Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

What Pornography Does to the Human Brain (VIDEO)

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Fight Against Pornography

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

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

Русский здесь

“Metropolitan” Salad

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

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

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“Lay” Salad

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

cooked quinoa

cooked lentils

tomatoes (heirloom or Campari)

cucumber

Kalamata olives

parsley

garlic

lemon juice

umeboshi vinegar

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

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Ladder of Divine Ascent

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

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

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

(more…)

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Study Notes: 20 MAR 2015

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

Study notes on liturgics

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

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

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

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

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New Lenten Sandwich

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

Русский здесь

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

The photo seems self-explanatory.

Bread (in the photo is rye sourdough)

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

Guacamole

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“Monastery” Salad Dressing

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

Русский здесь

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

5 tablespoons of tahini

juice from 2 small lemons or 1 large one

2 cloves of garlic, grated

1/2 teaspoon of salt

3 tablespoons of water

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

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

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Study Notes: 15 MAR 2015

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

Notes on the study of the Liturgy.

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

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

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

Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Русский: Третье воскресенье Великого поста: Поклонение Честному Кресту Господню

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

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Study Notes: 12 MAR 2015

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

Notes of the study of liturgics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On whether women epitomize humanity and men epitomize divinity

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

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

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

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

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

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The original YOLO discovered!

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

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

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

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

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