later there is little-to-none direct evidence (at least, none that could not be easily challenged). But the problem with turning to religious concepts of belief is that for the faithful, direct evidence is never very important. If it can be shown, for example, that the percentage of pilgrims who receive healing by visiting a holy relic, an icon, or a shrine is much smaller than the normal placebo effect in most medical trials, this would not affect the faith of the pilgrims or the spiritual significance of the relic or a shrine. Those are simply two different realms, different dimensions of human experience. It now appears that Ford and Kavanaugh have become objects of pseudo-religious fervor that cares little about objective reality and operates in the realm of subjective pseudo-spiritual experience. Ford and Kavanaugh are no longer relevant as persons; they have become banners in a war of sexes, placeholders in a pro- and anti-abortion debate, or something entirely different. Whatever it is, it may be helpful to recognize that this new social reality has acquired a religious dimension and as such is immune to logic, reason, or common sense.

Another curiosity is the absolute lack of a very important conversation. A 15-year-old girl drinking at a party with 17-year-old boys who are already, in her own words, “stumbling drunks”—is there a teachable moment here? No, I do not want to “blame the victim.” The 15-year-old Christine Blasey was not to blame for whatever happened, nor was she expected to have perfect judgment at that age, especially after drinking. No 15- (or17-) year-old can be expected to have perfect judgment. Unlike our politicians or the media, as a Christian minister, I may be able to (maybe not—we’ll see) get away with saying that this is another lesson that parents can teach their children. “Do not tolerate abuse”—yes. “Speak up”—yes. But also, if you are 15 and invited to a drinking party with 17-year-olds—don’t go. If you accidentally find yourself at a drinking party with 17-year-olds, and they are becoming “stumbling drunks”—call your parents. Yes, even if they get upset. It is better to be grounded for a month than to deal with PTSD for the next 36 years. I think that every parent who has a daughter knows what I am saying here. Perhaps, it is time to revisit a more traditional and old-fashioned approach to parenting, when 15-year-old girls and 17-year-old boys do not attend a party without some adult supervision. If you are a 17-year-old boy, and your friends are drinking, ask the 15-year-old girl if she would like you to walk her home or call her parents. I want to reiterate that this comment is in no way to blame Christine Blasey for getting groped or to excuse the behavior of her assailant. This is not at all a comment about blame but about basic safety. I may feel that I have a God-given right to stroll through any dark alley in South Chicago at 2 a.m., and that no one should ever blame me for doing so. Basic safety concerns, however, will prevent me from enjoying this God-given (and constitutional) right of mine without an overwhelmingly compelling reason. Some things are just common sense. Is this defeatist, and should we be demanding a brave new world in which a 2 a.m. stroll through a dark alley is just a walk in the park? I do not think so. It is good to envision a world without the flu, and it is also good to exercise prudence and prevention until such a world is achieved. It is good to “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come,” but it is also good to be fully aware of the Augustinian “but not yet” corrupting each and every one of us. This conversation may be as important for girls and boys as the one about consent, responsibility, and respect for one another.

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Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 18 September 2018

I am a firm believer that everyone should generally limit his or her comments to his or her area of expertise. I have written on numerous occasions about the strange fascination among some Orthodox Christians with marital or child-rearing advice coming from monastics who have never themselves been married or raised any children. This rather odd tradition seems just as absurd as would seeking advice on leading a good monastic life from a married lay person. And so, in this brief note prompted by the unfolding scandal surrounding the confirmation process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, I will do my best to avoid expressing any opinion on politics, which is clearly not my area of expertise.

What caught my attention in this political performance of “advice and consent” was the revelation of possibly-inappropriate behavior, possibly sexual in nature or, at least, with possible sexual overtones by Kavanaugh when he was in high school. Not to condone or excuse any illegal or abusive behavior (yes, for obvious reasons, I will make this and several more disclaimers throughout), but the very idea of a teenage boy behaving inappropriately or even sexually-inappropriately somehow does not sound entirely implausible.

Whether anything of this sort did or did not happen, or whether whatever happened (if anything did happen) rose to the level of criminal or abusive behavior is, very obviously, not for me to know or comment about. But I do find it relevant in the present moment in our society to ask the following question: if Brett Kavanaugh did in fact behave inappropriately as a teenager at a party 36 years ago, does this invalidate the rest of his life’s conduct and achievements and disqualify him from becoming the next Supreme Court Justice? Because, if it does not, then this allegation becomes irrelevant at this point and should be addressed quite separately from the confirmation process. The very same question can be asked about every single person whose career was put on the chopping block by the #MeToo movement. I think most people agree that Harvey Weinstein is a creep, but is Asia Argento’s allegation against Weinstein invalidated (along with all of her acting career) by the fact that #SheToo may have had sex with an actor, and an underage one at that? Is Garrison Keillor’s nearly half a century of creative work suddenly worthless to our culture because he may have (and probably did at least once in the last 76 years) had an incident of improper behavior? Should David Foster Wallace’s works be banned because he was a misogynist? Should we stop teaching Einstein’s theory of relativity because he, Einstein, was a racist, as his travel diaries reveal? Should India be converted back to being a British colony because Mahatma Gandhi, before he was a mahatma, volunteered to advance British colonialist aspirations in Africa during the Boer War? Dostoyevsky had a felony conviction. Tolstoy was a wealthy one-percenter and a heretic. William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway were drunks. The Apostle Paul was a co-conspirator in hate crimes against a religious minority, and Saint Peter denied Christ—not once, not twice, but three times! (As they say, once is an accident, twice a coincidence…)

In my mind, these are not idle questions in an era when Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the Little House children’s series and Albert Einstein are accused of racism. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington owned slaves. So did the Prophet Muhammad, who also consummated his marriage to the 9- or 10-year-old Aisha when he was 53 years old. The Buddha was a clueless and spoiled rich kid who married his cousin, got her pregnant, and then abandoned her and the baby in search of enlightenment. The Reverend Martin Luther King had numerous extramarital affairs. Pope Francis may have known something about a cardinal’s abuse of seminarians earlier than he now admits. In fact, considering that each pope was a priest and a bishop before becoming a pope, who knows what else may in time be revealed about Francis, Benedict, or JPII. Mother Teresa was the biggest client of the Vatican Bank with billions in deposits, which apparently never made it into the “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”

It would be rather silly to fantasize that Orthodox bishops and patriarchs are too much better than the average human being. Between the stories about everything from bad pastoral work and abuse toward priests and their families to the lack of chastity, to involvement in financial and political intrigues—and these are just the issues on the surface, out in the open, without digging too deep—all appears to point to the idea that our own hierarchy is mostly made up of averagely-flawed humans. Once again, I want to reiterate that any cases of criminal, illegal, or abusive behavior should be prosecuted by the proper authorities (which rarely includes Twitter). But can we ever expect any religious, political, cultural leader or any person whatsoever to be completely perfect and lacking anything embarrassing or inappropriate in their entire life? Can anyone live long enough and never-ever make any mistake? If it is now becoming acceptable to go back to one’s teenage years, as is the case with Brett Kavanaugh, and question one’s behavior at a high school party, can anyone at all be found without blemish? Quite apart from the fact that #MeToo has long turned into #He/SheToo–it is no longer raising awareness but, rather, leveling accusations–if we dig deep enough into anyone’s life, will we not find something that at least someone will find objectionable? If the Apostle Paul called himself a “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15—what was he hiding?), can any one of us be found to be anything but?

This avalanche of #MeToo revelations should not only lead to much-deserved punishments for those who have committed crimes or acted in an abusive manner, but it should also bring a sense of humility to all, as accusers find their own sins written in the dust on the ground (John 8:8)—albeit, in 140 characters or fewer. To be sure, we are called by our faith to confront others for the purpose of correcting them (Matt. 18:15). But as for condemning and casting stones—let us leave this task to those without sin. (Once again, this is not in any way to imply that criminal or abusive behavior should be left without prosecution—“For the authority does not bear the sword in vain!” [Rom. 13:4]) It is okay to acknowledge that Keillor is a good writer, even if he put his hand on a woman’s back. It is okay to be inspired by King’s sermons and to value his civil rights legacy, even if he struggled with infidelity. It is okay to like Esenin’s poems, even if it is likely that he wrote none of them while sober. And it is okay to allow for the possibility that Brett Kavanaugh may be a good judge, despite what he may have done at a high school party 30 some years ago, as abominable as it may have been. In fact, in Christianity, we allow for the possibility of redemption. A man who may have acted inappropriately or even criminally 36 years ago may have changed his life, turned it around, left the “sins of his youth and his ignorance” behind (Ps. 25:7), and proved this with his life by not returning to his old ways in the past three decades. As Christians, we sometimes believe in this kind of stuff. Saint Augustine was a drunkard, a partier, and fathered at least one illegitimate child whom he abandoned, along with the child’s mother. Saint Mary of Egypt was a prostitute. Saint Matthew is said to have been an abusive tax collector and an embezzler before he met Christ. Saint Olga slaughtered an entire tribe in a fit of revenge. Her grandson, Saint Vladimir of Kiev, offered human sacrifices and is responsible for producing the first Christian martyrs in Kievan Rus. And the first person in paradise was a repentant thief (highway robber/terrorist/rebel/enemy of the state/freedom fighter—take your exegetical pick).

This is in no way to assert that Brett Kavanaugh has repented and should be canonized a Catholic saint (he is a practicing Catholic, regularly attends mass and volunteers at Catholic charities). I have no way of knowing what he did or did not do, and whether or not he repented before God for what he may or may not have done. But this is to assert that in Christianity, we insist that a man is not always defined by his past sins and failures, and that his contributions to society and humanity are not automatically negated by a past indiscretion, a lapse in judgment, or even a crime.

I do not know whether Kavanaugh is a good judge. I am not a good judge of judges. I know very little about politics (and Supreme Court nominations have become primarily a political act.) But I know that there is one person who never raped or abused women, children, or seminarians, never owned slaves, never committed adultery, never got drunk at a high school party—who is completely without sin. If we are in search of someone who is without a #MeToo incident, we should look to Christ. If #MeToo helps us stop some creeps and punish some criminals, right some wrongs—great! But if this movement also helps us realize that humanity is deeply flawed—to its very core, that all are corrupted by sin, that we need a savior—this too would be a good thing to come out of this movement. “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man…” (Ps. 146:3) But put your trust in Jesus Christ, “who committed no sin, nor any deceit found in his mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22)

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Sex and Contraception in a Christian Marriage

Posted in Practical Matters, Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 2 July 2018

Nota Bene: This is a discussion of human sexuality, including sex, contraception, and other related topics. If you are offended by such topics, you may choose to exercise abstinence and refrain from reading any further. On the other hand, if you choose to engage in further reading, some context for this discussion may be found in “There Is No Sex in the Church”—a collection of essays by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov published in 2013.

The question of contraception within marriage is not new by any means. Perhaps the earliest biblical mention of birth control comes from the story of Onan and Tamar in which coitus interruptus was used to prevent conception (Gen. 38). No doubt, this time-honored method of contraception has been employed by couples since the time of Onan–approximately, three-and-a-half thousand years ago[1]–and to the present day. Other contraceptive techniques were also used throughout the centuries and are continued to be used in present times (a pious reader above a certain age, no doubt, will be able to imagine some of the sexual techniques that are incompatible with conception).[2]

In recent decades, humans have been enjoying “better living through chemistry” (as well as a better understanding of physiology), and a wide variety of contraceptive pharmaceuticals and devices have appeared on the market. These new advances in contraception have been employed both by non-Christian couples (who are not the subject of this discussion) and Christian couples alike—with or without the blessing of the Church. The stance of the Orthodox Church on every type of sexual behavior which differs in any way from the so-called “missionary” position was quite clearly formulated by monastics and celibates in the Middle Ages.[3] Regardless of whether mediaeval monastics and celibates should ever be viewed as experts on spousal intimacy, medical advances (as well as many other factors) of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries forced the Church to re-evaluate its positions on sex and contraception within a Christian marriage. As Breck notes, “Orthodox bishops and priests today usually acknowledge that married couples may need to practice a form of family planning that includes some method of birth control.”[4] (more…)

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Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 June 2018




–the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something

Why are men so preoccupied with heaven and hell? Especially, hell? Why are so few preoccupied with Jesus? They have some incoherent notion of wandering around in heaven, along streets of gold, in and out of pearly gates, from mansion to mansion, visiting their dead relatives, with absolutely nothing else to do for the whole eternity. The notion becomes only slightly more coherent with respect to hell: worms, fire, frying pans, demons with horns and tails and forks, etc. They will tell you all of the warning sings of the coming of the antichrist–including his nationality and hair color–but few are watching for the signs of the coming of the Christ.

Where is the man who just wants to be with Jesus–not in heaven, not out of hell, but with Jesus? Where is the man who says, “I do not want heaven, I do not care about hell; I want Jesus”? Where is the man who is ready to follow his Lord to the moon and back, even to the edge of the earth? Where is the man who says, “If in order to be with Jesus, I must go to hell, I will gladly go there and be burnt a thousand times–just to be with my Lord”?

What a consumerist attitude–“Accept Jesus in order to avoid the fires of hell and inherit life in heaven!” “For God so loved the world” that He came all the way to earth in order to be with us, all the way to poverty, to hunger, to thirst, to weariness. He came to serve, to wash feet, to be rejected, tempted, tested, arrested, beaten, tortured and killed. If, in order to find His lost sheep, Jesus had to descend into the very abyss itself, did He not do that? Did he not choose His beloved over the comforts of heaven? Sure, He is eternally risen, but He is also eternally crucified. And men respond by “accepting” Him in order to gain eternal comforts and to avoid eternal discomforts?!

Imagine a man who plans to get married, and instead of saying to his beloved, “I want to be with you because I love you,” he says, “I want to be with you because I want to have my meals cooked, my house cleaned, my socks washed, and I want to have sex regularly.” Even we, fallen humans, do not say this to our beloved. In our best moments, we say, “I want to be with you because I love you–for better or for worse, for rich or for poor, in sickness or in health…” Why do men not extend the same idea of love toward God, and are instead obsessed with getting stuff out of God–as if He has not given enough already?! Scared of hell?–accept Jesus! Want eternal retirement in heaven?–accept Jesus! Problems in life?–Jesus will fix them!

This is not to say that there is no heaven or hell or problems. But this is to say that when God says, “I love you,” do men really have to ask, “What’s in it for me?”

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Eugenics in the U.S.

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 July 2017

I looked up some information on eugenics in the U.S. for one of my classes. That the U.S. had an active national eugenics program before Nazi Germany ever existed is well-known and not too interesting in and of itself. One part of this program, naturally, involved selective breeding of humans who were considered to be good specimens. But the other part was forcible sterilization of those who were unfit for procreation. The standards, charts, numbers and measurements to determine who was unfit can be easily looked up. It suffices to say here only that those people were usually disabled, poor, less intelligent (as determined by an IQ test) or incarcerated.

What is interesting to me is that California and Oregon, the two states one would typically associate with some social justice sensibilities, had the most prolific forcible sterilization programs. The last known one to have been carried out under what used to be known as The Oregon Board of Eugenics took place in 1981. California, where two thirds of all forcible sterilizations in the U.S. took place, did not stop the practice until 2010. Curiously, Texas did not have a single forcible sterilization (at least, none on record). Law protecting individual freedoms there were so strong, that they protected the disabled, the poor, the less intelligent and even the incarcerated from being forcibly sterilized.

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“A friend is revealed in times of trouble”

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 July 2017

Much has been written about original sin. The Scripture is quite laconic about what happened. Adam and Eve–they!–stole a piece of fruit. Surely, the original sin was not theft. Many correctly say that it was disobedience. But there has to be more–much more!–to the story. Making a rule just for its own sake, for the sake of obeying or disobeying it, seems petty. There are some beautiful, mystical explanations of the nature of the original sin offered by Father Kuraev and others, and I quite like them, but there is one aspect of it that has captivated my attention for a couple of days now.

In one sense, the original sin was the killing of God in self. He, who from the creation of man was ever-present with him was cast out, the presence was killed. This is symbolically represented by the discovery of nakedness. It is a common opinion of the learned theologians that until the sin, God’s glory (that is to say, His presence) covered Adam and Eve as if with a garment. After the sin, the presence of God was no more, and they saw their nakedness.

When Cain killed Abel, he killed the presence of God in the other. What bothered Cain was not that God did not regard his offering but that He regarded Abel’s. Whatever it actually means that God “regarded” Abel’s sacrifice, it implies some kind of attention, active presence. Once again, man wanted to be left alone, without God. The presence of God proved intolerable and needed to be destroyed.

This act of killing God’s presence–this original sin–continued through the killing of the prophets and eventually of Christ Himself. The same desire to be left alone, the same intolerance for the presence of God, the same insatiable drive to be our own gods–nothing changed. And it still has not.

For a very short while, at the very dawn of the Church, the faithful could say: “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” This is long gone. The Church is now terrified of the Second Coming, Her prayer has long been “Don’t come, Lord Jesus! Not now, not in our time.” She no longer–and has not for a long time!–prays for and eagerly awaits a speedy judgment of this world, its end, the end times. Instead, the Church prays and longs for the peace, stability and prosperity of this world and for the delay in the Second Coming of Jesus.

When Jesus came the first time, man did what he had always done with the presence of God–he killed Him. Man wanted to be left alone, he wanted to be his own god. He had a perfectly good altar, like Cain. He offered sacrifices in proper order and with proper prayers, like Cain, I am sure. Even if he believed in God’s presence, he understood that it inhabited that large stone box he called the Temple–it was not with him, in his home, in his life, in his being. Man put God in a box and hired guards-priests- to keep Him there. But when God came to man’s town, to his village, to speak to man face-to-face, to eat supper with him, to touch him–man could not tolerate such an intrusion and so he killed God.

This sin–the killing of God in His Son–is much more grave than the killing of God in self, as did Adam, or the killing of God in other, as did Cain. I have no good reason to believe that man today–today!–would not do the same as he did two millennia ago. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor is not about the Catholics, or not exclusively about the Catholics. It is a commentary on the Adam and the Cain in every man.

Rosanov once had a frightening insight: the tragedy is not that Jesus had enemies, but that He did not have friends. His enemies conspired to kill Him, but His betrayer was a disciple! His enemies came with weapons, but His disciples were asleep! His enemies mocked Him, but a disciple denied ever knowing Him! In Orthodoxy, we have a tradition of identifying ourselves with John. “Behold, your Mother!”–we believe that these words said to one disciple apply to all disciples and to us. What fanciful thinking! Why identify with this particular disciple? Judas was also a disciple, and so was Peter, and so were the rest who ran away and locked the door behind them! No, we are not heirs of just one disciple; we are heirs of all of them. We carry the nature of Adam, and Cain, and Judas, and also of Abel, if we have not slaughtered him in ourselves, and also of John, if we have not run away from the Cross and locked the doors in fear. The saints saw this; that is why they cried and repented so much.

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On why we write

Posted in Reflections by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 9 January 2017

A Monday of a new year. A good time to take a closer look at the past and to plot a tentative course for the near future. And while looking at the past, I came to the realization that it may be necessary to examine the very basis of writing in general and theological writing in particular. I will try to explain.

Why do people write? I imagine that it used to be the case that people wrote because they had something to say. Nowadays, however, it is very difficult to answer this question. Some appear to write because they must–whether for a class they are taking, or for a conference in which they have been asked to participate, or because they hope to get paid for their labors, or for some other such reason. But what if all of these reasons suddenly disappeared? Would many of us still write? Even more importantly, do many of us actually have anything to say?

Too often, much of modern theological writing seems to be a regurgitation of someone else’s writing. To use an example from some of my previous writing, topics such as “Desert Father N. on the Raising of Children” come to mind. First, the sheer absurdity of the topic does not seem to raise too many eyebrows these days. “The Professional Cello Player on the Practical Aspects of Brain Surgery.” Why would anyone want to know what a cello player thinks about brain surgery? Second, if anyone wants to know what some author thinks about any topic, would it not be best to study the works of that author? What exactly is the purpose of reading someone else’s view on the views of someone else? I know, I know: “In partial fulfillment of the requirement for…”

Furthermore, nothing of significance or consequence is added to the sum of human knowledge when I express my views on someone else’s views and prove my point by liberally citing the original text. Is it that I do not believe others to be capable of reading the text? Is it that I do not think that others can comprehend the text and thus require my predigesting and regurgitating it for their benefit? Is it not too presumptuous of me to tell other literate, educated, reasonable and intelligent adults what some very famous author wrote on any given topic? Why not let them read the text and judge for themselves?  I know, I know: “In partial fulfillment of the requirement for…”

Of course, this is not to belittle the idea of the Great Conversation. However, the very culture of Orthodoxy seems to stifle the said Conversation. The obstacle is that we are the Church of the Fathers, not of the fathers. Because I cannot presume myself to be on the same level with the Fathers, my thoughts and opinions cannot be part of their conversation. They speak as ones having authority. The most I can do is learn what they taught and regurgitate what I learnt. To build on what they have already established, to add to what they have already said, to reinterpret and re-envision their thought would be too presumptuous.

And speaking of being presumptuous, what bothered me the most while thinking about the past was the fact that I have written pieces without actually having anything worth saying. In the Gospel of Matthew (7:29), there is an interesting mention about the manner in which Jesus taught: “…taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes…” The scribes regurgitated what others had said before them, citing one rabbi, referencing another. Prophets, on the other hand, did not pepper their speech with references to rabbis; they spoke with authority: “Thus saith the Lord…” That is to say, “I personally heard from God Himself, and therefore I have something to share with all of you.” Jesus, of course, had even more authority and often said: “But I say to you…”

Using these principles in examining modern theological writing, it is painfully evident that most of us write as scribes, not as ones having authority. This is the key difference between us and the Fathers of the Church. The Fathers conquered sins and passions and then wrote about their experience of being victorious. We are burdened by sins and passions and write about someone else’s experience. The Fathers fasted and prayed, kept vigil for decades and then wrote from the position of experts on this topic. We complain about our weaknesses, make excuses, give ourselves dispensations and then tell others about the benefits of fasting by citing someone else’s examples, unable to refer to our own.

In some disciplines (albeit, not all), such a lack of personal expertise in the subject would be unacceptable. Imagine someone who does not know how to play the cello attempting to give cello lessons, or someone who cannot swim teaching swimming, or someone who has never built anything giving construction advice by invoking the names of famous architects. This would be absurd. And yet, it does not seem to be absurd when the same is commonplace in modern Christianity. Do not tell me what Desert Father N. thought about raising children. I want to know how you raised such good children. Do not tell me how Saint Mary of Egypt kept her fast; I can read that on my own. Tell me how you keep yours and what you have learnt from your personal experience.

And yet, there is one valid reason to write about things I have not personally experienced. Writing is a good way to think; it allows for the process of thinking. It is necessary, however, to be honest about this kind of writing. First, just because I think, does not mean that my thoughts are necessarily correct or that they are worth sharing with others. Second, this type of writing must be directed at self, not others. If others happen to find my thoughts interesting and choose to join in the process of thinking together, this would be wonderful. But this type of writing must never presume or pretend to be any sort of teaching. It is necessary to think, and writing is not a bad format for this exercise. But this should never be confused with the writing as one having authority which only comes from personal practice and experience or as a direct revelation from God Himself.

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Have you fed the hungry lately?

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 2 January 2016

At the Second coming of Christ, He will reward those who fed the hungry, visited the sick and the imprisoned, clothed the naked… We all know this Gospel passage. As Christians, we try to get involved in prison ministries and soup kitchens–and this is very important and well-deserving of our efforts. But pay close attention: when Christ addresses the righteous, they are genuinely surprised: “When have we ministered to you Lord?” Do you think that anyone involved in a soup kitchen can be genuinely surprised at Christ’s words? It is more likely that they will say: “Yes, Lord, I ministered to the hungry as if they were You, and I saw Your image in each of their faces.” The ones who are surprised are not the ones who were involved in Christian ministries and visited the prison inmates because it was a Christian thing to do. They are the ones who ministered to the needy out of a profound sense of oneness with them. If your child is hungry, you feed him because you are family, not because it is a Christian thing to do. When your brother is in prison you go there not because you participate in a Christian ministry or because you enjoy visiting inmates; in fact, you may hate going there, but you go anyway–because he is family. When we treat others as family, we do not expect to be rewarded for feeding them or visiting them in prison, we do not expect any reward for this and will be genuinely surprised to get any. If we let a stranger in not because he might turn out to be an undercover angel but merely because he is a fellow human being, he is family, then we have understood that to call God ‘Father’ means to call a stranger a ‘brother’–not in a “churchy” way, but quite literally.

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“Imagine That” is now available on Kindle

Posted in Theology, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 6 December 2015

Imagine That… 

Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion 

a book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov


This work examines the use of mental imagery in private devotion in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions of prayer. The research is based on the writing of the saints of the two Churches, as well as on the analysis provided by some of the best theologians of the Russian Orthodox Church. The core of the argument is that the two traditions followed significantly different paths in their approaches to spiritual life. These differences exist in many aspects of devotion, but can be exemplified by the favorable view of the use of imagination in Roman Catholic prayer and the caution with which it is approached in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The difference in devotional paths and the standards of prayer that have been canonized through the glorification of saints by each Church may present a much bigger challenge to the dialogue between the two Churches than heretofore has been acknowledged. This work highlights the reality and significance of the differences between the two traditions and urges the continuation of the research within the framework of the dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

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




ISBN: 1-4392-2993-7

EAN13: 9781439229934


Since the times of the Early Church, Christians have been very discriminate about their prayer and in whose company they choose to pray. Already in the Apostolic Canons (Canon 65, for example), a document arguably dating back to the end of the second century, both lay people and clergy are prohibited from praying with heretics under the threat of excommunication. Apostolic Canon 45 mandates: “Let any Bishop, or Presbyter, or Deacon that merely joins in prayer with heretics be suspended…” Similarly, Canon 33 of the Council of Laodicea (ca. 363-364 A.D.) says that “one must not join in prayer with heretics and schismatics.” Yet common prayer is one of the central goals of the contemporary ecumenical movement, including the ecumenical dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Seemingly in defiance of the ancient canons, Catholic and Orthodox hierarchs have routinely joined each other in prayer, to the joy of the proponents of such practices and to the dismay of opponents.

Those working to make common prayer more common argue that the belief in one true God unites the different branches of Christianity and even those outside of the larger Christian community, thus all prayers ascend to the same divine destinations. Opponents often assert that heretics do not pray to the same God, but to the devil instead (cf. John 8:44). Thus, joint prayer is viewed as impossible (cf. 2 Cor. 6:15) or having the risk of accidentally addressing the wrong “authority”.

There is another point of view: if prayer is viewed not simply as locution or interlocution, but as an experience that is transformative for the devotee, even as a way or a mode of life, then it becomes easier to understand why those who doubt each other’s orthodoxy are so cautious about praying together. It is not the risk of accidentally addressing the “wrong” god that becomes central to warnings against praying with heretics, but the risk of being influenced by a way and a mode of life with which one may disagree, in other words, it is the risk to one’s spiritual health. (Imagine That… : Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion, Introduction)


Life as Liturgy: Making Life Whole

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

Break the Holy Bread, Master: A Theology of Communion Bread

Imagine That…: Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion

Prayer: A Personal Conversation with God? What is prayer and why we pray.

Fasting for Non-Monastics [Kindle Edition]

Morning and Evening Prayer Rules in the Russian Orthodox Tradition

The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom: Parallel Slavonic-English Text


Follow this link to see all books and articles by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov:

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“Life as Liturgy” Now Available on Kindle!

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 8 November 2015

Life as Liturgy: Making Life Whole

by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

“…Thus, the problem of modern life can be identified more precisely not only as the absence of newness or transformation in the lives of most of the faithful, but also as the presence of a fracture which is seemingly caused by the very Orthodox praxis that is meant to heal and make our lives whole. The solution to this problem cannot lie in any one specific area. I do not think that our focus should be to urge people to take communion more and more often or to come for more and more church services. I also do not think that reading the Bible more or adding more akathists to one’s daily prayer rule is the solution. As wonderful and helpful those all of those things are, focusing on them, in my opinion, is the mistake of “placing the cart before the horse.” I think that our task as Christians is not in adding one religious observance or any number of them to our lives, but a full transformation of our lives from which prayer and the study of Scripture, frequent communion and the genuine desire to attend more church services flow naturally and organically…”

To order the Kindle Edition for just $4.49, please click here

Follow this link to see all books and articles by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov:


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

Break the Holy Bread, Master: A Theology of Communion Bread

Imagine That…: Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion

Prayer: A Personal Conversation with God? What is prayer and why we pray.

Fasting for Non-Monastics [Kindle Edition]

Morning and Evening Prayer Rules in the Russian Orthodox Tradition

The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom: Parallel Slavonic-English Text


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And… One More Reason to Fast!

Posted in Fasting by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 26 October 2015

When the Church calendar says “no wine,” observing this is not only good for your soul, but is also good for your health! 

1-month break from alcohol can ‘slash risks of cancer’ – study

Avoiding alcohol for just one month can slash the risk of developing life-threatening diseases such as cancer and diabetes, a new study has revealed.

The study, carried out by University College London, found that a four-week break from alcohol can heal the liver function and lower blood pressure levels.

It also revealed that “going dry” for a month can lower one’s chances of developing cancer, diabetes and becoming obese.

As part of the study, researchers monitored 102 healthy men and women in their 40s taking part in a “dry January” campaign.

Beforehand, the women had been drinking an average of 29 units per week while men were consuming 31 units a week, both above the government’s guideline levels.

After the month of abstinence, participants lost nearly 6lbs (2.7kg) in weight and reported improvements in their concentration and sleeping.

Researchers also found that their “liver stiffness” – an indication of damage – had been reduced by 12.5 percent while their insulin resistance had decreased by 28 percent.

‘Substantial improvement’

Liver specialist Professor Moore said there was “substantial improvement” in the participants’ livers after their four-week alcohol break.

These subjects were probably average drinkers – they drank in excess of the guidelines. We studied them before and after the dry month,” she told the Telegraph.

There was certainly substantial improvement in various parameters of the liver. The other parameters, blood pressure, cholesterol, how well the subjects slept were also substantial,” she added.

Moore said public health bodies should be “interested” by the findings of this study.

Does it have a sustained impact? We think we will find people drink less going forward.

The next thing would be to extend the dry January beyond one month to two months, three months.”

According to the Times, the Department of Health is examining the study’s results as it prepares new guidelines on safe drinking.

‘Excited’ by findings

Liver specialist Gautam Metha, who oversaw the study, said she is “excited” as some of the findings are “pretty novel.”

I am excited. There are some findings that will be pretty novel. It’s an important study which shows the benefit from a month’s abstinence. What we can’t say is how long those benefits are, how durable those benefits are,” the Daily Mail on Monday reported her as saying.

The National Health Service (NHS) advises Britons to consume not more than the recommended alcohol intake to avoid related diseases in the future.

Under the official alcohol unit guidelines, men should not drink more than 3-4 units per day and women should not exceed 2-3 units per day.

Alcohol’s hidden harms usually emerge after a number of years, when serious health issues, such as liver problems or high blood pressure can develop.

However, alcohol isn’t the only sugary treat that people should be avoiding.

‘Bacon and sausages major cause of cancer’

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that bacon, ham and sausages are a major cause of cancer.

The report, published Monday, said there is sufficient evidence to rank the meats as group 1 carcinogens because of a causal link with bowel cancer.

Head of the International Agency for Research’s monographs programme Dr Kurt Straif said the risk of cancer increases with the amount of meat consumed.

For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” he said.

In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance,” he added.


Note: It important to remember that these studies and health facts have little to do with the Orthodox discipline of fasting. But the problem is that in many cases, modern Orthodox Christians began to understand fasting merely as a vegan or near-vegan diet. This is incorrect, but sadly, it is a fact of our modern Orthodox mindset. So, for those who wonder why we need to go on a vegan diet for a month-or-so a few times a year, there is at least one reason–it is good for your health!  

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Why We Should Fast More!

Posted in Fasting by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 26 October 2015

After thoroughly reviewing the accumulated scientific literature, a Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the IARC Monographs Programme classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect. This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer

WHO Press Release:

Processed meats pose same cancer risk as smoking and asbestos, reports say


The World Health Organisation is expected to issue new guidelines warning that processed meat products such as bacon and sausages are a cancer risk on the scale of smoking and asbestos.

Reports have claimed the UN’s health body will highlight the dangers of eating processed meats on Monday by putting bacon, burgers, ham and sausages on its list of cancer-causing substances.

Even fresh red meat is expected to be listed as unhealthy. According to the latest survey of the British diet, the average adult eats around 71g of red meat a day.

The warning on the “carcinogenicity of red and processed meats” is expected to come in a WHO and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluation published in the Lancet. The WHO has not denied the reports, but has said there was no leak of the findings.

The guidelines would bring the UN’s position in line with the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which says there is convincing evidence that processed meat can cause bowel cancer.

But Dr Jill Jenkins, a GP and member of the Meat Advisory Panel, an industry sponsored body, said she would not be advising her patients to stop eating meat, but she did recommend caution over highly processed meat products.

“I think certainly that we should be keeping a low level, so everything in moderation,” she told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

“From the same body we have had advice about the carcinogenic effects of the air we breathe and the sun on our skin, so I think we have to take it within reason in that if you are stuffing in burgers and sausages and bacon every day, yes you are at risk.

“If you have some healthy, locally made high-protein sausage once a fortnight, well, I personally don’t consider that a risk.”

The Daily Mail, which reported on the WHO shift, said it had received the information from a “well-placed source”. In a note to the media, however, the WHO said: “Following random reports [on] Friday 23 October in the British press postulating on the outcome of the IARC evaluation on the carcinogenicity of red meat and processed meat, please note that there was no breach of embargo, as no embargoed material was shared with any news outlet, in Britain or elsewhere.”

See also:

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The Joy of a Life in Christ

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

When we speak about spiritual or religious things, all too often we use words without truly understanding their meaning. We speak of love, for example, but how many pause to ponder what it actually is? As priests, we repeat Christ’s commandments like a mantra to our parishioners: “Love God, love your neighbor, and love your enemies.” And our parishioners get the hint; they come back to us during confession and confess the sin of not having enough love. How many priests and parishioners ever stop to wonder just how one is to get more love? By being ‘nice’ (whatever this means)? No, this is not love, this is just being ‘nice.’ By being kind? No, kindness is very good, but it is different from love. By being polite? This very useful trait seems even further from the nature of love than is kindness. Perhaps by helping others? This also is not love, per se. What kind of commandment is it–to love–when there does not seem to be a good way to fulfill it, let alone an “easy and light” one (cf. Matt. 11:30)? (more…)

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What is Wrong with Gay Marriage?: Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 9

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

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

As a case study of how a liturgical understanding of marriage may be relevant to the realities of our lives, let us take a look at the “issue of the day,” same-sex marriage. We shall not discuss why society seems eager to promote same-sex unions. Whatever their reasoning is–some notion of fairness for all (why toward gays and not polygamists or zoophiles?) or society’s financial and legal support for gay unions (are gay unions a beneficial and stabilizing institution in our society to be supported and promoted?)–the Church has her own reasons.


Furthermore, arguments based solely on scriptural prohibitions of same-sex acts have their own limitations. Some may be satisfied by saying that same-sex marriage is sinful because the Apostle Paul identified same-sex acts as sinful. But a more inquisitive mind may ask ‘why?’ And why is the Church so selective about the Scripture? Why do we allow divorce and remarriage, for example, which is nothing less than blessed polygamy, when Christ Himself prohibited it and called it adultery (Matt. 19:8-9)? Perhaps, a second marriage is just as sinful as same-sex acts, as the Apostle Paul indicated: “Do not be deceived; neither… adulterers, nor  sexual perverts [‘men who lie with men’–ἀρσενοκοῖται]… will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The second-century apologist Athenagoras put it very plainly: “He who rids himself of his first wife, even if she be dead, is an adulterer in disguise because he transgresses the hand of God, for in the beginning God created but one man and one woman.”


Saint Basil the Great uses the word ‘polygamy’ (πολυγαμία) to refer to remarriage after divorce(canons 4, 50). He treats all marriages after the first, initial, marriage as sinful and different from one another only in the degree of sinfulness (canon 4). While seemingly tolerating at least some second marriages after a one-year-long excommunication of the newlyweds, Saint Basil notes that third marriages are ‘uncleanness’ (ρυπάσματα–canon 50), and anything beyond that is ‘animal behavior’ (κτηνώδες) and ‘worse than adultery’ (canon 80). (more…)

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Marriage: Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 8

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

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

In the Orthodox service, no vows are exchanged; after the initial inquiry as to whether the two people want to be married to each other (more on that later), they say absolutely nothing. They also do nothing: something is done to them–crowns are placed on their heads, they are led by the priest around the gospel stand, the common cup is given to them, even their wedding rings are placed on their fingers by other people.


Marriage is not a sacrament because it is listed as such in the catechism, and it is not a sacrament because God blesses the couple in some general way.  We have noted earlier that sacrament brings transformation: it is not quantitative (whereby vows, blessings, certificates, etc. are added to the couple) but qualitative–the couple does not remain the same two people they were before the weddings but is transformed (“changing them by Your Holy Spirit” in the Eucharistic sense) into something they were not–a specific icon of Christ and His Church.


Just saying this, however, does not make it so. Many–if not most!–of our Orthodox marriages do not resemble the icon of Christ and look very similar to whatever model of marriage our current society presents. (more…)

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 7

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

Many people understand confession also as a singular and sometimes rare event.  Some in the Russian Orthodox tradition only go to confession once a year.  Others may confess more often and even more or less regularly…  But let us replace the word ‘confession’ with the word ‘repentance.’  What is the difference?  Imagine a thief who proudly tells his friend about all the things he has stolen, and then goes and steals some more.  He has just confessed his sins—undoubtedly.  But has he repented?  Now imagine a Christian who goes to confession, names all his sins—he is well aware of them—and then goes and continues to live in sin without any intent to change his life.  Can this be considered a sacrament? Obviously not. While God is ready to erase the sins from this person’s life, the person does not want them erased, he wants to keep them.  He confesses them without any resolve to change his life, that is to say, without repentance. Jesus did not urge people to confess, but but to repent: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). In other words, repentance, even without the rite of confession, is transformative and, thus, sacramental. Confession without repentance, on the other hand, is not sacramental insofar as it is not transformative.


Repentance is transformational not only in the immediate sense associated with the rite of confession, but in the most profound and mystical return to the Tree of Knowledge. Adam sought divine knowledge, but his lust blinded him to the large sign at the entrance: γνῶθι σεαυτόν. Repentant man stands before the Tree, having learned both good and evil; through repentance he finally achieved the knowledge of who he truly is. He no longer treats the Gift as an object–good for food, a delight to the eyes, and advantageous to his personal success. Instead, he offers a “broken and contrite heart” to God, born out of the waters of the tears of repentance (Ps. 51:17), offers it as a priest bringing a sacrifice to the holy table; and by thus entering into the fullness of the likeness of his Creator, he participates in the fullness of communion with his God by becoming His Body. And so, it is no longer, “It is good for food” (Gen. 3:6), but, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)


The main sacrament, the sacramentum sacramentorum, is not what happens to the bread and wine of the Eucharist, awesome as that transformation is, but what happens to us when we unite so intimately with our God, when He enters into us even physically, when we carry Him in our bellies. The sacrament does not end when the church service is finished; at that time, it only begins.


In order for there to be a good fruit of this union of man and God, in order that the two become one flesh, one Body, we must become what we eat, we must be transformed into the likeness of the self-sacrificial God. Thus, we must repeat that which we had said concerning every other sacrament and act that we have examined: communion is not when we get something, receive something, it is not an act of a consumer; rather, communion is when we give and sacrifice, when we become God’s priesthood, the “sacrificers” in the cosmic Liturgy. And it is ourselves that we are called to bring to the holy altar of God.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 6

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

Many Orthodox lay people and even some clergy believe that once a person has been baptized as an infant, he remains Orthodox for the rest of his life.  This really should be the case: “We, then, enter the font once. Our sins are washed away once, for they should never be repeated.” But often it is not the case.  Baptism is the entrance into the Church—both as the mystical Body of Christ and as a human institution established by God.  But neither one of these is a prison, and anyone is free to leave at any time.


In this context, we should all ponder the prayer of Saint Ignatius of Antioch: “Only request on my behalf that I may not merely be called a Christian, but may really be found to be one.”


Archimandrite Ianuarii (Ivliev) noted another aspect of baptism. According to Fr. Ianuarii, Christian baptism closely resembles the rites associated with the transfer of slaves in the Roman empire. A newly-purchased slave was stripped of his old clothing, immersed in water in a symbolic death to his old master and re-emerged as a servant of the new master. This immersion was done in the name of the new master. New clothing was given to the newly-baptized slave, and he was then sealed with a seal or a brand of his new master. From that point forward, the slave belonged to the new master, served him, represented him, and also enjoyed his protection.


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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 5

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

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

In order to reclaim liturgical consciousness, we must strive for an entire paradigm shift in our lives. We have already mentioned the fact that for most Christians, elements of Christian observances seem to be secondary to the rest of their lives outside the church. Church services, prayer rules, Scripture readings, and changing diets (often mislabeled as “fasts”) are squeezed in among the primary obligations of secular lives–work, shopping, vacations, holidays, etc. People usually complain that they do not have time for prayer, or for attending church services, or that it is too inconvenient for them to fast; but hardly anyone ever complains that they cannot find time for work, or for a vacation, or that it is too inconvenient for them to eat bacon or ice cream.


One instrument has been used consistently to both change the disposition of the heart and to demarcate liturgical acts: prayer. We observe a daily rule or prayer, which sanctifies the day and also marks the night as sacred time. But often, we do not properly understand the role of prayer in our lives. We feel that the sacred time in our day is the time spent in prayer.  We treat prayer as some form of obligation: 15 minutes for God, the rest of the day for myself.  Indeed, we often misunderstand religious obligations and see them in the same way as we see our social obligations.


In other words, the sacred time of the day is not the time of prayer, but the time which is marked, framed, crowned by prayer—that is to say, the whole day itself.  A good example of this could be a beautiful chalice: as sacred and beautiful as it may be, it’s what’s inside that matters.  Or a beautiful temple—it is sanctified not by gold and glitter, but by the presence of God; and without God inside, it is merely a museum of beautiful architecture and fine arts.


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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 4

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

We already touched on the central idea of sacrifice in Liturgy. To illustrate this idea, one needs to look no further than the Eucharistic service of the Church. We can remove the singing, the commemorations, and even the reading of the Gospel, and the sacrifice of Christ offered to His people will still preserve the liturgical character of what remains. But if we preserve all of the singing and the commemorations, and read the entire Gospel, and yet remove the sacrifice, then what remains is no longer Liturgy.


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 for whom to care.


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.’


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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 3

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

One implication of creation being Liturgy–not just participating in, but being–is that it is a communion with God and with all in God. We have already touched on the interconnectedness of man and creation in God. But what about the interconnectedness of men and women? So far, we have used the word ‘man’ to denote mankind or all of humanity. But by what mechanism or concept can we speak of mankind as one ‘man’? Clearly, there many ways to address this question–mankind as a biological species, or as a global society, or as an overarching cultural phenomenon–all of which can be viewed in a Christian theological context, but none of which directly speaks to the eartho-heavenly nature of mankind. What may bring us closer to that aspect of human unity is a closer examination of community through Liturgy and Liturgy as community.


This “altogetherness” is the very essence of the sacrament of the Divine Liturgy. Earlier in our discussion we noted that a sacrament happens when the free will of God intersects with the free will of man. The resulting product of this synergic act is transformation.  What happens in the sacrament of the Body is not a quantitative change (one person added to another and yet another form a group of people in one place) but a qualitative transformation–it is no longer a mechanically-assembled group but an organic, living Body: “..send down Your Holy Spirit upon us [first–S.S.] and upon these Gifts… changing them by Your Holy Spirit.”


Likewise, in Christ, all of humanity is saved and restored. Christ took into Himself one and only human nature. Male and female, Jew and Gentile can all be saved in Christ because they all share in the one and only human nature. If this were not so, if each person’s nature was unique and different, then in order to save male and female, Jew and Gentile, Christ would have had to become incarnate as each one of those natures and separately and individually the natures of each person ever born on this planet, but this is not so. By sharing in one nature with all mankind, Christ healed and restored this nature within Himself, and all who share this nature have the ability to partake of its renewal, all can change their family tree and become descendants of the New Adam.


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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 2

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

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar). 

I will use the word ‘mankind’ throughout to refer to all humans, both male and female. I will also use ‘man’ and ‘he’ to mean ‘human’ and ‘he/she.’ I do not do this from a position of male chauvinism–my writings on the equality of males and females in Christ speak for themselves. I do this out of concern that linguistic acrobatics may distract from the main points of the study. My Greek professor once told a joke. Someone noticed that there was ‘man’ in the word ‘woman,’ so they decided to change it to ‘woperson.’ But then someone noticed that there was ‘son’ in ‘person,’ and so the word was changed to ‘woperchild.’ My goal here is to no longer be distracted by whether the words ‘wo-man,’ ‘fe-male,’ or ‘s-he’ are inherently offensive and how they can be changed, but instead to focus on the main points of our study.


Saint Irenaeus of Lyon wrote: “God formed Adam, not as if He stood in need of man, but so that He might have [someone] upon whom to confer His benefits.” Surely, these “benefits” are not gold, or material possessions, or entertainment, but communion with God Himself and the participation in His divine life.


Communion with God, so intimate that man becomes the Body of Christ, is the essence of the Eucharist. Fagerberg goes even further in claiming that Saint Ephrem describes the story of Eden as a liturgical story:

“God expelled us from the environs of the tree of life lest we be eternally disfigured. Do not think we were expelled from Paradise because God was jealous of divinity and would not share it with anthropos. The Christian narrative is not the myth of Prometheus. The expulsion was on account of man and woman’s untimely grasping at that for which they were not prepared. The sin was not that man and woman took something which God never intended them to have; the sin was that the serpent convinced them to take it prematurely.

He deceived the husbandman

so that he plucked prematurely

the fruit which gives forth its sweetness

only in due season

— a fruit that, out of season,

proves bitter to him who plucks it.”

Paradise, and all that was within it, and the creation in which it sat had the purpose of both preparing man for the reception of God’s divine Gift and offering it to him in due time. This is also a liturgical model: the Liturgy both prepares man for the reception of God’s divine Gift and offers it to him in due time. But the Gift stolen without the process of “tilling and keeping” one’s heart is truly bitter: “Then after the morsel [given to him by Jesus], Satan entered into [Judas Iscariot]” (John 13:27).


The intersection of God’s free self-sacrificial act of love for man  and man’s equally free self-sacrificial act of love for God constitutes the Liturgical sacrament. Elsewhere, I have written about a distinction between miracles, works of man, and sacraments. When God acts alone, it is a miracle; when man acts alone, it is a work of man; when the wills and acts of God and man intersect, it is a sacrament.

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Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 1

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar). 

It is often asserted that in the Early Church theologians did not write works merely for the sake of writing something. Rather, it is said, they responded when their faith was being challenged and wrote apologies and clarifications of Christian doctrine. I personally think that some people like to write, to think and to express their thoughts in writing. Even if the Christian faith had not been challenged by heresies and misunderstandings, I am certain that some people would still have written for their own benefit, if no one else’s, and the Church would still have the theology of Saint Clement, and the beautiful works of the Syriac mystics, and also Chrysostom’s On Virginity as well as Augustine’s Confessions. Nonetheless, writing purely for the sake of writing can lead one astray toward subjects irrelevant or even irreverent. When one is so enamoured with the sound of his own voice that he loses track of why he is speaking or writing, and the very act of speaking or writing becomes a pleasurable end in and of itself, then, perhaps, it is time to think about a career in creative fiction rather than Christian theology.


In other words, the vision of Christian rebirth and transformation seems to be that of a completely new creation, total newness–the newness of time and space, of the meaning of life and death, even a new heaven and a new earth–all is to be new with, perhaps, some remnants of the old, such as dishes, or diapers, or an occasional physical illness to be patiently born as a cross in full realization of its temporal limitations and of the faith in the world to come which is without illness, sadness or sighing. However, what we see in reality is people who get baptized but not transformed or renewed. Their life remains the same as it was before the baptism, their worldview does not change, and neither do their values. A weekly Liturgy, or some shortened prayer rule, or a vegetarian diet during Great Lent is added to their otherwise-unchanged secular life. Their Christian transformation is quantitative rather than qualitative; their most frequent complaint is that they do not have the time for church services or prayer rules because they are trying to cram some elements or activities of a Christian life into a life already overstuffed with other activities. They are trying to live a double life and in the best-case scenario their life becomes fractured in the process: Sunday mornings are for church obligations, the rest of the week is for the obligations of the world, and the two do not intersect…


no one can serve two masters, for he will be devoted to one and despise the other (see Matt. 6:24). And this is exactly what happens–the add-on Christian obligations and activities become a burden: church services and prayer rules interfere with leisure time, they are seen and felt as an inconvenience; fasts “ruin” birthday parties and are a nuisance on secular holidays, unless one decides to dispense with the fast on those occasions and thus resolve the overlap of secular and religious activities in favor of the secular ones. Life becomes compartmentalized: one practices Christianity when one is in church or in church settings and secularism when one is at work or with friends who are not “church people.”

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What to watch during Lent 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 15 August 2015

Blessed Dormition Fast to you and yours! 

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

Also, check out the videos in the previous post, “What to watch during Lent 1”


BBC Horizons: “Eat, Fast & Live Longer”

Note the discussion of the “5/2” pattern about half-way through the documentary. Isn’t this what the Orthodox Church has been teaching for two millennia–fasting two days every week? 

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Study Notes: On the Sacramental Nature of Marriage

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

One of the obvious differences between the Orthodox and Western understanding of marriage is that in the West, marriage is what two people do, while in the East, it is something that is done to them. This difference is expressed in the wedding service. In the West, the two people give a set of vows, thus entering into a contract with each other. In the Orthodox service, no vows are exchanged; after the initial inquiry as to whether they want to be married to each other (more on that later), they say absolutely nothing. They also do nothing: something is done to them–crowns are placed on their heads, they are led by the priest around the gospel stand, the common cup is given to them, even their wedding rings are placed on their fingers by other people. Whatever the historical development of the Orthodox rite may have been, its form points to the belief in the sacramental nature of marriage. In this way, the rite of marriage similar to the Eucharist. One does not produce the Body and Blood of Christ the way that one would negotiate and produce a contract. All of the actions of the priest and the congregation are not aimed at the production of the Gifts, but at preparing their own hearts and souls for receiving the sacrament. (more…)

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Study Notes: The Authority of Priests

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 5 July 2015

All too often, a priest acts as if he were a secular leader, a board president, a CEO of a non-profit, a manager of an organization. To be sure, priests do hold a position of authority in the Church. But what kind of authority is it? What kind of headship? I really like the Roman Bishop’s official title: “the servant of the servants of God.” Regardless of how it is realized in the life of any particular pontiff, the title itself is very much Christ-centric and conveys the correct idea: a priest or a bishop receives his authority from Christ, and it is His, Christ’s, authority, not the priest’s. So, in order to find out how a priest is to exercise his authority, we must look at how Christ exercised His authority and learn from His example. (more…)

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Study Notes: What Is Prayer?

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 3 July 2015

As many of you have already figured out, the way my brain works is that in order to make sense of something, I have to paint a picture. Once I was asked to speak on prayer at a symposium. Here is the picture that I made up for myself.

First, I decided to figure out what prayer is not. It is not a conversation with God. If someone called me on the phone every morning and every evening and read the same text every single time without pausing to see whether I have anything to say, I would not call that a conversation. I would call that the weirdest thing that ever happened to me. Furthermore, prayer is not meant to tell God how we are doing or what our needs are (e.g., “God, I have cancer/need healing/my son is out late, please keep him safe, etc.”). If God knows everything–and this is the kind of God in whom we believe–then He does not need us to tell Him what our needs are. So, if prayer is not meant as a dialogue, nor is it meant to convey any information, what is it? (more…)

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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). (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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? <…> (more…)

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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? (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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? (more…)

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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

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)


Kalamata olives



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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20150323_125439 20150324_074029 20150324_080017 20150324_080505

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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.


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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)



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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

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.


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!

20150226_151616 20150226_163539 20150226_163226

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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


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.


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.

Also, check out the new post, “What to watch during Lent 2”


Dr. Jay Gordon: No one needs meat for health


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.

More on Orthodox burial:


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.


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

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 here
  • 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



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:

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:

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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


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

Get it now for just $2.99!

Follow the link

Follow this link to see other books and articles by Fr. Sergei 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


Prayer: A Personal Conversation with God?

What is prayer and why we pray


Please follow this link to read it:

Follow this link to see other books and articles by Fr. Sergei 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




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.


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September Is Marriage Month / Сентябрь-месяц святого супружества

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



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!



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!


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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)


See also:

The Problematics of Orthodox Sexuality


An Interview About Gay Marriage on OCN


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


A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!:

On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy


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…”


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.


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 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

Comments Off on An Interview About Gay Marriage on OCN

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


A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

There Is No Sex in the Church!:

On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy


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…”


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.


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…


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


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


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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 ( 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


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


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


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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.


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


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To donate through PayPal, click here

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

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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


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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