Translations from the Greek

[This is the first of many canons which I will be posting.  St. Arsenius the Cappadocian is famous mostly because he baptized St. Paisius the Athonite, but his claims to our attention go deeper than that.  I have organized the canon in the Greek fashion, in that the irmos is given as a fragment (to inform the chanter how to chant the troparia following).  NB.  “Saint of God, pray for us” precedes the first two troparia.  “Glory to the Father etc.” precedes the third troparion and “Now and ever etc.” precedes the fourth.  My source for this canon will be added soon.]

SUPPLICATORY CANON TO ST. ARSENIUS THE CAPPADOCIAN

Ode 1.  Having crossed the sea.

Since you have acquired true joy, inspired Father Arsenius, deliver those who run to your protection from every despondency and madness of the enemy.

You arose like a new star, illuminating us with your holy life; wherefore drive away the gloom of our passions by your intercessions, O saint.

You wholly abstained from the passing cares; therefore you deliver the mind, soul and heart of those who draw near to you, Father Arsenius, from pains.

Heal, O Maiden, as you are sympathetic towards me, my badly wounded heart, and request the forgiveness of my offences by your intercessions with your merciful Son.

 

Ode 3.  Of the apse of Heaven.

As of old you delivered the greatest number of people from various kinds of diseases, O saint, by your intercession with the Lord, so deliver us from unclean passions and from every evil circumstances, Father Arsenius.

Having magnified in your life the Lord of all, you have acquired the greatest glory, Father Arsenius; wherefore deliver us from great dangers and from the attacks of the destroyer of all.

O servant of the Lord and champion of the faithful, holy Arsenius, guide us all to the calm and saving harbors, to life without pain and everlasting.

In order to save the world, the cause of all things took flesh from your pure blood, O Maiden; wherefore heal my sickly flesh and illumine my mind with the light of grace.

Preserve, divine Arsenius, by your prayers from every sudden attack and evil circumstances those who run to your fervent protection.

 

Tone 2.  With fervent intercession.

Earnestly entreat Christ, Arsenius, to give us the forgiveness of our offences and healing of passions and health of soul and body and progress in living a reverent life, so that we may attain to divine glory.

 

Ode 4.  I have heard, O Lord.

Made splendid with the gifts of the divine Spirit, holy Father, freely take pity on us and deliver us from oppressive distress.

Beg for divine strength, Arsenius, to be given to my utterly exhausted soul, so that I may escape every deception and treachery of the destroyer.

As you saved demoniacs from the power of the adversary, so also deliver, Arsenius, us from his unexpected attacks.

You were a divine mountain, densely-shaded with your opulent graces, O Mother of God, from which the Savior descended to the world and saved mankind.

 

Ode 5.  Illumine us.

Raise our heart, holy father, to the perfect love of Christ, guiding us in peace, Arsenius.

By the mystical rains of your intercessions with the Lord completely extinguish the flame of the passions which causes us to waste away, Father Arsenius.

Crush, wise saint, the subtle contrivances of the enemy, preserving us unharmed by his scheming, we always beg you.

Direct us to the better life, Virgin; ward off the attacks of the enemy and grant peace to our souls.

 

Ode 6.  My supplication.

You showed forth from God, Arsenius, the saving grace of miracles; wherefore heal all the illnesses of our souls and bodies at every time; preserve me from them untouched, Father, for I have fled for refuge to your protection.

Change the bitter storm of my passions by the stillness of your warm intercession into rest, Father, and guide me safely to the harbor of the divine will, for you have boldness with the Lord.

Numbered in the choir of the saints, as one who has completed his life in a holy fashion, grant sanctification, joy and peace to the monastery of the Theologian, Father, which has acquired your divine relics as a divine treasure.

Since you bore the creator and savior of all from your immaculate womb, save me, Maiden, from the madness of the enemy, and fortify me with the fear of my creator, so that I may walk steadfastly the road of his holy will.

Preserve by your intercessions, divine Arsenius, from every attack and evil circumstance those who run to your fervent protection.

Ode 7.  The youths from Judea.

With ardent purpose, barren women came once to your divine relics and became mothers rejoicing in their children with your help, thrice-blessed Arsenius.

By your cleansing intercession remove the wounds of my soul and give me genuine means of repentance, as my ardent defender, holy Arsenius, and fellow-citizen of the angels.

The monastery of the Theologian has acquired a divine prize, Father Arsenius—your divine relics, which belong to the faithful, conveying to them divine grace and invisibly filling them with heavenly joy.

Having spread out on us the incorruptible grace of your protection, always ward off from us every wile of the murderous enemy and direct us to the path of salvation.

 

Ode 8.  The King.

With the holy staff of your divine visitation, guide us as sheep, Father, to the deathless and mystical pastures.

Behold from above those who stand reverently by your relics and give to them, Father, the abundant manifestation of your help.

Protect unceasingly with your fatherly assistance those who lie in terrible slavery, saving them alive from harm and dangers.

Heal, Maiden, my ailing soul and furnish me with tears of repentance, so that I may glorify you, O Full of Grace.

 

Ode 9.  Fittingly the Mother of God.

Deliver the multitude of the Orthodox Christians who magnify you from all the madness of our enemies, visible and invisible, divine Arsenius.

Being in the chorus with the saints, beseech with them on behalf of us, divine Arsenius, who celebrate your divine victories.

Now that you praise God in Trinity with the angels in the heights, holy Father, ever beseech him to save us who praise you.

We hymn you, Virgin, as the Mother of God, and we cry out the Rejoice with never silent voices to you, for by your intercession Maiden we are ever saved.

A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO RELIGIOUS DOUBTS Pt. 5

SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE:  Part 2

The cure for ignorance, say the Fathers, is spiritual knowledge.  What is spiritual knowledge and how do we get it?  Let’s start with defining knowledge first, since spiritual knowledge is evidently a kind of knowledge.

Knowledge is short for knowledge of truth.  We can also say truth instead.   When we say knowledge, we emphasize the fact that knowledge of truth is something we somehow have in us.  When we say truth, we emphasize that what we know is somehow verifiable outside of us.  Let’s take a few examples to make this clear.

If I say that a dog is a barking quadruped and someone asks me to verify that I know about dogs, I can take him to a dog and prove that my private conception of dogs corresponds to the reality of dogs in the world outside my mind.

If, however, I say that a cat is a quadruped that barks, then I do not know about cats, since I cannot take a skeptic to a cat that will bark on demand.  My private conception of cats is not verified by any barking cats outside my mind.

It would seem to follow that spiritual knowledge is knowledge of spiritual things, but St. John begins by saying that spiritual knowledge is not “knowledge alone.”1  He says that spiritual knowledge is “the practice of virtues.”2  This is why we had to discuss what virtue is first in our last post, so that “the practice of virtues” would refer to something specific, that is, the performance of the commandments.  St. John goes on to say, “We should make every effort to manifest our faith and knowledge through our actions.”3  He is implying of course that we should not make every effort to manifest our faith and knowledge through words.

St. Maximus identifies just what happens when we act and think as if spiritual knowledge is knowledge alone:  “spiritual knowledge that is not put into practice does not differ in any way from illusion.”4

In the same way, St. Mark the Monk tells us to “understand the words of Holy Scripture by putting them into practice” and not to “expatiate on theoretical ideas.”5  This is why we find that the saints and the elders often read the Bible and seek help from others in understanding the Bible but are not found conducting Bible studies as we in the West understand them.

We may easily look elsewhere for additional corroboration of this practical view.  In David Mitchell James’ A Psalter for Prayer, the prayer before reading the Psalms asks God to “direct my heart to begin with understanding and to end with good works this divinely inspired book.”7  The prayer further begs of God that the reader be “prepared for the doing of the good works which I learn.”8

In short, the Fathers insist that when it comes to spiritual knowledge, it is all about practice.

We next define more positively what spiritual knowledge is.

 

ENDNOTES

  1. 1:125.
  2. John Rickaby, The First Principles of Knowledge, 4th ed. (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1901), p. 2.
  3. Ibid., 1:302.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 2:257.
  6. Ibid., 1:116.
  7. David Mitchell James, A Psalter for Prayer, 2nd ed. (Jordanville, New York: Holy Trinity Publications, 2011), p. 53.
  8. Ibid.

 

NON-SCHOLARLY REFLECTIONS ON EVANGELIZING AMERICA

Preliminary remarks.  I have been pondering the question of church-growth for a long time as I attended churches across four jurisdictions.  The following remarks are best taken as an attempt to stir things up, not settle them.

How can the Orthodox evangelize America?

The first thing we need to do is question how we have always done business in this country.

The typical pattern is that a missionary community is founded, it receives visits from nearby or not-so-nearby priests for many years while money is made or saved up by the community until a building of some sort is erected and a priest can be afforded.  In the next stage, the parish church grows slowly over time until it is big enough to afford to pay for a long-term church to be built.  I visited two churches which made what was supposed to be the community hall the main church building.

The first problem with this picture is that it requires us to pay a lot more attention to money than to anything else.  Money is an extremely unhealthy obsession for anyone, but hypocritical and deadly for Christians.  The fact that regulations and other factors have made churches much more expensive to put up makes the obsession with money worse.

The second problem is that it requires at some point an unhealthy obsession with numbers—the concern with getting numbers up takes on the feverish anxiety usually associated with sales departments of companies in trouble.  We do not see priests pleading with parishioners to save more souls by living pure lives but to invite more people in order to pull the parish back from the edge of the financial precipice.

There is a simple correction for the money-absorbed and cattle-drive approach:  church history.

In the early centuries we find that churches tended to be smaller and the emphasis was on quality, not quantity.  The early church accepted that it would always, except in large cities, be fairly small.  That the gate was narrow (Mt. 7:13) was accepted as a fact.  While Christians became famous among the pagans for their love for their neighbors, nowhere do we find any concerns for parish growth.

This absolute and dead silence on our hot-button topic is striking.  The church of the martyrs never bothered itself with tracking attendance and contributions.  The Fathers have from the time of St. Ignatius been driven by the message of Christ; only heresies drove the Fathers to develop dogmas in a centuries-long, defensive maneuver.  Neither the message nor the dogmatic refinements allowed any space for worries about membership and contributions.

If we want saints like those of the first three centuries, first we need to end our obsession with money and attendance.  Then we we need to read and reread the early Fathers—from St. Ignatius to, say, St. Athanasius—until we have their frame of mind.  We will then know what is important and what is not.  Their books are everywhere available—in libraries, in bookstores, online—and are cheap and easy to understand.  The men who led the charge to evangelize North Africa, Western Asia and Europe have a great deal to tell us about the faith.

If we all devoted ourselves to reading the early Fathers—for that matter, any Father—I cannot predict what everyone is going to think—we might even disagree with one another—but I am certain that no one will be worrying about the next fund-raiser or designing the next cattle-drive through the narrow gate.

In closing, I cannot say I know how to evangelize America, but I do know that our standing operating procedures—fundraising and boosting numbers—are doomed to fail.

 

A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO RELIGIOUS DOUBTS Pt. 4

SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE:  Part 1.  Virtue.

The Fathers tell us that the cure for ignorance is spiritual knowledge.  However, we must first clear up the Patristic concept of virtue before we can even approach spiritual knowledge.

St. Maximus says that “virtue may be defined as the conscious union of human weakness with divine strength.”1  This union requires us to make an “effort to transcend the weakness of human nature.”2  These rather vague remarks are brought into sharp focus by his comment that “the soul . . . acquires the virtues by keeping the commandments.”3  If this is so, then the commandments are not legalistic requirements.  Neither are they a list of duties we must keep only because God told us to.  Instead, they have a substantial and practical value to us.  As St. Paisios the Athonite says, “by observing the commandments of God we cultivate virtue and acquire health of soul.”

Which commandments?

One of the interesting differences between Orthodoxy and the Western churches is their understanding of the commandments.  At least in the English-speaking West, most people think the commandments are the Ten Commandments.  However, when the Fathers talk about the commandments, they mean the commandments of Christ.  For example, when St. Peter of Damascus writes about the commandments, he does not write about the Ten Commandments but the Seven Commandments—i.e., the Beatitudes.5  St. Macarius of Egypt takes a broader view:  “the abode and resting-place of the Holy Spirit is humility, love, gentleness and the other holy commandments of Christ.”6

So how do we know which of these commandments to keep in the course of our daily lives?  How do we know what God wants of us?

St. Theophan the Recluse replies that “we certainly know this from the commandments he has given us.  Is someone seeking help?  Help him.  Has someone offended you?  Forgive him.  Have you offended somebody?  Rush to ask forgiveness and make peace.  Did somebody praise you?  Don’t be proud.  Did somebody scold you?  Do not be angry.  Is it time to pray?  Pray.  Is it time to work?  Work.  Etc. etc. etc.”7  It is clear from St. Theophan’s words that it is “the individual events with which each of us meets” which inform us of which commandments to keep.8

Another way of looking at the commandments is provided by St. Paisios.  When a nun asked him how she could be saved, he replied decisively, “with love and humility.”9  They are, he adds, “the easiest means to salvation; they are what we will be judged for.”10  So not only are love and humility the only questions on the final exam, so to speak, but they are the easiest ones we could ask for.  Every final should be so easy.

To sum up, any virtue is the union of divine strength with human weakness.  If we read the New Testament closely and live our lives attentively, we will know which commandments to keep and thereby acquire the virtues proper for us.  St. Paisius emphasizes love and humility; if we humbly keep the two great commandments, we will naturally want to glorify God and intercede for our fellow men.

Now we may answer the question of how spiritual knowledge is the cure for ignorance.

 

ENDNOTES

  1. The Philokalia, tr. G.E H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, vols. 1-4 (London: Faber & Faber, 1979-1995; reprint, New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983), 3: 230.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., p. 129.
  4. The Rev. Fr. Peter Chamberas, trans., Saint Paisios of Mount Athos: Spiritual Counsels (Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece:  Holy Hesychasterion, 2006), vol. 5, Passions and Virtues, p. 157.
  5. Philokalia, 3: 93-100.
  6. Ibid., 346.
  7. St. Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It, tran. Alexandra Dockham, 3rd ed. (Safford, Arizona: St. Paisios Serbian Orthodox Monastery, 2003), p. 74.
  8. Ibid., p. 75.
  9. Passions, p. 212.
  10. Ibid., p. 213.