Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Got Oil?


From St. George's site--

What is the meaning of the Oil in the parable of the ten virgins?

On Holy Tuesday the Church calls to remembrance the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-3); the other the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) pointing to the inevitability of the Parousia and the need for proper preparation and vigilance.

We learn at least two basic things. First, Judgment Day will be like the situation in which the bridesmaids (or virgins) of the parable found themselves: some had sufficient oil and were prepared which others did not have enough and their lamps went out before the bridegroom came. The time one prepares for our union with God is now and not at some undefined point in the future.

Those who did not properly prepare went back to get more oil but when they returned the door to the banquet was closed to them. The tragedy of the closed door is this situation is of our own making, not God's. Those who were prepared entered without any problem and joined in the feast. The exclusion from the marriage feast, the kingdom, is of our own making. Second, we are reminded that watchfulness signifies inner tranquility and joy coupled with attentiveness and vigilance. We must have the personal resolve to find and do the will of God, embrace all His commandments and guard the heart and mind from all evil thoughts and actions.

What is the meaning of the Oil in this parable? Some say it a symbol of good works but it's more than this.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov says,
These virgins did good, and out of their spiritual foolishness supposed that doing good was exactly the point of Christianity. They did good works and by this obeyed God, but they did not care in the least beforehand whether they had received or reached the grace of God's Spirit…

It is more than good works that is expected of us. Its the grace of the Holy Spirit that is essential––this is the Oil. He continues, This very gaining of the Holy Spirit is that oil which the foolish virgins lacked. They were called foolish because they forgot about the necessary fruit of virtue, the grace of the Holy Spirit, without which no one is saved and no one can be saved, for: ‘it is by the Holy Spirit that any soul is vitalized and exalted in chastity, and any soul is lit by the Trinitarian unity in holy mysteries’...

What is this market place where the foolish virgins went to get their oil? What was the closed door?

The foolish virgins, seeing that their lamps were going out, went to the marketplace to buy oil but would not come back in time, for the doors were already shut. The marketplace is our life; the door of the house of marriage (that was shut and did not lead to the Bridegroom) is our human death; wise and foolish virgins are Christian souls; the oil is not works but the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God which is received through these works, and which converts things perishable into things imperishable, transforms spiritual death into spiritual life, darkness into light, the manger of our being, with passions tied like cattle and beasts, into the Divine Temple, into the glorious palace of never-ending rejoicing in Christ Jesus."

Again, in a powerful way, through this service we are reminded of the task we have now, to unite with the Holy Spirit, to find Theosis, and maintain it in our life constantly.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Cleansing the Temple


"God is our refuge and power;
A help in afflictions that severely befall us.
Therefore we will not fear when the earth is troubled,
And when the mountains are removed into the heart of the seas.
Their waters roared and were troubled;
The mountains were troubled by His might. (Pause)

The torrents of the river gladden the city of God;
The Most High sanctified His tabernacle.
God is in her midst; she shall not be shaken;
God shall help her early in the morning.

The nations were troubled; kingdoms fell;
He uttered his Voice; the earth shook.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our protector.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
The wonders He wrought on the earth.
When He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth,
He will break the bow and shatter the weapon;
And He will burn up the shields with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord of hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our protector."


Sunday, March 28, 2010

(Condensed) Re-Post of Passages from St. Symeon the New Theologian


Behold, my strength has left me.
I am nearing, O Savior, old age, nearing the portal of Death....
Do not give room against me to my cunning enemy,
who at each moment covers me with threats,
roaring against me, grinding his teeth
and who says to me:
"Where is the source of your confidence?
How do you hope to escape my hands
under the pretext that you leave me to run to Christ
and that you just now despise my commands?
But you will not at all escape, for where then would you run to?
Never will you be able completely to escape me...completely weak as you are...
Look, you do not keep the vigils,
you do not fast, look, you are not a man of prayer.
You do not do the prostrations.
You do not perform the labors as formerly you did,
and it is for these reasons alone that I will separate you from Christ
and I will send you into the inextinguishable fire!"
You know, O Master, I never trusted in my works or deeds for my salvation.
But it was only in Your mercy, O Lover of mankind, that I sought refuge,
having confidence that You will save me gratuitously, O all-Merciful One.
And You will have mercy on me who are God
as once You did show mercy on the adulterous woman
and as you showed mercy to the prodigal son
who confessed, "I have sinned."
In such faith, I have recourse, in such confidence,
I have come, in this hope, O Master, I approach you...
...Do not, O King, O Lord, allow him,
You who once rescued me from the darkness, from the hands and the jaws
of that evil one, when You placed me free in Your light.
For seeing You, I am wounded deeply within my heart,
I am unable to look on You,
but I am incapable of not looking on You.
Your beauty is inaccessible; Your splendor not inimitable,
Your glory incomparable,
and whosoever has ever seen You
or whoever could see You completely, You, My God?...
I look on You as a star,
and I carry You within my breast like a pearl.
I see You also as a lamp, lighted, inside a lantern.
But because You do not grow, because You do not make me completely light
and You do not completely show Yourself,
such as You are and great as You are,
I do not seem to possess You completely, You, my life,
but I groan as one fallen from riches into poverty
and from glory into ignominity, stripped of any hope.
Thus seeing this, the enemy says to me:
"You are not saved, for behold, you are in check,
and have lost all hope because you no longer have as before
any confidence with God."
To him I do not reply anything;
I do not honor him with an answer, O my God,
but I breathe over him and at once he disappears.
Thus I beg of You, O Master, thus I call upon You.
Give me Your mercy so that, my Savior, then, when my soul will depart from this body,
I may have the strength with a single breath to cover with confusion
all those wishing to attack me.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010



Lent is not my enemy.
Sensations of Lent-saturation are not my enemies.
The exacto knife on which I cut myself twice today (not badly, but exasperatingly messily) is not my enemy.
Time and tasks are not my enemies.
People who get on my nerves are not my enemies, nor are my own infirmities of which they remind me, or which they trigger.
My unmanageable psyche, which completely gets on my nerves, is not my enemy.
My food cravings are not my enemies, nor is my body my enemy.
Things I don't understand or can't forget or release are not my enemies.

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Ephesians 6:12


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Looking Ahead a Little Too Far...


from a sermon of St. John Chrysostom, apparently delivered midway through Lent:

"...and...we shall, when the fast returns, welcome it with pleasure. For I see many who are so feeble-minded that at the present season they are anxious about the following Lent. I have heard many saying, after their liberation from the fast, they are insensible to any pleasure from this remission, on account of their anxiety about the coming year."


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Suppressed Desire


"...[W]hat is it about man that is unbearable? I should say it is his suppressed desire to become god by grace."

"...[M]an's nature is such that he is unbearable. You cannot put up with him. He wants everything, but this is impossible and impracticable. Only He who created us, who knows us before we are born and after we are dead, is able to satisfy us, because everyone wants everything. Humanly speaking, however, this is impossible. Within the Church, all is possible. 'We hear things unheard of throughout the ages, and celebrate terrible wonders.'

In order to get rid of the trouble man causes, every system--or party, or ideology, or even, if you like, Christian ideology--truncates man by a procrustean method. This makes him something of a vegetable, and keeps him quiet...

[But] in the presence of the saint the systems which consume man are done away with...

...The saint...does not make our heads spin with theories. Our minds have become a seething mass of theories, anti-theories, and super-theories. But in the person of the saint we have before us a true human being, a clear image of God; and the important thing is not what he says but what he imparts by his presence."

The Saint: Archetype of Orthodoxy by Archimandrite Vasileios


Monday, March 15, 2010

Strangely Hope-Inspiring


"I...know a man in prison, a beautiful human being, who has a prayer life unmatched by anything I have come across in the outside world. The man is like Christ to the other inmates, but he knows he could never be trusted outside again because of his difficult and dangerously mixed-up personality...[I]t is not the tangible success that gives value to our lives, but the intensity of the struggle. Every one of us is severely handicapped. God sees that...We never know how God is going to use us."

from Never Alone by Joseph F. Girzone


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Experiment in Love (Self-Control)


From author Starr Daily's journal exercise of meditating on and attempting to put into practice in turn each of the various aspects of Love as explicated in 1 Corinthians 13.

The setting is the penitentiary hospital where he worked; a prisoner himself, and, a self-described "hardened criminal," he had experienced the healing intervention of Christ--you can read his autobiography at http://www.starrdaily.org/RELEASE.php--and had found himself compelled to follow Christ as the Living Way of Love.


Love as "Self-Control"

"Last night I had the experience of compasssion. It was during one of those lulls that often come in the wards between ten and twelve, when the patients are still awake but quiet and undemanding.

I took advantage of the condition, went into my room, and wooed the meditative mood. When I felt what I thought a sufficient depth of stillness I chose one of my patients, a man doomed to a very slow and increasingly painful death, according to medical diagnosis. With him as my focal point, I began a will-directed course of mental prayer. Somehow I was guided not to pray for his recovery; but rather to pray that he be laid upon my heart as a prayer burden which I could then pass on to the Burden Bearer.

As I continued steadfast in this mental prayer I began to sense an inner creeping of the Love sentiment for the man. It was first manifested as a deep sympathy for him and his family. I was sorry for his people, and I pitied him because of his mis-spent life and wasted energies and opportunities. Gradually my feelings expanded into a more refined Love in which the appearances of sickness and family tragedy passed away, and I saw him and his family, not as they were, but as they ought to be and could be. This was a glorious family portrait cast in cosmic lights and overtones of significance. Then there welled up within me an overwhelming compassion for the patient. In this the burden of him was not shifted to the Burden Bearer; but was now unbelievably heavy on my my own heart. Now the suffering that he was passing through I felt. His defeat was my defeat; his sins were mine; what he was and all he had been I shared as though it were my own.

I was under an almost impossible pressure to run to him with my tear-filled eyes and smother him with expressions of Love in my heart. But I was under discipline, and my need for reserve, naturalness, and control. While in the throes of compassion, I entered his room as often as I could without arousing his curiosity and with detached conversation and ordinary professional manners I let my feeling flow toward him. On one of those visits I had the experience of feeling him in union with God. At the moment I had that experience he interrupted something he was saying and made a sharp digression. 'I have no pain,' he said. 'I feel so strange. And I'm getting sleepy.' He was sound in sleep when I left the room. He slept the night through for the first time.

...Had I gone to his room and spilled my Love over him in a wild emotional torrent he might have been confused by it, and he might have reacted destructively against it. Who knows?

I do know that it is difficult to control Love emotions which seem uncontainable. That opportunity gave me a hard discipline. One of the hardest so far encountered...But an overwhelming Love must be offered a stable vessel of behavior. Behavior is the channel through which the current of Love must flow...

My impulse right now is to give this same discipline my attention again tonight. My experience of last night makes me want to recapture it by the same discipline. But it is a part of my discipline to move on with Paul, and if need be sacrifice the possible joy for a possible discomfort....The adventure moves on."

from THE WAY OF HOLY AFFECTION by Starr Daily, 1965


Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Secret We Keep Best, and Other Aphorisms


"When my friend does something stupid, he is just my friend doing something stupid. When I do something stupid, I have deeply betrayed myself."

"You keep track of your worth on some wildly cyclic stock market that will soar in fantasy, crash at a cold glance. Other people think you never change."

"Everyone has the same secrets. That is the secret we keep best."

James Richardson, VECTORS


Lenten Metaphors


I think that different Lenten metaphors speak to different kinds of people.

I can connect a little with the athletic metaphor, a little more with the battle metaphor, but most of all with the "fine-tuning your instrument" metaphor, as in this passage from Met. Anthony Bloom's Sunday of Forgiveness sermon:

"...[T]he aim of fasting is not to deprive our body of the one form of food rather than the other, the aim of fasting is to acquire mastery over our body and make it a perfect instrument of the spirit...

And so, the period of fasting offers us a time during which we can say not that I will torment my body, limit myself in things material, but a time when I will re-acquire mastery of my body, make it a perfect instrument. The comparison that comes to my mind is that of tuning a musical instrument; this is what fasting is, to acquire the power not only to command our body, but also to give our body the possibility to respond to all the promptings of the spirit.

Let us therefore go into fasting with this understanding, not measuring our fasting by what we eat and how much, but of the effect it has on us, whether our fasting makes us free or whether we become slaves of fasting itself."

Not that I've been fine-tuning my instument all that consistently, but there are still a few weeks left...



Friday, March 5, 2010

Heard Without Utterance


Let Thy good Spirit enter my heart,
and there be heard without utterance,
and without the sound of words speak all truth.
For Thy Mysteries are exceeding deep,
and covered with a sacred veil.

-from a prayer of St. Ambrose




...using a moment of sadness, loneliness, disappointment, a moment of strangeness, of not-knowing, as something almost tangible by which to steady oneself...


Thursday, March 4, 2010



I've just learned that the more times you attempt to quit smoking, the more likely it is that you will eventually kick the habit wholly and completely.

The average person tries quitting 18 times before it finally "sticks."

I'm not a smoker, but I struggle with all kinds of other things--I find this a really encouraging way to look at the process: Instead of saying "I failed again, so I may as well give up," one could say, "Trying again means I'm that much closer to victory."


Wednesday, March 3, 2010



They cast their nets in Galilee
just off the hills of brown,
such happy simple folk
before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen
before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts
brimful, and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail
homeless in Patmos died.
Peter who hauled the teeming net,
head-down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace,
but strife closed in the sod.
Yet let us pray for just one thing:
the marvelous peace of God.

William Alexander Percy


Tuesday, March 2, 2010



"Black was never a color of death or terror for me. I think of it as warm and generative."

Clifford Still, painter


Monday, March 1, 2010

Two Perspectives on Suffering--Where Is the Overlap?


Both of these are from Eastern Orthodox theologians. They seem to be working with rather different perspectives, but I think there is overlap--what do you think?

from Fr. Thomas Hopko's FINDING ONE'S CALLING IN LIFE at


...[E]veryone is called to serve God and their fellow human beings in some form of life which God Himself wills. This "form of life" is not necessarily a job or profession. For example, some people may be called to suffer on this earth and to bear the results of fallen humanity in the most violent manner; to be victimized by disease, retardation, affliction; to be the objects of other people's cares, or disdain. This is their vocation, and they are particularly blessed by God and loved by Christ in its acceptance and fulfillment.

In a word, there is a divine plan and purpose for everyone. There is a "predestination," not in the sense that God programs His creatures or forces His will upon them against their will, but rather that God knows every person from before the foundation of the world and provides their unique life and the specific conditions of their earthly way which are literally the best possible conditions for them - however unacceptable this may seem to us creatures in our limited and fallen state. And God works together with each one of us so that, by suffering what we must on this earth, we may attain to life everlasting in the age to come.

...[S]ome may be called simply to suffer, while others, in terms of this world, will hardly suffer at all. Some will have many temptations, and will bear heavy burdens because of the sins of the world and their particular inheritance of a fallen, broken, distorted humanity. And some may have to fight destructive memories, imaginations, and passions that seem at times impossible to bear. While others will be greatly blessed by receiving a highly purified humanity, for which they will especially have to answer before God. For, as Jesus taught, "to whom much is given, of him much will be required" (Lk. 12:48). But each person will have his or her own life to sanctify. And each will answer for what he or she has done. In the eyes of God none is better that the other. None is higher or more praiseworthy. But each must find his or her own way, and glorify God through it. This is all, ultimately, that matters. The rest is details.

God has made us who we are. He has put us where we are, even when it is our own self-will that has moved us. He has given us our time and our place. He has given us our specific destiny. We must come to the point when we do not merely resign ourselves to these realities, but when we love them, bless them, give thanks to God for them as the conditions for our self-fulfillment as persons, the means to our sanctity and salvation.

David Bentley Hart on God and Natural Disasters "Tremors of Doubt" at The Wall Street Journal (Dec 31, 2004). Of 2004's Indian Ocean tsunami.

As a Christian, I cannot imagine any answer to the question of evil likely to satisfy an unbeliever; I can note, though, that — for all its urgency — Voltaire's version of the question is not in any proper sense "theological." The God of Voltaire's poem is a particular kind of "deist" God, who has shaped and ordered the world just as it now is, in accord with his exact intentions, and who presides over all its eventualities austerely attentive to a precise equilibrium between felicity and morality. Not that reckless Christians have not occasionally spoken in such terms; but this is not the Christian God.

The Christian understanding of evil has always been more radical and fantastic than that of any theodicist; for it denies from the outset that suffering, death and evil have any ultimate meaning at all. Perhaps no doctrine is more insufferably fabulous to non-Christians than the claim that we exist in the long melancholy aftermath of a primordial catastrophe, that this is a broken and wounded world, that cosmic time is the shadow of true time, and that the universe languishes in bondage to "powers" and "principalities" — spiritual and terrestrial — alien to God. In the Gospel of John, especially, the incarnate God enters a world at once his own and yet hostile to him — "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not" — and his appearance within "this cosmos" is both an act of judgment and a rescue of the beauties of creation from the torments of fallen nature.

Whatever one makes of this story, it is no bland cosmic optimism. Yes, at the heart of the gospel is an ineradicable triumphalism, a conviction that the victory over evil and death has been won; but it is also a victory yet to come. As Paul says, all creation groans in anguished anticipation of the day when God's glory will transfigure all things. For now, we live amid a strife of darkness and light.

When confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering — when we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children's — no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends. We are permitted only to hate death and waste and the imbecile forces of chance that shatter living souls, to believe that creation is in agony in its bonds, to see this world as divided between two kingdoms — knowing all the while that it is only charity that can sustain us against "fate," and that must do so until the end of days.