Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Conversion story of actor Jonathan Jackson

In 2012, Jackson and his family were baptized into the Orthodox Church. Jackson cited a trip to Romania and Rome that first brought his attention to learning about the history of Christianity. In his acceptance speech for his 2012 Daytime Emmy Award, he thanked the Holy Trinity as well as the monks on Orthodox monastic enclave Mount Athos. Jackson later explained in an interview, "These people (are) dedicating their lives to prayer, and not just praying for themselves, but truly praying for all of us. And then the thought kind of crossed my mind: with all the destruction, chaos and insanity that goes on in this world, if their prayers weren’t happening, what would this world be like? I felt personally like I just wanted to thank them because I really believe that their prayers mean a lot."

Former Evangelical Minister talks about his conversion to Orthodoxy

Simon Barrington-Ward on the Jesus Prayer

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Origen 185-254

The following article is from Christianity Today:

"We who by our prayers destroy all demons which stir up wars, violate oaths, and disturb the peace are of more help to the emperors than those who seem to be doing the fighting."

This third century "religious fanatic" gave up his job, slept on the floor, ate no meat, drank no wine, fasted twice a week, owned no shoes, and reportedly castrated himself for the faith. He was also the most prolific scholar of his age (with hundreds of works to his credit), a first-rate Christian philosopher, and a profound student of the Bible.

Child prodigy Origen Adamantius ("man of steel") was born near Alexandria about A.D. 185. The oldest of seven children in a Christian home, he grew up learning the Bible and the meaning of commitment. In 202 when his father, Leonidas, was beheaded for his Christian beliefs, Origen wanted to die as a martyr, too. But his mother prevented him from even leaving the house—by hiding his clothes.

To support his family, the 18-year-old Origen opened a grammar school, copied texts, and instructed catechumens (those seeking to become members of the church). He himself studied under the pagan philosopher Ammonius Saccas in order to better defend his faith against pagan arguments. When a rich convert supplied him with secretaries, he began to write.

Origen worked for 20 years on his Hexapla, a massive work of Old Testament analysis written to answer Jewish and Gnostic critics of Christianity. An examination of Biblical texts, it had six parallel columns: one in Hebrew, and the other five in various Greek translations, including one he found at Jericho in a jar. It became an important step in the development of the Christian canon and scriptural translation, but unfortunately it was destroyed. So massive was it that scholars doubt anyone ever copied it entirely.

This first Bible scholar analyzed the Scriptures on three levels: the literal, the moral, and the allegorical. As he put it, "For just as man consists of body, soul, and spirit, so in the same way does the Scripture." Origen, in fact, preferred the allegorical not only because it allowed for more spiritual interpretations, but many passages he found impossible to read literally: "Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day … existed without the sun and moon and stars?" In any event, Origen's method of interpretation became the standard in the Middle Ages. Origen's main work, De Principiis (On First Principles), was the first systematic exposition of Christian theology ever written. In it he created a Christian philosophy, synthesizing Greek technique and biblical assumptions. Add to these massive works his homilies and commentaries, and it's clear why he was reputed to have kept seven secretaries busy and caused Jerome (c.354–420) to say in frustrated admiration, "Has anyone read everything that Origen wrote?"

Origen has always been controversial. His reported self-mutilation, in response to Matthew 19:12 ("… there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven….") was condemned as a drastic misinterpretation of the text. In Palestine he preached without being ordained and was so condemned by his bishop, Demetrius. When on a second trip, he was ordained by the same bishops who had invited him to speak the first time, Demetrius sent him into exile.

While some of his writings are thought to have been hypothetical, Origen did teach that all spirits were created equal, existed before birth, and then fell from grace. Furthermore, "those rational beings who sinned and on account fell from the state in which they were, in proportion to their particular sins, were enslaved in bodies as punishment"—some demons, some men, and some angels. He also believed that all spirits, even Satan, could be saved. "The power of choosing between good and evil is within the reach of all," he wrote.

Most notably, however, Origen described the Trinity as a hierarchy, not as an equality of Father, Son, and Spirit. And though he attacked Gnostic beliefs, like them, he rejected the goodness of material creation.

Three centuries after his death, the Council of Constantinople (553) pronounced him a heretic: "Whoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and the wicked will not be eternal … let him be anathema."

Some contend that Origen was merely trying to frame the faith in the ideas of his day; still his works were suppressed following his condemnation, so modern judgment is impossible.

Despite such condemnation, Origen said, "I want to be a man of the church … to be called … of Christ." His Contra Celsum, in fact, is one of the finest defenses of Christianity produced in the early church. Answering the charge that Christians, by refusing military service, fail the test of good citizenship, he wrote, "We who by our prayers destroy all demons which stir up wars, violate oaths, and disturb the peace are of more help to the emperors than those who seem to be doing the fighting."

The authorities, however, were not convinced: in 250 the emperor Decius had Origen imprisoned and tortured. He was deliberately kept alive in the hope that he would renounce his faith. But Decius died first and Origen went free. His health broken, Origen died shortly after his release.

Prayer before reading the Scriptures

Origen (184-253 AD) wrote the following prayer for praying before reading the Scriptures:

Lord, inspire me to read your Scriptures
and to meditate upon them day and night.
I beg you to give me real understanding of what I need,
that I in turn may put its precepts into practice.
Yet, I know that understanding and good intentions are worthless,
unless rooted in your graceful love.
So I ask that the words of Scripture may also be not just signs on a page,
but channels of grace into my heart. Amen.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016


Occasionally my spiritual life hits a dry patch and no amount of prayers etc seem kick start things into action again. Although they are not as regular a part of my life as I would like - because my spiritual life as an Anglican centres on the Daily Offices - when I struggle I turn back, inevitably, to the Orthodox Prayers (see below) and up the number of the Jesus Prayers i normally say. I tend to find that this refreshes me and helps me get into that place where I am able to reconnect with God again.

I know that this is all very subjective and I don't recommend this as a cure-all for spiritual laxity.  But there is something 'earthy' and yet mysterious about the prayers and they speak very much to the heart more than the head which is the downside of Daily Offices I guess.

Anyhow here - again - are the prayers of the Orthodox Church which are part of a sample Prayer Rule put on the web by the Greek Orthodox Church:

A Sample Prayer Rule
A prayer rule is the outline of our daily prayer routine. It is important to have a thought out rule. Casually going to your place for prayer and simply talking with God is not the best way to begin to develop your prayer life. We will find that we end up babbling in front of our God. We can take advantage of the centuries of wisdom and being by using proven prayers that will lift us up in our way of communicating with God.

A prayer rule should first specify the place and time of prayer (see this link). 
Then it should outline the sequence of your prayers and the specific prayers you will say.

Below is an example of a beginners prayer rule. Always consult with your spiritual father about your prayer rule. He will help you develop one that fits your level of prayer.

Outline for Morning and Evening Prayer
Place: In the icon stand in the spare bedroom.

Time: 6:30am and 11:00pm for 20 minutes each time.

Begin by lighting a candle, and making three prostrations and then stand quietly to collect yourself in your heart.

Introductory Prayers - Prayer to Holy Spirit, Trisagion Prayer and Lord's Prayer
One of six Morning or Evening Psalms
Intercessions for the living and the dead
Psalm 51 and confession of your sinfulness
Doxology and the morning or evening prayer
Personal dialogue with God
Jesus prayer - repeat 100 times.
Reflect quietly on the tasks of the day and prepare yourself for the difficulties you might face asking God to help you or in the evening reflect on the day and the difficulties you ecountered and how you dealt with them.
Dismissal prayer

Remember to stop mid-morning, noon and mid-afternoon to say a simple prayer.
Repeat the Jesus Prayer in your mind whenever you can throughout the day.
Offer a prayer before and after each meal thanking God and asking for His blessing.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The need for the physical

Hi folks, long time no write, but I am 'back' and writing again. I suppose the problem I was experiencing was that I was investing so much time in reading Orthodox books, listening to Orthodox podcasts and writing about my love for Orthodoxy that my own Anglican ministry was beginning to suffer a little, and given that that is what God has called me to in the first place, I owe it to Him to give that the priority.

Having said that I want to continue to write about Orthodoxy because I love it so much and so if I disappear for a while it may be because that love is getting in the way of my serving God as an Anglican again.

But to today. I am reading a lot of Dallas Willard at the moment and was very struck by something he wrote at the end of his book "In search of guidance" also published as "Hearing God". This is what he wrote, talking about the difficulty of hearing (and therefore relating to) God:

"...I am painfully aware of the one great barrier that will hinder our efforts to make (a life of divine guidance our) own.

This barrier is what Henry Churchill King many years ago called "the seeming unreality of the spiritual life" and could equally well be termed "the overwhelmingly presence of the visible world."

The visible world daily bludgeons us with its things and events, which pinch and pull and hammer away at our body and the bodies of those we love and care about. Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes or toast and eggs. Instead of shouting and shoving, the spiritual world whispers at us ever so gently and appears wraith-like at the edges and interstices of events and things in the "real" world of the visible. "

Later on he adds:

"God is not insensitive to our problem of overcoming the power of the visible world. He invades the visible. The elaborate visible provisions dictated to Moses by God - the rituals and equipment of sacrifice, tabernacle, and so forth - provided a point of constant interaction IN the visible world between the invisible God and the people he had selected to reconcile the world to himself. There was to be a continual sacrifice, morning and evening, at the door of the tent for meeting between God and the Israelites, "where I will meet with you, and speak to you." This is the form in which God chose to "dwell among the children of Israel and be their God." (Exodus 29:42-46)
In search of guidance: Dallas Willard page 234-235

Now is it me, or isn't that precisely the strength of Orthodoxy which has taken that understanding into its life of worship? Every temple - Orthodox Church - is chock full of images of angels, the Trinity, saints and martyrs, candles, incense and so on, that assault the senses and shout out that God has indeed "invaded the visible" because He knows how very difficult it is to relate to Him as a spiritual entity - which is surely the point behind the incarnation - that he first commissioned the tabernacle and later the Temple? Isn't it that matter can be, in some way, inhabited by God so much so that to touch a holy relic or be plunged into sanctified water is to somehow physically engage with the Divine or at the very least 'see' or somehow engage with Him? Is that where the Puritans and Protestants - the lower end at least - all fall down, especially in our more touchy feely times when the need to see, touch, smell etc is greater than ever before?

And in fact isn't that what so many modern worship services are doing through Powerpoint, dance, ambience creating light displays and in some cases a return to candles and some kind of liturgy?

We have much to learn from the Orthodox. Maybe that is why now seems to be their time?

Friday, 4 September 2015

Beautiful Bulgarian Orthodox Music

Stunningly beautiful Bulgarian Orthodox music:

No comments: Links to this post

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

True Prayer

When such feelings are present, our prayer is prayer. When they are absent, it is not yet prayer."
St. Theophan the recluse: The Path to Prayer

Although the above was written by an Eastern Orthodox priest in the nineteenth century (hence the reference to prostration) his words apply to every one who prays. Because what he is doing is exposing prayer that lacks heart and therefore lacks life. And everybody recognises that type of praying either in others or, God willing, in themselves.

The Gospel reading for last Sunday in the old calendar of the Church in Wales is from Luke 18:9-14. Here Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. In it the Pharisee, without emotion, reels off a list of the kind of things he has done for God. First he compares himself to others. He is not like them - "extortioners, unjust, adulterers or...tax-collectors". We all come off well when we compare ourselves with the worst. And second, he lists his religious practices which he sees as trophies of his (self)-righteousness: "I fast twice a week (and) give tithes of all that I get." His rather emotionless prayer which recounts his achievements means - as Jesus points out - that he is not really praying at all. In fact Jesus refers to it as praying ..."with himself".

By contrast we feel the emotion of the tax-collector in the few words he utters as he beats his breast over and over while exclaiming "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" He is praying from the heart and God hears his prayer because it is true and honest. And so he is the one who "went down to his house justified."

Here then is an illustration of what St. Theophan is talking about. True prayer is prayer which touches the deepest part of us - our hearts - and as the Bible tells us, that is the seat of our emotions. So when we truly express who we really are before God, then is it hard not to be emotional in our prayers. Not necessarily with weeping or wailing or stuff like that, but with a real sense of connecting and owning the words we say rather than just saying them because we either think that they are what God wants to hear or what we think we should be saying.

So next time you pray, don't just say the words, but own them. Do they really express who and what you are? Or are they the words that you think God wants to hear. In other words pray as you and not as someone else.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Prayer - from The Way of the Ascetics

Started re-reading Tito Colliander's wonderful book - and Orthodox classic - The Way of the Ascetics. Don't let the title bother you as this is not about great feats of self-denial that we see in the lives of the great Saints of the desert but something every ordinary Christian or saint can attain to.

It is written - so the dust cover tells us - "for lay persons living fully in the world" by an Eastern Orthodox layman Tito Colliander who lived most of his life in Helsinki, Finland. Here is some of his advice on prayer:

"A person who resolves to begin regular morning exercises usually does so not because he already has physical fitness but in order to get something he does not have. Once one has something he can be anxious to keep it; previous to that, he is anxious to get it.

Therefore, begin your practice without expecting anything of yourself. If you are fortunate enough to sleep in a room by yourself, you can quite literally and without trouble, follow the instructions of the prayer book:

"When you awake, before you begin the day, stand with reverence before the All Seeing God. Make the sign of the Cross and say:

"In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

"Having invoked the Holy Trinity, keep silence for a while. So that your thoughts and feelings ,at be freed from worldy cares. Then recite the following prayers without haste, and with your whole heart.

"God be merciful to me, a sinner..."

Thereafter follow the other prayers (see the Orthodox Prayer Book) with the prayer to the Holy Spirit first, then to the Holy Trinity, and not the Our Father, which precedes the whole list of morning prayers. It is better to read a few of them quietly than all of them impatiently. They rest upon the gathered experience of the Church; through them you enter a great fellowship of praying folk. You are not alone; you are a cell in the body of the Church - that is, of Christ. Through them you learn the patience that is necessary not only for the body but also for the heart and mind, for the building up of your faith."
(Way of the Ascetics page 63-64).