Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Monkey Business

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 August 2022

In an apocalyptic-sounding turn of events, the Governor of New York – the state in which I presently reside – declared a State Disaster Emergency (yes, all three words are capitalized) in response to the monkeypox outbreak. It is the same type of declaration as was issued when hurricane Ida struck NYC. In addition to the governor’s getting some political “street cred” for being proactively on top on things, local healthcare authorities will get reimbursements from the state’s budget for actually fighting the disease. And considering that our emergency medical services are not collapsing from an influx of monkeypox patients, it seems to me that most of my taxpayer’s share of the response will be spent on “raising awareness.” Therefore, preemptively and completely free of charge for the State, I decided to raise my own awareness of this ongoing Disaster Emergency.

First, I was quite happy to discover that the risk of my contracting this Disastrous Emergency of a disease is virtually non-existent. No, it is not because I have been vaccinated against smallpox as a child – although, I have been – or because I was lucky enough to become a recipient of the newly-released stockpile of the Jynneos vaccine – I was not, nor do I plan to be so lucky – but for a very different reason. This reason is not for the squeamish; so, if your sensibilities are easily offended, or you are of the age of innocence (and if you immediately thought of Joshua Reynolds, you probably are at heart), you may wish to read this post no further.

Monkeypox, we are told by the NYDOH, is “spread through close, intimate contact,” That is to say, if a parent cuddles a child for a bed-time story, the disease may spread, if either the parent or the child happens to be infected. Likewise, two Greco-Roman wrestlers may pass the disease to each other during a match. But surprisingly, it is not singlet-clad wrestlers or bed-time story lovers who are getting and spreading monkeypox. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, upwards of 95% of all cases have been transmitted during sex between men; or as Governor Hochul put it, in “certain at-risk groups”; while as of July 20 only 2 (yes, two – as in, “one, two”) infected individuals in all of the U.S. have self-identified as straight. (In any case, while our government seems to be incapable of defining a woman, it is refreshing that it knows what a man is, at least, when he has sex with other men.)

Some may immediately declare that God is punishing gays, but I think it is much more interesting to try to ask why a disease that is spread by “close, intimate contact” is not spreading among heterosexual people who routinely engage in such contact. Simply being a homosexual should not magically make one infected with monkeypox or HIV. In a true spirit of equality, both diseases are perfectly capable of infecting anyone without any regard for age, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. And yet, in the United States, both monkeypox and HIV have mostly affected “certain at-risk groups.” But why?

Commenting on this inexplicable health disparity, The Washington Post opined, “this is what disparities look like in accessing testing, vaccines and treatment for monkeypox.” Can this really be true? Can it be that everybody – parents, children, seniors in retirement homes, even Greco-Roman wrestlers – are getting tested, vaccinated, and treated for monkeypox as we speak, but men who have sex with men are not, especially in San Francisco and New York City, as if these were the two most intolerant places in all of the united States? I hope that the author of this opinion and his editor do not actually believe this nonsense and are instead engaged in propaganda. I can understand propaganda; but in this case, it is not helpful. Imagine that you have a gambling problem, and you spend so much money that you can no longer afford to pay your mortgage or your utilities or to buy food. And imaging saying to your wife: “This is what disparities look like in accessing housing, electricity, and groceries.” No, not helpful. If you refuse to name the real problem, you cannot hope to solve it. If instead of addressing your gambling addiction you decide to join a group called Gamblers for Equal Access to Housing, your bank is not likely to be impressed.

The real problem that makes “certain groups” at-risk is not their sexual orientation. Women who have sex with women, for example, do not appear to be driving the numbers of monkeypox infections, even though they are the L in LGBTQ; and presumably, neither do those women who happen to identify as men and are thus the T. In order to better understand what may be happening with monkeypox, it is instructive to take a look at the similar and in-many-ways-related HIV epidemic in Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, some countries, such as Botswana, for example, report more than 40% of all adults – most of whom are heterosexual – infected with HIV; and in Fracistown, around 50% of pregnant women test positive for HIV – these are pregnant women who have sex with men who have sex with women. According to an article published in the Discover magazine (Feb. 2004), the reason for the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is quite simple – at least, mathematically. As far back as the 1980s, “Australian demographer John Caldwell insisted that the virus was spreading rapidly in Africa simply because people there tended to have more sexual partners than people elsewhere.” Apparently, this was not self-evident enough to policy makers at the time, and a search for a more convoluted and implausible explanation continued for several decades. “Recently, though,” the article continues, “some experts, including epidemiologist James Chin of the University of California at Berkeley, have revisited the theory. Chin believes it’s the only possible explanation: ‘People tell me not to say it, but I strongly believe it.'” The key discovery is that, for cultural reasons, people in sub-Saharan Africa tend to have many sexual partners concurrently – sometimes, 10 or more. For example, “Ugandan men and women had sex many times over many years with each of their partners. If one of those partners was HIV-positive, the relationship would prove very risky over time.” Thus, the maths are quite simple: if a person has only five partners at one time, and each one of them has five others, then the person in question is in a “once-removed” relationship with twenty-five people simultaneously, in addition to a “twice-removed” relationship with 125 people and a “thrice-removed” relationship with another 625, for a total of 775 people all at the same time – and we are only half-way to the six degrees of Kevin Bacon! Before too long, thousands of people are exchanging diseases with each other and creating an epidemic. I do not write this as a judgment of African cultures or values – far from it! – but rather as a condemnation of the Western response to the problem. Ignoring the real problem and pretending that the HIV epidemic in Africa is caused by a lack of condoms or pills or by poverty, and that we need to send more of condoms or corn to the continent, is strangely unintelligent. Gay men in the U.S. have a much greater access to both condoms and corn – at least, compared to the pregnant women in Botswana – and yet they also experience an HIV epidemic. Conversely, severely impoverished people in Afghanistan lack access to both American condoms and American corn, and yet there is no HIV epidemic in Afghanistan. One need not be well-schooled in the scientific method in order to suspect that scientists and politicians who refuse to address the real causes of the HIV and monkeypox epidemics are mostly engaged in monkey business.

In a previous post on same-sex marriage, I mentioned that a “quick internet research reveals that 28% of gay men have over 1000 sexual partners in their lifetime” and many others are not too far behind. Many of these relationships are concurrent, rather than consecutive. Whatever the definition of “concurrent” may apply in this situation, WHO experts believe that the present monkeypox outbreak “appears to have been caused by sexual activity at two recent raves in Europe.” Compare this to an article in Scientific American from June of this year that proudly reported: “In Chicago last month, thousands of gay men gathered for the first time in three years for the annual International Mr. Leather conference, a four-day-long affair where men from all over the world gathered to strut their stuff in leather gear, have lots of sex, and compete to be named International Mr. Leather… Gay men socialize in intimate ways in large groups—at saunas, at raves and at conferences like International Mr. Leather.” (An attentive reader will undoubtedly notice the relevant parts in this description.) In other words, the epidemic is driven by a lifestyle, not sexual orientation of persuasion as such. (Full disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and you may wish to consult with your healthcare provider before engaging in “close, intimate contact” with your spouse or cuddling your children.) Curiously, the CDC appears to be on to this. In one list of recommendations (most of which are not suitable for reproducing here), one finds the following statement:

Having multiple or anonymous sex partners may increase your chances of exposure to monkeypox. Limiting your number of sex partners may reduce the possibility of exposure.

Note that unlike other items on the list, such as “have virtual sex with no in-person contact,” the statement above is not in the imperative mood, not worded as a recommendation, but rather as a hedgy aside; and it is not helpful. Limiting from 1000 to 700 in a lifetime? Asking for a name before indulging? The mention of anonymity is especially puzzling, since it is impossible for me to ascertain precisely how anonymity contributes to the risk of infection, or how knowing someone’s name would mitigate that risk. Similarly, the WHO says that, “for men who have sex with men [it is recommended] for the moment, reducing your number of sexual partners, reconsidering sex with new partners, and exchanging contact details with any new partners…” Whatever precisely is meant by “reducing,” it is just “for the moment.” Oh, and don’t forget to get his number. I suppose, one cannot expect governments to be in the business of putting restrictions on people’s lifestyles, even if these lifestyles cause a Disaster Emergency… Oh, wait! Was it not in recent memory that our government shut down churches and prohibited people from visiting their elderly parents? Perhaps then, gay saunas and Mr. Leather events could also be re-considered. – Just a thought…

No, I do not think that God is punishing gay men with monkeypox any more than He punishes alcoholics with liver cancer or smokers with lung cancer. No one has died from monkeypox in the U.S., but almost 700 thousand people in the U.S. have died of heart disease in 2020 (twice the number of COVID deaths for the same year), yet there is no Disaster Emergency declaration for this lifestyle-related illness. Unlike “certain at-risk groups,” however, heart disease sufferers are not protesting and demanding that the government address their health concerns. Alcoholics are not demanding that the government spend money on developing a vaccine that allows them to binge-drink non-stop and still avoid health consequences. Smokers are not demanding that the government fund campaigns to fight against the social stigma of smoking. And diabetics do not demand that the taxpayers foot the bill for free salads for anyone addicted to sugary drinks. Yet “certain at-risk groups” hold protests and demand “quicker investment in our stockpile of monkeypox vaccines.” Even though lesbians are not yet affected by the disease, the National Center for Lesbian Rights is “demanding that the Federal government take action to stop the spread of hMPXV [human monkeypox virus – S.S.] and protect the health of LGBTQ individuals now” [the emphasis on now is theirs]. They are demanding that the federal, state, and local governments take “more immediate action” and warn that “a continued lack of urgency will not be tolerated.” It seems that the only thing not being demanded is an immediate change to the lifestyle that puts “certain groups” at risk.

Here are some curious maths: the rate of monkeypox infection, the dreaded and apocalyptic Disaster Emergency, in the at 0.00157% – that is 15 ten-thousandth of one percent. The rate of obesity the U.S. (not counting the overweight numbers – just the obese ones), is at 43% – almost 29 thousand times higher. No deaths from monkeypox have been reported in the U.S., but at least 300,000 deaths per year linked to obesity have been reported as far back as 20 years ago, and this number only continues to grow. Imagine if all the chubby Americans descended on Washington and demanding that the federal government do something – spend more money, raise more awareness, develop more vaccines – in order that more body-positive Americans could eat all the doughnuts and drink all the soda they want with no health consequences of any kind! Perhaps, we should.

As much as I am not in favor of government meddling in people’s lives, especially, in how or with whom people engage in “close and intimate contact,” it would be very amusing to see the CDC mandate that men who have sex with men maintain social distancing of six feet, wear personal protective equipment, and to impose a limit on attendance at Pride and Mr. Leather to twenty-five or fewer. (The rest of the attendees could join by Zoom, of course.) Only for two weeks – to flatten the curve.

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What Is Good and What Is Bad?

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 3 March 2021

It is a rather strange phenomenon when black-and-white meanings or all-or-nothing interpretations are assigned to sacred texts. Am I the Publican or the Pharisee? Am I the Prodigal Son or the Elder Son? Even the obvious ambiguity of the text is often brushed aside, overlooked, or explained away. Christ said that the Publican went down to his house justified. Some have advised to imitate the Publican lest one is condemned with the Pharisee (see Amma Syncletica [Apophthegmata Patrum] among many others). But Christ did not actually say that the Pharisee was condemned. Perhaps he was, but this is not self-evident to me. (It is certainly good advice to imitate the Publican, though solely in his repentance – an emphasis that necessarily must be made.)


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The Danger of Academic Christianity

Posted in Fasting, Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 6 January 2021

It is not uncommon to hear the comment from those outside the Church that Christians seem to be no different from most secular people or from non-believers. Christians recognize this problem as well and often retort that while the Church is indeed “spotless and without blemish” (Eph 5:27), the people who make up the Church “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). It is often said that the Church is like a hospital that is naturally full of sick people. Indeed, even such holy men as Saint Macarius the Great prayed: “O God, cleanse me a sinner, for I have never done anything good in Thy sight.” (Yet this should hardly be an occasion to propose that since such great saints never did anything good in the sight of God [and they would not fib or lie about that, would they?], then we are also justified in not doing anything good.)


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On the Closure of Churches–3

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 10 May 2020

Well, we have finally succumbed to the pandemic and held our first video discussion. I am still not live-streaming services (although I have done so, many years ago, for reasons completely unrelated to the current pandemic). The topic of our virtual discussion was the Eucharistic presence during the lock-downs, and what it means, or whether it is possible, to be present at the Eucharist via video chat. The participants in our discussion shared many interesting ideas and perspectives, and here are a few of my own afterthoughts.

A word of caution

First and foremost, we all seemed to agree that just because technology exists, that does not mean that it is good or appropriate by default. It seems that almost universally, almost without questioning, Orthodox churches began to live-stream services as soon as the various procurators and governors told us to do so. The situation was developing very rapidly, the technology was immediately available, and we dove in without an opportunity to question the very nature of what we were doing. Essentially, Facebook Liturgies caught us by surprise. On the one hand, some, like me, had already experimented with live-streaming for years–though never as an alternate way to “attend” services. On the other hand, we have all become very used to enjoying various audio and video recordings of everything church-related–from Liturgies to church choir concerts, and from Orthodox fiction to daily prayers. So, when we were told to log on for the Eucharist, we did not find this too objectionable. Yet the theological work of examining the spiritual safety and implications of these practices has not yet been done. (more…)

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On the Closure of Churches – 2

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 23 March 2020

See also:

On the Closure of Churches

Liturgical Minyan

Fasting During a Pandemic

My previous post “On the Closure of Churches” made some people wonder whether I am not taking the threat of the viral pandemic seriously, or whether I am advocating for some sort of disobedience to our civil authorities. I do not think that it is absolutely necessary for me to clarify my position. First of all, I try to make it abundantly clear that I am not a medical doctor, nor do I have any training in virology. Anyone who cares about what a non-expert like me thinks about such complex matters as pandemics, is making a serious error in his or her judgment. Secondly, not only did I not advocate for breaking social-distancing rules, but we, along with everyone else, have dutifully closed our services to the public and are in full compliance with all applicable government orders.

That said, however, I find it important to continue the conversation about the place in which the Holy Church finds Herself today. Should our only response to the government’s order to jump be in asking ‘how high?’ Or should we have a healthy degree of self-awareness and take personal responsibility for both our physical and spiritual health and needs? I trust it is obvious to everyone that the situation with the pandemic is developing very rapidly, and many things are in a state of flux. But here are a few things that I find important to observe and of which to be aware. (more…)

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Fasting During a Pandemic

Posted in Fasting, Practical Matters, Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 22 March 2020

Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. — Lk 12:32

Today, the Holy Church venerates the Life-Giving Cross of Christ. Despite the raging pandemic, we continue our observance of Great Lent as we look forward to the Pascha of the Lord, His bright and glorious resurrection. As the mass media proclaims death in an overload of non-stop “news” about the coronavirus, the Church continues to proclaim life. (more…)

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On the Closure of Churches

Posted in Practical Matters, Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 20 March 2020

See also:

On the Closure of Churches – 2

Liturgical Minyan

Fasting During a Pandemic

Update 2020-03-21: On March 20, 2020 Illinois Governor Pritzker issued an executive order the prohibited “all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household.” Thus, the order prohibits all and any religious activities or services, unless officiated by members of a single household, and shuts down all churches. Strangely, this order exempts liquor stores and recreational cannabis dispensaries (presumably, due to their essential function). [*] 

2020-03-20: In a surreal move, governors of several states banned religious worship. The governor of Wisconsin, for example, specifically included religious worship in his ban on gatherings greater than 10 people (which naturally applies to all but the very smallest mission congregations and would have banned even Christ Himself from congregating with His 12 apostles), while the governor of New York banned all “non-essential” gatherings of any size. (It is unclear at this point whether Andrew Cuomo would consider the celebration of the Eucharist–even by just one priest and one chanter–to be essential, but my best guess is that he would not.) (more…)

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The Dread Judgment: Reading Matthew 25:31-46

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 23 February 2020

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 

Today’s Gospel reading should be very uncomfortable for two kinds of people. First, it should bother the clergy. We know what people should and should not do, what they should and should not eat, how much and how often, when they should pray and which prayers they should say and in which order, which Hours precede the Divine Liturgy and which follow. [*] We even know precisely when and how the people must make the sign of the cross–down to exactly how they must fold their fingers–and how low to bow, depending on the ranking of the saint commemorated on a given day. In other words, we, the clergy, are too often the people of the rules, we deal in “mint and anise and cummin” (Matt 23:23), and we wish that the Lord said: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for ye observed the rules and fulfilled the obligations.” But, of course, this is not what the Lord said. In fact, in this passage, He did not say a single word about a single rule. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him” (Matt 25:31), He will not ask, “Have you pray’d to-night, Desdemona?” (Othello a. 5, s. 2) but, Have you given drink to the thirsty? Have you visited the sick? We, the clergy, the learned men of the cloth, can tell you when shrimp is allowed, but can we tell you how to feed the hungry?  (more…)

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“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Ps 90:17): 3. Saint John

Posted in Reflections, The Beauty of the Lord, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 December 2019


Lo, Thy care for thy flock in its sojourn prefigured the supplication which thou dost ever offer up for the whole world. Thus do we believe, having come to know thy love, O holy hierarch and wonderworker John. Wholly sanctified by God through the ministry of the all-pure Mysteries and thyself ever strengthened thereby, thou didst hasten to the suffering, O most gladsome healer, hasten now also to the aid of us who honor thee with all our heart. (Troparion to St. John, Tone 5)

In March of 2018, six months after hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and my family was evacuated off the island, I finally received a transfer and was able to move to Wisconsin and reunite with my family. (more…)

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The Chair Recognizes the Gentlelady?

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 1 November 2019

Since English is not my native tongue, it is sometimes amusing to play with words. The present culture of political correctness makes this exercise ever more fun and even a little funny. (more…)

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“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Ps 90:17): 2. The Ride

Posted in Reflections, The Beauty of the Lord, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 26 October 2019

I suspect that some stories about miraculous help at the intercession of saints are factually incorrect. (Although, this does not necessarily mean that they are untrue, as there is a great deal of difference between what we presently consider to be facts and the Truth.) I myself have been the subject of such “fake news” at least on one occasion. It was reported on the “world wild web” that a child had been miraculously brought back from the dead by the intercessions of Saint John of Shanghai, and that I, utterly unworthy that I am, was somehow involved. This report was mostly factually incorrect. (more…)

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“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Ps 90:17): 1. The Covering

Posted in Reflections, The Beauty of the Lord by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 October 2019

Some stories are best written down. If not, in time they are forgotten or distorted, and even the people whose stories they are can no longer agree on what happened or whether it happened at all. How many of these stories have already been forgotten and will never add to the beauty of our human experience in this world? To remember is not simply to archive or to catalogue, but to make real and meaningful. Some things in life are too beautiful to forget, or archive, or to catalogue. Thus, I shall now attempt to keep them diligently, “lest [I] forget the things which [mine] eyes have seen, and lest they depart from [mine] heart…” (Deut. 4:9) (more…)

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“But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still…” – Exodus 23:11

Posted in Practical Matters, Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 21 September 2019

There are passages in the Scripture that we read, and remember, and even mention in various contexts without truly comprehending their significance. (I rather suspect that this phenomenon can be observed not exclusively with respect to the Scripture but somewhat in general with respect to much of what we read or say.) It is in this particular way that a passage from Exodus recently caught my attention. (more…)

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Saint Peter the Fisherman

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 July 2019
In popular forms of Orthodoxy, Saint Peter the Fisherman is sometimes seen as the patron saint of fishermen–a very relevant connection for those of us living in Wisconsin. In times past, when most people lived closer to the earth rather than on the concrete slabs which are our modern cities, on the feast day of the Holy Apostles, fishermen gathered in churches for special prayer services in honor of Saint Peter the Fisherman. Perhaps, a more sophisticated mind will quickly correct the simplicity of the village fisherman and point out that it is God, not Saint Peter per se (albeit, by the prayers and the intersessions of Saint Peter–sure!), Who grants us the fruits of our labors, including the toils of the fisherman. But sophistication does not always correspond to supreme wisdom. In his simple way, the fisherman believes that Saint Peter surely knows first hand what it is like to “toil all night and bring home nothing” (cf. Lk 5:5). And it is the eagerness of Saint Peter to follow the word of Christ that continues to inspire the fisherman: “Nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net” (ibid.). And so it is with many of us: even after fishing all night and catching nothing, we would still rather be fishing–especially, since Christ Himself urges us to go back out and fish some more!–because maybe–just maybe!–with God’s blessing and by the prayers and the intersessions of the Holy Apostle Peter, we too can catch “a great multitude of fishes” (6).

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More Thoughts On Abortion

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 26 May 2019

With the preparations for a challenge to Roe v. Wade underway, the amount of abortion-related talk in the media is overwhelming. What is painfully frustrating is the refusal of the pro-abortion protesters to be honest. A difference in opinion can be discussed, understood, even respected, but it is absolutely impossible to engage on any meaningful level when one side of the conversation refuses to acknowledge basic reality and insists on a delusion. Of course, I can assume that most of them are not actually delusional. I rather suspect that they are perfectly normal and intelligent people. But if this is so, why can we not get past the obvious fact that a human baby is a human being ? I have a couple of ideas. (more…)

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No peeking, Lady Justice!

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 12 April 2019

A curious case was argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on March 20th of this year–Flowers v. Mississippi (Docket No. 17-9572). Thanks to a very popular APM podcast, many people are well-aware of the basic facts of this case. But it is neither the facts nor the evidence of the case that is being questioned at the Supreme Court; it is the possible Batson violation perpetrated by the prosecution. In other words, the counsel for Curtis Flowers argued that the District Attorney Dough Evans who prosecuted the case repeatedly used his peremptory strikes to eliminate Black potential candidates from the jury just because they were Black. If the Court rules in Flowers’ favor, his conviction for a quadruple homicide will be overturned not because he happens to be innocent of the crime–the issue of his guilt or innocence is not at all of any importance in the case before the Supreme Court–but because Black candidates were eliminated from the jury. (more…)

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On the Value of Human Life

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 13 February 2019

In my previous post, I brought up the complexity of our view of the value of human life. For example, the good people of the State of New York, who are celebrating their new “fundamental right” to kill their own child on the very day the child is to be born (or on any prior day), find it inhumane to execute violent criminals. To be precise, the death penalty was first suspended in New York due to a technicality. Steven LaValle, who one Sunday morning raped a jogger and then stabbed her more than 70 times with a screwdriver and was sentenced to death, took his case all the way to the New York Court of Appeals. The court invalidated his death sentence due to the unconstitutionality of some of the jury instructions. Since then, for what is now more than two decades, the good people of New York have not only continued to take good care of Mr. LaValle at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars each year, but they have also continued to elect lawmakers and politicians who are either against the death penalty or refuse to be for it. In other words, New Yorkers appear to believe two seemingly-contradictory things: that it is inhumane to kill people–even if those people are violent criminals who have caused unimaginable suffering to other people, and that it is perfectly acceptable to kill children if their mere existence might cause some emotional distress or inconvenience to the mother (and what child does not?!). (more…)

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Abortion: Truth in Advertising

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 26 January 2019

Two opposing things happened almost simultaneously a short while ago–the March for Life in Washington and the signing of the Reproductive Health Act in New York. Much has been said on the issue, and much more of the same will continue to be said. It is hardly possible to say anything that has not already been said. But the mere fact that two such different events can happen at the very same time shows that the two sides in this debate are no closer to hearing each other. In fact, it appears that they are growing further apart. One mechanism that enables the widening of this divide is the linguistic spin being put on the issue of abortion. Each side creates its own narrative that appears to reflect a fictional world that does not actually exist. (more…)

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On the Government Shutdown

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 January 2019

Most people who know me know that I work for the U.S. Department of Justice which is currently affected by the government shutdown. So, if you personally did not know anyone affected by the shutdown, now you do. Sure, it is very difficult to go without a paycheck and quite possibly without two or more paychecks in a row. Unlike federal employees who are actually furloughed–that is to say, they do not go to work–and can get temporary jobs, apply for unemployment, etc., I and my co-workers still have to go to work every day–we just do not get paid. Eventually, there will be back-pay. Grocery stores and gas stations, however, still seem to want money today for the bread or the gasoline that I need to buy today. (more…)

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Quo vadis?

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 31 December 2018

As the New Year approaches, many of us think about what is lacking in our lives and what we want to change. One of the most common attempts of resolving the dissonance between our real life and the one we want to have consists of the so-called New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions are notoriously broken and abandoned in the very first weeks of January, but this points to flaws in their implementation, rather than in the idea itself. The main idea—namely, that if one wants to change something in one’s life, one must do something about it—is very much correct. This idea is both intuitive and supported by life experience. If, for example, I want to leave the room, I must get up from my chair and begin to make steps toward the door—one step at a time. If I stay the course, it is guaranteed that I will make my way to the door and, in fact, leave the room. (more…)

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A Brief Note on Fasting and How Christianity May Have Influenced Our Relationship with Meat

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

While many Orthodox Christians have already celebrated the birth of Christ on December 25 along with Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians, by most estimates, many more Orthodox around the world (most, in fact) continue to observe the Nativity fast in preparation for the Christmas celebration on January 7. And by most estimates, the Orthodox of any calendar persuasion fast for more than two hundred days each year. (more…)

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“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. (more…)

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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?). (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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? (more…)

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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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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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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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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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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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