That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Month: October, 2012

The Age’s Advice

I enjoyed, and heartily sympathize with, this post by Andrew Kern of the Circe Institute:

These are the worst pieces of advice I ever received:

1. Express yourself
2. Follow your heart
3. Don’t accept limits
4. Follow your feelings

If those ideas had never come near my soul, my whole life would have been improved.

(Found via Rod Dreher’s blog. Thanks.)

Never too late

This potent tale from Archimandrite Tikhon’s Everyday Saints comes as a good reminder not to judge my fellow believers and to consider myself the worst of my brethren.

Somewhere in the depths of Russia before the Revolution there was a monastery that had a bad reputation in the neighborhood. It was said that its monks were all idlers and drunkards. During the Civil War the Bolsheviks arrived in the town that was closest to the monastery. They gathered together its inhabitants in the market square, and then they dragged the monastery’s monks out in a convoy. The commissar loudly yelled at the people as he pointed to those men in black: “Citizens! Townsfolk! You know these drunkards, gluttons, and idlers better than I do! Now their power has come to an end. But so that you will understand more fully how these vagabonds have fooled the workers and peasants for centuries, we will throw their cross and their Scriptures into the dust before them. Now, before your very eyes, you will see how each of them will stamp upon these tools of deceit and enslavement of the people! And then we will let them go, and let the four winds scatter them!” The crowd roared. And as the people cheered, up walked the monastery’s abbot, a stout man with a meaty face and nose all red from drinking. And he said as he turned to his fellow monks: “Well, my brothers, we have lived like pigs, but let us at least die like Christians!’ And not a single one of those monks budged. That very day all their heads were chopped off by the sabers of the Bolsheviks.

Everyday Saints, p. 215

Everyday Saints can be ordered directly from the publisher, Pokrov Publications. It may also be available on Amazon, though it wasn’t when I ordered the book recently.

The key to blogging success: LENTILS

From time to time I look at my site statistics. I’m often surprised, but always grateful, that people find their way to this blog. Today I looked at my stats and noticed that my most-visited post, by far, is a haunting poem about lentils by the Armenian poet Zahrad. I can only conclude that many people innocently searching for a good lentil soup recipe end up here. To them I say, My apologies, no recipes here, but I hope you enjoy the blog.

So great a cloud of witnesses

As in the earthly life there are poor and rich, so also in the spiritual life, in the spiritual order, there are poor and rich. As the poor ask charity of the rich, and cannot live without help from them, so also in the spiritual order the poor must have recourse to the rich. We are the spiritually poor, whilst the saints, and those who shine even in this present life by their faith and piety, are the spiritually rich. It is to them that we needy ones must have recourse. We must beg for their prayers that they may help us to become simple as children, that they may teach us spiritual wisdom, how to conquer sins, how to love God and our neighbor. May the saints of God pray for us, that we may become like unto them.

— Saint John of Kronstadt (emphasis added)

Sorting out my bookshelf a few days ago, I noticed that the ever-expanding ‘contemporary elders’ section has been displacing many older books. (This section is not labelled or clearly-defined, but more or less includes lives, letters and teachings of Orthodox Saints and elders from the twentieth century to now.) I reflected how, years ago, I used to have much greater patience with theological works and practical but abstract texts like the Philokalia. These days, I feel upheld, comforted and challenged by spending time with Orthodox Christians of my own time who have labored to embody holiness in their own lives. In recent years we’ve been blessed with books by and about many such Christians: works by and about St. John Maximovitch, St. Nektarios, Elder Porphyrios, Elder Païsios, and Fr. Seraphim Rose come to mind. Perhaps my shift toward this kind of reading is just part of a movement, one which every believer needs to make, from “What is our Faith?” to “How can I live our Faith?” I sometimes wonder if those of us who come to the Faith later in life approach it in too theoretical a way: perhaps catechumens, as they learn about our beliefs, should spend at least as much time with these examples of lived Orthodoxy, especially examples from our own time. It’s odd that, when we bring up our children in the Church, we always introduce Orthodox practice before, or at least along with, dogma; but when we deal with adult catechumens we tend to emphasize dogma first, perhaps because we feel that they’re more “ready” for it. I’m reminded of a story by a convert about his first visit to an Orthodox church for Divine Liturgy. As he stood tentatively in a corner of the church, a kindly yia-yia approached him and asked “Are you Orthodox?” “No, I’m not.” (pause) “Would you like to be Orthodox?” “Yes, I think I would.” (pause) “Okay, I’ll show you how to light a candle.” I think she had the right idea.

As it happens, I’ve just begun what looks like a lovely example of the kind of Lived Orthodoxy work I’ve been pondering here: Everyday Saints by Archimandrite Tikhon. It’s a first-hand account of the life and experiences of a student in the Soviet Union who, with a few friends, embraced the Faith in the 1980s and eventually became a monk. The Russian original has the wonderful title Несвятые Святые (Nesvyatie Svyatie), which I think means something like “Unsaintly Saints.” These examples are so important to us! May we who are poor continue to seek and find the help of those who are rich.