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  • Wise Lives: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Wisdom of Sirach
    Wise Lives: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Wisdom of Sirach
    by Patrick Henry Reardon
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Check here often for event anouncements as well as books, blogs and talks from our speakers!

Wednesday
Dec072016

Fr. John A. Peck, Bringing Orthodoxy a Little Closer

Want to Live Longer? Go to Church. Go to Church. Go to Church.

 

Many Americans say they attend church because it helps them stay grounded and gives them spiritual guidance. A new study suggests that regular attendance may also help increase their lifespan.

Researchers looked at data on nearly 75,000 middle-age female nurses in the United States as part of the Nurses’ Health Study. The participants answered questions about whether they attended religious services regularly every four years between 1992 and 2012, and about other aspects of their lives over the years.

The researchers found that women who went to church more than once a week had a 33% lower risk of dying during the study period compared with those who said they never went. Less-frequent attendance was also associated with a lower risk of death, as women who attended once a week or less than weekly had 26% and 13% lower risk of death, respectively. Women who regularly attended religious services also had higher rates of social support and optimism, had lower rates of depression and were less likely to smoke. However, the researchers took into account these differences between churchgoers and non-churchgoers when they calculated the decrease in death rates of 13% to 33%.

Read more here

Fr. John has a zeal to bring the Gospel of Christ as it is comprehended and preached in our Orthodox tradition to the American people. He believes that Orthodox Christianity offers a strong cultural apologetic to Americans of the twenty-first century. He has a number of published books and articles, and he is available to speak on many topics that may be viewed here.

Wednesday
Nov302016

Lea Povozhaev, on the Relationship between Body and Soul

Lea Povozhaev is an Orthodox Christian mother of five, wife of a man from Russia, author, and writing instructor. She is interested in holistic health, especially the relationship between the body and soul. In a recent blog, she shares an experience she had giving birth and how it seemed related to death.

***

Passing Over: Temporal Breath, Eternal Spirit

“If, then, when death takes possession of a man, it drives life away from him, and proves him to be dead, much more does life, when it has obtained power over the man, drive out death, and restore him as living unto God. For if death brings mortality, why should not life, when it comes, vivify man?” (St. Irenaeus, c. 130-202)

I first sensed the relationship between life and death when I was pregnant with my second son a decade earlier. My aunt was dying with breast cancer as we celebrated Mother’s Day at the rickety picnic table in my backyard. Her long gray braid had been shorn, and her face was softer, thinner. My womb was new with life, hope sweet like the plume of her favorite lilacs set on the table between us. Though I sensed that death and life seemed to relate, I hadn’t found the words to describe this connection, and my experience was yet immature.

Seasons of life continued, and seven years later we were expecting our second daughter, the fourth of our eventual five children. At this time, another aunt was passing away. My womb was round with life as I sat beside her on the hospital bed, softly reading a prayer for the dying. She was feeble, and so real. Nothing pretentious separated our spirits, which seemed melded by a single mission. The heartbeat within my womb was one with the thread of life that weaved through my aunt and me.

“Read it again. It comforts me,” she said. Family warned she wasn’t cogent, that she was exhausted, but I knew she heard, understood, that she was present in the words that breathed through my spirit. I asked the nurse to put the prayer in her medical folder. This wasn’t about religion. No, this was about faith realized in the tender moments of pain that asserts only the real. There was no longer a world of things to distract my aunt from the reality of her body and soul. She realized the relationship of her whole personhood, and I also felt the synergism of our bodies and souls. I felt this connection of body-soul within myself personally, with my aunt, and even with the whole world somehow.

Experience, rather than theological discussion, doctrine, or philosophy, was teaching my heart something powerful, though still unclear to me: “If you realize the symbiotic relationship between the body and soul, then you perceive the Body of Christ, which is the Church.” Whatever this was coming to mean, it was beyond what a book or even a priest might tell me.

We conceived our fifth child two years later. It had been an exhausting end-of-pregnancy, as I was busy caring for our two small girls, the two older boys with needs of their own. Depression born from weariness and impatience with the physical and emotional strains of pregnancy flooded me at the end. Earlier in the pregnancy, I had determined to have a natural childbirth and induction at week 39 hadn’t been in my plan. So when I went to the hospital at 5 a.m. for the elective induction, carrying a hose brought from home to hook up to the hospital’s (rarely used) birthing tub, the nurse gently told me that my expectations may not be met: natural childbirth in a hospital where I had opted to be induced one week early.

The day before my induction, my body had been preparing for labor—all of the normal you’re-almost-there signs of labor were present like sporadic contractions, thirst, and extreme heaviness. My mother was with me and my small girls as we passed time slowly in the heat of the afternoon. It had been an excruciatingly hot summer, even if one weren’t prego, but I don’t think I had ever minded the heat so much as then. This was another one of those hot, bright days, but my mind, or was it my heart, soul, did not feel the weight of my body in an acute and uncomfortable way. Instead, there was a sense of ease bleeding into me, an unreal sensation of total peace.

“I feel like I could… die or sleep,” I told my mom. She asked me to please sleep. The feeling was unexpected and difficult to understand, though I wasn’t bothered by the inability to grasp it. The freedom from the weight was great, and beautiful. It was true that the end was nearing with each moment and soon the baby would be delivered. That would of course be glorious and of course brought a sensation of relief, but the intoxicating release of ease moving through me wasn’t so much attached to the induction that guaranteed delivery of our baby. It seemed beyond me, until the labor and birth of my son, Alexander.

My fifth labor and delivery of Alexander was without pain medication. It was “natural,” though it seems to me that birthing a baby, like death, is supernatural, however it might occur. I hadn’t before felt pain in my body that would not be eased by some outside aid. This time, as I did, I went inside myself, looking hard for God.

“Jesus Christ,” was in my mind, flooding my whole body, and I was strong and able to submit to the burn of pain. My face tensed with my fingers wrapped tightly around steel. Release, I heard. When the pain would begin, and mount, I moaned, deep and loud. Bring it down, I heard. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. And I could do it. He could do it. We were doing it.

“You’re a rock star,” a well-meaning nurse encouraged, and I snapped out of the zone. I lost the Name. I felt the searing pain and feared it with all my strength.

“Is it too late for the epidural? How long is transition?” I was overcome by the world, its force was against me. I couldn’t do it without the aid. The answers to my questions didn’t come; faces didn’t explain: blank. There was only Jesus Christ. Returning toJesus Christ… 

The intensity of pain in childbirth is the intensity of pain in dying. It is not always physical, but sometimes it is. The soul is pained, too. The soul leaves the confines of the present place and time, and for an indiscernible period of time, one’s spirit enters another realm. It seems a place where God is. A space that is beyond all the cares of our universe. Life and death is rebirth. Life and death is passing over, and entering into… We—Alexander and I—had truly been somewhere else. In this silent place of Truth and Love, where birth and death occur, the world pales, takes second seat to spiritual reality.

On a Sunday after I had returned to church, my priest spoke on how each baptized enters the death and life of Jesus Christ. We are “clay jars,” and we walk around in “potshards.” Our lives are for us to carry out acceptance of the Cross of Christ. St. Paul says that we should show the life and death of Christ by our lives, and my priest explained that by this we deny ourselves things in this life that do not please our Lord. This is our Cross, in part. The life of Christ is seen in our joy and peace, in the beauty of God that can shine through a “clay jar” that is filling with the Holy Spirit. Others are drawn to the Light of Christ in a Christian. Life is sacrificial, as Christ’s own was and continues to be—our Eucharist, our life and salvation. Death is passing over into the life of Jesus Christ, and faith is living this reality by cleaving to the Name and believing it is all that is needed. Such faith moves us to endure all things and to sacrifice because of heartfelt love of God. 

To view Lea’s books and speaking topics, check out her page on the Orthodox Speakers Bureau site.  

Wednesday
Nov232016

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon and Pastoral Ponderings

Father Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings, originally posted on September 4, 2016

The Wordling

During the two years that the Apostle Paul spent in prison at Caesarea (Acts 24:27), certain of his fellow workers had sufficient access to him that he could include them with the note “sends greetings” in the epistles that he wrote at that time. Their number included his “fellow laborers,” Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke (Philemon 24). It is curious, as we shall see, that Paul mentions Demas and Luke together.

Near the end of the Epistle to the Colossians (4:14), composed during the same period, Paul wrote, “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.” It appears that these two men, Demas and Luke, afterwards traveled with Paul to Rome, where he spent another two years under house arrest (Acts 28:30). When, writing to Timothy toward the end of that time, Paul was preparing to die, he made one final and very significant reference to Demas and Luke: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessaloniki … Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:10).

We know a good deal about the rest of Luke’s career, of course, but about Demas we hear not another word, nor does this final reference prompt us much to hope for him—“having loved this present world.” Demas had his chance, so to speak. Had he not loved “this present world” (literally, “the now age”—to nun aiona), there is every reason to suspect that he would be invoked throughout Christian history as Saint Demas and, like Luke, be remembered with a feast day in the Christian calendar. So what happened?

Demas loved “the present age,” we are told. That is to say, through all his time of ministry, even sharing in some measure the apostolic hardships of St. Paul, Demas remained at root a worldly man. Mark, another of his friends, described folks of this sort, in whom “the cares of the world [tou aionos], the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Surely it was not the case that Demas, St. Paul’s fellow worker, had never been cautioned about worldliness. Is it possible to think he had not once heard Paul admonish, “do not be conformed to this world [to aioni touto]” (Romans 12:2)? How could any companion of the Apostle Paul be ignorant about the perils of “the world” or “the present age” (1 Corinthians 1:20; 2:6,8; 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:21; 6:12; Titus 2:12 [en to nun aioni]). Nor was this pessimism concerning the world a peculiarity of Paul.

The Apostle John, though he does not use Paul’s expression aion to speak of it, often employs the noun kosmos in pretty much the same moral sense—namely, the “world” as creation in rebellion against God. This was the world for which Jesus refused to pray (John 17:9), the world out of which the Lord called His disciples that they should not belong to it (17:6,11), the world that hates both Him and them (15:18,19; 17:14; 1 John 3:1,13; 4:17).

The failure of Demas was that he “loved” the world. It is remarkable that Paul should use the participle agapesas in reference to Demas’s love of the world, because normally this verb refers to God’s love for men, men’s love for God, and their love of one another in God. However unusual, nonetheless, this is the same verb employed by St. John when he warns Christians, “Do not love the world [me agapate ton kosmon] or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). The context of this passage throws a helpful light on the tragedy of Demas, for John goes on to comment, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The world does not know God and cannot receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:7).

There is an absolute gulf, therefore, between the world and the Father. We suspect that Demas did not see this right away, because a man does not suddenly go from complete fidelity to total loss of faith. The decline is usually by degrees. Toward the end, however, and perhaps after years of compromising, Demas himself came to see that God and the world constitute a decisive either/or, because “all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). One cannot forever have it both ways. Faced with this radical either/or, worldly Demas made his choice. 

***

Check out Fr. Pat’s podcast on Ancient Faith where he shares his thoughts and experiences. Fr. Pat is an Orthodox pastor, homilist, writer, and teacher. He is pastor of All Saints’ Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL, and a senior editor of Touchstone Magazine. In the past forty years, Fr. Patrick has published over 1000 articles. View his speaker page and check out his work and consider having Fr. Pat come and speak.  

Wednesday
Nov162016

Fr. Antony Gabriel

 

Bobby Maddex interviewed Fr. Antony Gabriel, the Chairman of the Antiochian Heritage Foundation, the recently retired rector of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church of Montreal, Quebec, and the author of Reflections on the Priesthood, portions of which have already been published on the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America website. Fr. Gabriel is also the author of the forthcoming book Silence: A Diary of Suffering and Redemption, published by Westbow Press.

Click here to listen to the interview.

Fr. Antony Gabriel has been a priest in the Antiochian Archidiocese for 54 years. He is available to speak on topics such as suffering and grief and marriage and family. 

Wednesday
Nov162016

John McKinney, "The Trailmaster"

John McKinney is an author, speaker, and hiking expert. Take a hike into a world he navigates by foot and soul, and shares with powerful tales on his website. John is also available to speak on a number of topics, such as hiking the Holy Mountain.

Here is a recent blog he wrote on hiking with gratitude:

Hike with Gratitude: Giving Thanks on the Trail

“God has two dwellings: one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart,” declared Izaak Walton, the 17th century English writer now regarded as the “patron saint of fishing.”

Walton’s walks by the river Dove and along the banks of many other brooks and ponds, inspired him to write “The Compleat Angler,” still regarded as the greatest book ever about fishing. His book combines practical advice on the art of angling with some highly moral and spiritual passages. Walton’s gratitude for God’s gifts, the beauties of pastoral England and the companionship of his fellows shines right through in his book, as admired now as it was when published in 1653.

“Nobody expresses their gratitude about anything or thanks me,” you say. Likely as not, you’re probably right. Try to remember the last time anyone thanked you for anything. It was probably a “Thanks-and-have-a-nice-day,” at the check-out counter from a supermarket cashier or a “Thanks for your order,” from a fast-food franchise. Such gratitude!

Now try to remember the last time anyone thanked you for anything important. It’s a dispiriting cycle: we rarely get thanks, and we rarely give it. Even those of us who try hard not to be thoughtless are often thankless–except perhaps for the one hour a week we spend inside our house of worship.

My suggestion: On one walk—better yet one hike—a week use a few minutes of your time to exercise your gratitude while you stretch your limbs. List everything in your life that you are thankful for, and everything that you enjoy. Contemplate this list on your hike.

Warning: this exercise in gratitude might require considerable spiritual effort, may stretch, to the point of strain, a rarely used muscle. Expressing thanks might seem ever-so-saccharine; to the most curmudgeonly among us, it might elicit a gag response.

And yet hiking with an attitude of gratitude takes us someplace special. The way it helps us is by bringing our life into balance. Just as hiking integrates the body and mind, expressing gratitude integrates what’s all right with our world with what’s wrong.

Giving thanks brings our life into harmony. No wonder scripture, such as this passage from Psalm 92, often describes gratitude toward God as “singing praises.”

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
And to sing praises to Your Name, O Most High;
To declare your loving kindness in the morning.
And Your faithfulness every night,
On an instrument of ten strings,
On the lute.
And on the harp,
With harmonious sound.

We can be thankful for possessions and money and yet for the freedom to walk the whole earth, and for the great benefits of our creative spirit, our life and health, we consider ourselves under no obligation to express any gratitude.

By expressing our gratitude, we can hike from feeling stressed to feeling blessed. A grateful thought toward heaven is the simplest of prayers.

Hike with gratitude.

Hike On,

John McKinney
The Trailmaster

***

Original blog post here.

Monday
Oct312016

John Granger "The Dean of Harry Potter Scholars"

If you like Harry Potter and wish to understand—or simply be entertained—take a look at John Granger, he has much to say. Check out “Hogwart’s Professor, Thoughts for Serious Readers.”

More work and speaking topics for John Granger can be veiwed on his Orthodox Speakers page.

Wednesday
Oct262016

Frederica Mathewes-Green, In Honor of the Theotokos...

Check out Frederica’s website and especially her recent post on a litany drawn from the Paraklesis Hymn . It is printable and a good bookmark—and who doesn’t love remembrances of the infinite love and care of our Theotokos?! 

She is available to speak on many issues, and I would like to highlight abortion. It seems we must protect our sensitivity to the gift of life in a world blinded by violence and abuse. Check out the many speakers on the Orthodox Speakers Bureau who are interested in fostering love and life, including Frederica,  here