Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Clarification

Dear Readers:

As many of you know last year was a very difficult time for me and my family. The Melkite Greek Catholic mission which I have served over the last five years or so has been closed, at least for the time being. I am taking a leave of absence from active service in the Eparchy for health reasons while continuing to serve in the administration of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, any misunderstanding or previous rumor to the contrary notwithstanding. I have no intention of joining the Orthodox Church. I remain at the disposal of my Eparch, Archbishop Cyril S Bustros.

Your servant in Christ,

Fr Titus Fulcher
AKA The Byzantine Rambler

Sunday, April 25, 2010

From the Evergetinos

Abba Isaac relates the following: "When I was younger, I stayed with Abba Kronios, who never asked me to do any work, even though he was old and had palsy. He would get up and give water from a pitcher both to me and others. As well, I stayed with Abba Theodore; neither did he ask me to do anything. He would set the dinner table himself and say to me: 'Brother, if you like, come to eat.' I would say to him, 'Abba, I moved in with you to be useful; why do you not, then, let me do something?' But the Elder always remained silent.

"I went to the Elders and told them this. Going to him, they said: 'Abba Theodore, this brother came to stay with your holiness in order to be useful; why do you not tell him to do something, too?' The Elder replied to them: 'Am I perhaps the Superior of some coenobitic monastery, so that I can give him orders? It is not mine in the least to tell him anything. If he likes, let him do what he sees me doing.'

"From that time I managed to do whatever the Elder did. But he, in all that he performed, did so silently. And this taught me to do my work in silence."

The Evergetinos, Vol II, I, E, 3.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wisdom from the Holy Mountain

Counsels from the Holy Mountain
Selected from the Letters and Homilies
of Elder Ephraim.

Chapter One
On Salvation and Paradise.

2. A time will come, the hour will strike, the moment will arrive for these eyes to close and for the soul’s eyes to open. Then we shall see a new world, new beings, a new creation, a new life without end. Its title is: “Infinite Immortality,” the great homeland, incorruptible and everlasting—the heavenly Jerusalem, the mother of the firstborn, where redeemed souls, which have been washed of their impurity by the blood of the innocent Lamb, will dwell!

Who is able to express in words or with a pen the joy, the exaltation, the bliss of those blessed saved souls? Blessed are they who have died in the Lord, for the riches of God’s goodness awaits them. Blessed is he who wins the “lottery” for the heavenly festival, for riches that cannot be taken away, for the glory that God Himself has described: “sons of the Most High, children of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” Before the Passion, the Lord entreated His heavenly Father on behalf of His disciples and those who would believe through them: “Father, I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me; for Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world.” (Jn. 17:24 ).

How great is Jesus’ love for us! He took on human nature and was hanged upon the Cross, giving us freedom and paying off our debt to His heavenly Father. And as a dear brother, He makes us worthy of jointly inheriting the infinite wealth of His heavenly Father! Oh, what love for us! Oh, how cold we are to Him! Oh, how ungrateful Iam towards my Benefactor! My God, my God, have pity on me, and do not condemn me as I deserve because of my deeds!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wisdom from the Holy Mountain - Elder Ephraim

Chapter One
On Salvation and Paradise.

7.Let us glorify the risen Lord, Who counted us worthy to celebrate His holy Resurrection. Let us pray that He will also count us worthy to celebrate the eternal Sabbath in the heavens, in the new Jerusalem, in the eternal joy. “And no one will take this joy away from you (cf. Jn. 16:22 ). Indeed, my child, for earthly joy is followed by sorrows which can annihilate it, whereas heavenly joy is not, because it flows continuously as if from an inexhaustible and life-giving spring.

Let us compel ourselves in our Christian duties in order to be able to celebrate the eternal Pascha, close to our Christ and see Him face to face for our blessed enjoyment, without it being interrupted anymore by trials and despair.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Glory of the Priesthood

The work of the priesthood is done on earth, but it is ranked among heavenly ordinances. And this is only right, for no man, no angel, no archangel, no other created power, but the Paraclete Himself ordained this succession, and persuaded men, while still remaining in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. The priest, therefore, must be pure as is he were standing in heaven itself, in the midst of those powers.

St John Chrysostom, Six Books On the Priesthood, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, New York, 1996, page 70

Were to the Lord that I obtained even to a miniscule level of othe perfection and purity of which the Golden-tounged speaks. Please pray for you unworthy servant.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Fear of God according to Elder Thaddeus

The fear of God is not the animal-like fear of this world. Our fear is like that, and we must strive to conquer this. Such fear is from Hades. Our life is filled with fear. We fear what tomorrow will bring, what he future has in store for us.... That is an animal-like fear. The fear of God is when you love Him, when you truly love Him with all your heart and your strive never to offend or sadden Him - not only with your deeds, actions, and words, but also with your thoughts. You try to please Him in everything you do or say. That is the fear of God - the fear of doing anything that might saddened or offend our Parent.

Our Thoughts Determine our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Translated by Anna Smiljanic, Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 2009, p. 97f.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Food for thought...

Beguiling and deceptive is the life of the world, fruitless its labor, perilous its delight, poor its riches, delusive its honors, inconstant, insignificant; and woe to those who hope in its seeming goods: because of this many die without repentance. Blessed and most blessed are those who depart from the world and its desires.

Elder Nazarius

Forgive your humble rambling servant, but I thought that particularly the people of the US who are suffering the approach of TAX DAY (EEK!) might find solace and some measure of comfort in the Blessed Elder's words.

I was party to a spontaneous joke a long time ago. It said: "Money can't buy you happiness, my son; (pause for effect) but you can rent it!" Of course the truth is money can't buy, rent, borrow, or give happiness to anyone. Happiness, the fleeting outward emoting of approval, always eventually dissipates either into numbness or melancholy. This is because what most people consider to be happiness is not so; it is the expending of a pleasurable emotion.

True Happiness is the physical incarnation of spiritual Joy that is only experienced by a person who has humbly submitted the entirety of his/her life to the Most Holy Trinity. In such a person there is strength and peace, joy and hope, all springing from the fountain of Faith. Accepting God's generous invitation to Holy Love and Divine Light can result in a lifetime of experiencing the vicissitudes of this life with equanimity because the challenges and disappointments of life are not able to defeat the Spirit within us. Instead of depending on the passing things of life, we cherish and are embraced by Life Himself.

It is thus that even when we read a Church Father, or prayer, or listen to a Troparion or Canon that emphasizes our sinfulness and unworthiness, our desperate need for repentance and the cliff's edge of damnation at which we all stumble, we rather can discover joy than sink into despair. Joy, because we correctly understand these spiritual words as carried on in the context of a Divine Dialogue of Eternal Love.

The level of our "fear of the Lord" is precisely related to our realization that I really don't deserve the Grace and Mercy our Lord lavishes on me. This produces ever more prayerful moments of praise, repentance, adoration and thanksgiving. The tears of repentance are tears of joy, the tears of a parent who thought his/her child were dead and suddenly finds it alive. These are the tears of a child who knowing his culpability, recognizing his responsibility, and expecting the punishment that is meet, discovers that his turn of heart has produced forgiveness and with it brought thankfulness.

This is why the great Fathers of the Church always speak of contrition accompanied by tears. It is not the emotional collapse of the defeated; it is the spiritual triumph of the humbled repentant prodigal accepted back by the Loving Father.

Thanks be to God for the undeserved Gift of His Salvation so freely offered to us. May we all repent so completely that our eyes stream with tears of thankfulness. As we find ourselves healed of sin let us rejoice in the ability granted us to grow in His Divine Image and Likeness.

Let that be our goal, yours and mine, and the toils and trials of this life will account nothing in comparison to the security of Love we will possess in Christ.

May it be God's will that I achieve that ascetic goal and so keep clean my baptismal garment. Pray for me. I am praying for each of you my appreciated, dear and beloved readers.

Thanks be to God!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Always Good (and Godly) Advice

Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him: because evil is but a chance misfortune, an illness, a devilish attack. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.

St. John of Kronstadt

Elder Joseph the Hesychast on Negligence

Christ is risen! Truly, He is risen!

Salt of the Earth's Andrew always digs deep finding rich treasures of spiritual insight. His is one of my daily stops during my "blog review" period.

For Wednesday of this week which, of course, was Wednesday of Bright Week, and for Traditional Orthodox also the Feast of the Annunciation, Andrew offered a most beautifully and timely quote from the blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast on the topic of negligence.

Blessed Elder Joseph was a giant of the twentieth century revival in Athonite Spirituality. The sanctity of his personhood not only deeply affected those who have read his writings, but profoundly touched those privileged to know him personally such that one can see it when encountering them.

Below is the quote Andrew has from the Elder:
Self-esteem corrupts treasures that have been amassed, while negligence does not even let you collect them. Negligence is like a drought in which nothing grows. Self-esteem damages those that have fruit, who have made some progress; whereas negligence harms everyone, because it impedes those who want to make a start, it stops those who have advanced, it does not allow the ignorant to learn, it prevents those who have gone astray from returning, it does not permit the fallen to get up – in general, negligence spells destruction for all those it holds captive.

* This excerpt is from “Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles, Experiences, Teachings” by Elder Joseph of Vatopedi
For the Traditional Orthodox celebrating the Annunciation, this quote is timely in that it highlights by contrast the holiness of the Theotokos who lived her life in humility and obedience to the Lord, exercising her will in synergy with the Incarnation.

For everyone celebrating Bright Week it also reminds us that we, too, live life fully only when we find the fullness of our personhood in the Risen Lord. Self-esteem is always harmful in that it is founded on a false appraisal of our worth. Only righteous humility in the Divine Light of Christ's great mercy allows us to truly see ourselves as we are. Only humble obedience frees us from slavery to an impoverished and corrupt life that already reeks of death. In the light of the Resurrection we discover true life, self-worth, and eternal joy.

Read over again the Blessed Elder's insight and let it sink in. If we are all lucky, it will sink into the hearts of each of us bringing us closer to the Most Holy Trinity and the image and likeness we were created to possess.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

From the Paschal Hours

In the grave bodily;
in Hades with Thy soul, though Thou wast God;
in Paradise with the thief;
and on the Throne with the Father and the Spirit,
wast Thou Who fillest all things,
O Christ the Uncircumscribable.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

For my 666th Post...

Be persecuted, but persecute not; be crucified, but crucify not; be wronged, but wrong not; be slandered, but slander not. Have clemency, not zeal, with respect to evil. Lay hold of goodness, not legality.

St. Isaac of Syria

To say any more would only come of the Evil One.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Christ is risen! Truly, He is risen!

The Paschal Homily of
St John Chrysostom

If any be pious and a lover of God, let him delight in this fair and radiant festival. If any be an honest servant, let him come in and rejoice in the joy of his Lord. If any have wearied himself with fasting, let him now enjoy the recompense. If any have worked from the first hour, let him receive today his just reward. If any have come after the third, let him feast with thankfulness. If any have arrived after the sixth, in no wise let him be in doubt; in no way shall he suffer loss. If any be later than the ninth, let him draw nigh, let him not waver. If any arrive only at the eleventh, let him not be fearful for his slowness, for the Master is munificent and receiveth the last even as the first; He giveth rest to him of the eleventh even as to him who hath wrought from the first hour. He is merciful to the last and provideth for the first; and to this one He giveth, and to that one He showeth kindness. He receiveth their labours and acknowledgeth the purpose, and He honoureth the deed and praiseth the intention. Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of our Lord, and let the first and the second take part in the reward. Ye rich and ye poor, join hands together. Ye sober and ye heedless, do honour to this day. Ye who fast and ye who fast not, be glad today. The table is full: do ye all fare sumptuously. The calf is ample: let no one go forth hungry. Let all enjoy the banquet of Faith. Let all enjoy the wealth of righteousness. Let no one lament his poverty, for the Kingdom is made manifest to all.

Let no one bewail transgressions, for forgiveness hath dawned forth from the tomb. Let no one be fearful of Death, for the death of the Saviour hath set us free. He hath quenched Death by being subdued by Death. He Who came down into Hades, despoiled Hades; and Hades was embittered when he tasted of Christ’s Flesh. Esaias, anticipating this, cried out and said: Hades was embittered when below he met Thee face to face. He was embittered, for he was set at nought. He was embittered, for he was mocked. He was embittered, for he was cast down. He was embittered, for he was fettered. He received a body, and encountered God. He received earth, and met Heaven face to face. He received what he saw, and fell whither he saw not.

O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life doth reign! Christ is risen, and there is none dead in the tomb! For Christ is raised from the dead, and is become the first-fruits of them that slept.

To Him be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Paschal Greetings from around the World

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Now is the Judgment ... On Medjugorje

For me, this is a strange Holy Week. Much spiritual good has been evolving in our community with faith deepened through the full and intensely focused celebration of the Divine Services. Indeed, last evenings celebration of the Great Mystery of Holy Anointing was uplifting and affirming of the human condition (replete with two cats wandering into the chapel and having to be escorted out by one of our chanters). In all, the celebration was holy, humble and prayerful in the way all Eastern Christian worship should be.

At the same time, various world news threads seem to be coming together to affirm the Grace of God at work to promote true holiness and stifle the works of the Evil One ever seeking to lead the Children of God away from the True Faith. Some time back, I covered an interview with E. Michael Jones exposing the scandal of the supposed Marian apparitions at Medjugorje, Bosnia.

Those with any knowledge of the region and the historic plight of the Serbian people at the hands of the pro-Nazi and fascist-based Ustaše (a violent pro-Croatian racist movement both pre- and post-dating the Nazi occupation and continuing during the Communist era) have heard of the 'dirty secret' that the famed pilgrimage site just coincidentally turns attention away from and prevents excavation of mass graves of executed Serbians and others who came under the heel of the Ustaše's barbaric policies. (Let me hasten to add that I am in no way suggesting that all or even a majority of Croatians or Bosnians are evil or supporters of Ustaše principles.)

Recent reports from the Holy See have confirmed that Medjugorje and its main promoters are being investigated for fraud and other charges of severe scandalous actions. While the Vatican has never officially endorsed Medjugorje, Pope John Paul II was widely viewed as lending tacit support by a few off the cuff remarks. Pope Benedict, however, has made a more detailed examination and moved to take sterner action. God willing, this deceptive, criminal, and embarrassingly scandalous movement will soon wither and pass.

I firmly believe that the Theotokos can and at times does present us with examples of the power, love and Grace of God for believers - the Eastern Church has more than its share of 'miraculous' Icons with a long history of spiritual efficacy for the faithful. But Medjugorje is a perverse scam that has accomplished more spiritual harm (in the long term lives of the pilgrims and 'followers' of the cult) than perhaps even the pedophilia and ephebophilia/homosexual predatory sins of some members of the Roman clergy. At least they know their personhood has been violated; the evil of Medjugorje is much more subtle.

The promotion of Truth can never be accomplished by the selling of lies and an ugly truth is always preferable to a pretty lie. On this day in which we commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist and equally recall the betrayal of Christ, let us humbly beseech the Lord for Truth (Faith), Hope and Love for all Christians and all people. For all are created according to the Image and Likeness of God and deserve the dignity of respect, not the cold calculation of grifters and swindlers. In the practice of True Worship (Orthodoxy), we can at least prepare ourselves for the invisible war waged against us when we put Christ first.