“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere , a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”
This is part 1 of 3 in an address written by Metropolitan Jonah who serves in the Orthodox Church in America. It is great reading for Lent! The season of Lent calls us to self-examination, penitence, humility, and renewal. It is a time to concentrate on fundamental spiritual values and priorities, not a time for self-punishment. This address gives us some tangible ways to hold a mirror up to our souls and serves to reveal aspects of our lives that need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to read this and the other 2 parts and allow the Spirit to lead you in thought, prayer, reflection, healing, and transformation.
May the Spirit lead you into all truth and into the fullness of the gospel of Jesus this Lent –
When I was in seminary I had the great blessing of becoming the spiritual son of a Greek bishop, Bishop Kallistos of Xelon. He ended his life as the bishop of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese. It was he who taught me the Jesus Prayer. The whole spiritual vision of Bishop Kallistos had three very simple points.
Do not resent.
Do not react.
Keep inner stillness.
These three spiritual principles, or disciplines, are really a summation of the Philokalia, the collection of Orthodox Christian spiritual wisdom. And they are disciplines every single one of us can practice, no matter where we are in life – whether we’re in the monastery or in school; whether we’re housewives or retired; whether we’ve got a job or we’ve got little kids to run after. If we can hold on to and exercise these three principles, we will be able to go deeper and deeper in our spiritual life.
Do Not Resent
When we look at all the inner clutter that is in our lives, hearts and souls, what do we find? We find resentments. We find remembrance of wrongs. We find self-justifications. We find these in ourselves because of pride. It is pride that makes us hold on to our justifications for our continued anger against other people. And it is hurt pride, or vainglory, which feeds our envy and jealousy. Envy and jealousy lead to resentment.
Resentfulness leads to a host of problems. The more resentful we are of other people, the more depressed we become. And the more we are consumed with the desire to have what they have, which is avarice. Often we’ll then engage in the addictive use of the substance of the material world – whether it’s food or alcohol or drugs or sex or some other thing – to medicate ourselves into forgetfulness and to distract ourselves from our resentments.
One of the most valuable and important things that we can thus do is look at all of the resentments that we have. And one of the best ways of accomplishing this is to make a life confession. And not just once, before we’re baptized or chrismated. In the course of our spiritual life we may make several, in order to really dig in to our past and look at these resentments that we bear against other people. This will enable us to do the difficult work that it takes to overcome these resentments through forgiveness.
What does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness does not mean excusing or justifying the actions of somebody. For example, saying “Oh, he abused me but that’s O.K., that’s just his nature,” or “I deserved it.” No, if somebody abused you that was a sin against you.
But when we hold resentments, when we hold anger and bitterness within ourselves against those who have abused us in some way, we take their abuse and we continue it against ourselves. We have to stop that cycle. Most likely that person has long gone and long forgotten us, forgotten that we even existed. But maybe not. Maybe it was a parent or someone else close, which makes the resentment all the more bitter. But for the sake of our own soul and for the sake of our own peace, we need to forgive. We should not justify the action, but we should overlook the action and see that there’s a person there who is struggling with sin. We should see that the person we have resented, the person we need to forgive, is no different than we are, that they sin just like we do and we sin just like they do.
Of course, it helps if the person whom we resent, the person who offended us or abused us in some way, asks forgiveness of us. But we can’t wait for this. And we can’t hold on to our resentments even after outwardly saying we’ve forgiven. Think of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we don’t forgive, we can’t even pray the Lord’s Prayer without condemning ourselves. It’s not that God condemns us. We condemn ourselves by refusing to forgive. We will never have peace if we don’t forgive, only resentment. It is one of the hardest things to do, and our culture does not understand it. It is to look at the person we need to forgive, and to love them – despite how they may have sinned against us. Their sin is their sin, and they have to deal with it themselves. But we sin is in our reaction against their sin.
Do Not React
So this first spiritual principle – do not resent – leads to the second. We must learn to not react. This is just a corollary of “turn the other cheek.” When somebody says something hurtful, or somebody does something hurtful, what is it that’s being hurt? It’s our ego. Nobody can truly hurt us. They might cause some physical pain, or emotional pain. They might even kill our body. But nobody can hurt our true selves. We have to take responsibility for our own reactions. Then we can control our reactions.
There are a number of different levels to this principle. On the most blatant level, if someone hits you don’t hit them back. Turn the other cheek – that’s the Lord’s teaching. Now, this is hard enough. But there is a deeper level still. Because if somebody hits you, and you don’t hit them back – but you resent them, and you bear anger and hatred and bitterness against them, you’ve still lost. You have still sinned. You have still broken your relationship with God, because you bear that anger in your heart.
One of the things which is so difficult to come to terms with is the reality that when we bear anger and resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we erect barriers to God’s grace within ourselves. It’s not that God stops giving us His grace. It’s that we say, “No. I don’t want it.” What is His grace? It is His love, His mercy, His compassion, His activity in our lives. The holy Fathers tell us that each and every human person who has ever been born on this earth bears the image of God undistorted within themselves. In our Tradition there is no such thing as fallen nature. There are fallen persons, but not fallen nature.
The implication of this truth is that we have no excuses for our sins. We are responsible for our sins, for the choices we make. We are responsible for our actions, and our reactions. “The devil made me do it” is no excuse, because the devil has no more power over us than we give him. This is hard to accept, because it is really convenient to blame the devil. It is also really convenient to blame the other person, or our past. But, it is also a lie. Our choices are our own.
On an even deeper level, this spiritual principle – do not react – teaches us that we need to learn to not react to thoughts. One of the fundamental aspects of this is inner watchfulness. This might seem like a daunting task, considering how many thoughts we have. However, our watchfulness does not need to be focused on our thoughts. Our watchfulness needs to be focused on God. We need to maintain the conscious awareness of God’s presence.
If we can maintain the conscious awareness of His presence, our thoughts will have no power over us. We can, to paraphrase St. Benedict, dash our thoughts against the presence of God. This is a very ancient patristic teaching. We focus our attention on the remembrance of God. If we can do that, we will begin to control our troubling thoughts. Our reactions are about our thoughts. After all, if someone says something nasty to us, how are we reacting? We react first through our thinking, our thoughts.
Perhaps we’re habitually accustomed to just lashing out after taking offense with some kind of nasty response of our own. But keeping watch over our minds so that we maintain that living communion with God leaves no room for distracting thoughts. It leaves plenty of room if we decide we need to think something through intentionally in the presence of God. But as soon as we engage in something hateful, we close God out. And the converse is true – as long as we maintain our connection to God, we won’t be capable of engaging in something hateful. We won’t react.
Keep Inner Stillness
The second principle, the second essential foundation of our spiritual life – do not react – leads to the third. This third principle is the practice of inner stillness. The use of the Jesus Prayer is an extremely valuable tool for this. But the Jesus Prayer is a means, not an end. It is a means for entering into deeper and deeper conscious communion. It’s a means for us to acquire and maintain the awareness of the presence of God. The prayer developed within the tradition of hesychasm, in the desert and on the Holy Mountain.
But hesychasm is not only about the Jesus Prayer. It is about inner stillness and silence. Inner stillness is not merely emptiness. It is a focus on the awareness of the presence of God in the depths of our heart. One of the essential things we have to constantly remember is that God is not out there someplace. He’s not just in the box on the altar. It may be the dwelling place of His glory. But God is everywhere. And God dwells in the depths of our hearts. When we can come to that awareness of God dwelling in the depths of our hearts, and keep our attention focused in that core, thoughts vanish.
How do we do this? In order to enter in to deep stillness, we have to have a lot of our issues resolved. We have to have a lot of our anger and bitterness and resentments resolved. We have to forgive. If we don’t we’re not going to get into stillness, because the moment we try our inner turmoil is going to come vomiting out. This is good – painful, but good. Because when we try to enter into stillness and we begin to see the darkness that is lurking in our souls, we can then begin to deal with it. It distracts us from trying to be quiet, from trying to say the Jesus Prayer, but that’s just part of the process. And it takes time.
The Fathers talk about three levels of prayer. The first level is oral prayer, where we’re saying the prayer with our lips. We may use a prayer rope, saying “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” or whatever form we use.
The next level is mental prayer, where we’re saying the prayer in our mind. Prayer of the mind – with the Jesus Prayer, with prayer book prayers, with liturgical prayers –keeps our minds focused and helps to integrate us, so that our lips and our mind are in the same place and doing the same thing.
We all know that we can be standing in church, or standing at prayer, and we may be mouthing the words with our lips but our mind is thinking about the grocery list. The second level of prayer overcomes this problem, but it is not the final level.
The final level of prayer is prayer of the heart, or spiritual prayer. It is here where we encounter God, in the depths of our soul. Here we open the eye of our attention, with the intention of being present to God who is present within us. This is the key and the core of the whole process of spiritual growth and transformation.
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah was born James Paffhausen on October 20, 1959, in Chicago, IL, and was baptized into the Episcopal Church. While still a child, his family later settled in La Jolla, CA, near San Diego. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1978 at Our Lady of Kazan Moscow Patriarchal Church, San Diego, while a student at the University of California, San Diego. Later, he transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where he was instrumental in establishing an Orthodox Christian Fellowship.After completing studies at UCSC, James attended St. Vladimir’s Seminary, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1985 and a Master of Theology in Dogmatics in 1988.
He went on to pursue studies towards a Ph.D. at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, but interrupted those studies to spend a year in Russia.
In Moscow, working for Russkiy Palomnik (”The Russian Pilgrim”) at the Publishing Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, he was introduced to life in the Russian church, in particular monastic life. Later that year, he joined Valaam Monastery, having found a spiritual father in the monastery’s Abbot, Archimandrite Pankratiy. It was Archimandrite Pankratiy’s spiritual father, the Elder Kyrill at Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, who blessed James to become a priestmonk. He was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in 1994 and in 1995 was tonsured to monastic rank at St. Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA, having received the name Jonah.
Returning to California, Fr. Jonah served a number of missions and was later given the obedience to establish a monastery under the patronage of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. The monastery, initially located in Point Reyes Station, CA, recently moved to Manton in Northern California, near Redding. During his time building up the monastic community, Fr. Jonah also worked to establish missions in Merced, Sonora, Chico, Eureka, Redding, Susanville, and other communities in California, as well as in Kona, HI.
In the spring of 2008, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America elevated Fr. Jonah to the rank of Archimandrite and he was given the obedience to leave the monastery and take on the responsibilities of auxiliary bishop and chancellor for the Diocese of the South.
Metropolitan Jonah’s episcopal election took place on September 4, 2008, at an extraordinary meeting of the Holy Synod of Bishops. Earlier in the summer, his candidacy was endorsed by the Diocese of the South’s Diocesan Council, shortly after he had participated in the diocese’s annual assembly.
Metropolitan Jonah was consecrated Bishop of Fort Worth and Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of the South, at St. Seraphim Cathedral, Dallas, TX, on Saturday, November 1, 2008. On Wednesday, November 12, 2008, he was elected Archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada at the 15th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, in Pittsburgh, PA.
By Metropolitan Jonah, Archbishop of Washington and Metropolitan of All America and Canada for the Orthodox Church in America. Excerpted from Metropolitan Jonah’s address, “Do Not Resent, Do Not React, Keep Inner Stillness”
Repentance, conversion, the transformation of our mind and our life, is the core of the Christian life. Repentance does not mean to beat ourselves up for our sins, or to dwell in a state of guilt and morose self condemnation. Rather, it means to confront our sins, and reject and renounce them, and confess them, trying not to do them again. …
The process of purifying our self is hard and painful, at first; but becomes the source of great joy. The more we confess, honestly and nakedly, the more we open ourselves to God’s grace, and the lighter we feel. Truly the angels in heaven (and the priest standing before you bearing witness to the confession) rejoice immensely when a person truly repents and confesses their sins, no matter how dark and heinous. There is no sin so grievous that it cannot be forgiven. NOTHING! …
Preparing for confession is an important process. It means to take stock of our life, and to recognize where we have fallen, and that we need to repent. The following should help to prepare for confession, but it is not a laundry list. Rather, it should help to spur our memory, so that we can bring things to consciousness that we have forgotten. It is more of an examination of conscience.
– Despondency & Vainglory
– Pride The Commandments Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself
Do I love God?
Do I really believe in God, or just go through the motions?
Do I pray, and when I do, do I connect, or is it just mechanical?
Do I rush through prayers, Scripture readings, and spiritual literature?
Do I seek the will of God in all things?
Do I rebel against what I know to be God’s will, and the Christian life?
Do I try to be obedient, and constantly surrender my life to God?
Do I go to church, go to confession and communion regularly, keep the fasts?
Do I try to be conscious of God’s Presence, or not?
Do I try to sanctify my life? Or do I give in to temptation easily? Thoughtlessly?
Loving Our Neighbor
How do I treat the people around me?
Do I allow myself to judge, criticize, gossip about or condemn my neighbor?
Do I put people down? Do I look for their faults?
Do I condescend and talk down to others?
Do I treat others with kindness, gentleness, patience? Or am I mean, rough and nasty?
Do I try to control others, manipulate others?
Do I regard others with love and compassion?
Do I bear anger or resentments against others? Hatred, bitterness, scorn?
Do I use and objectify others for my own pleasure or advantage? For sex, for profit, or for anything else which de-personalizes him/her?
Do I envy and bear jealousy towards my neighbor? Do I take pleasure in his misfortunes?
Do I act thoughtlessly, oblivious to the feelings or conscience of the other?
Do I lead my neighbor into temptation intentionally?Do I mock him or make fun of him?
Do I honor the commitments I have made? Marriage vows? Monastic vows?
Do I honor my parents? Am I faithful in my relationships?
Do I have stability in my commitments?
Am I conscious of how my words and actions affect others?
Have I stolen anything, abused or hurt anyone?
Have I committed adultery?
Have I injured or killed someone?
Do I covet other people’s things? Do I lust after possessions or money? Does my life revolve around making money and buying things?
Loving Our Selves
How am I self-centered, egotistical, self-referenced?
Do I take care of myself, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually? Am I obsessed about my self, my image, my appearance, my desires and agenda?
Do I indulge in laziness? Do I get despondent, depressed, despairing?
Do I beat myself up, indulge in self-hatred or self-pity?
Do I injure myself? Do I have low self-esteem, or think myself worthless?
Do I blame other people for my reactions? Do I feel myself a victim?
Do I take responsibility for my own reactions and behaviors?
Do I engage in addictive behaviors, abusing alcohol, food, drugs, sex, pornography, masturbation? How do I try to console myself when I’m feeling down?
Do I have anger and resentment, rage, and other strong emotions and passions suppressed within me? Do I act out on them? How do they affect my behavior?
Can I control them or do I abuse other people?
Am I conscious of how my words affect people?
How am I a hypocrite? Can I face my own hypocrisy? Am I lying to and deluding myself?
Do I have a realistic idea of myself? Am I honest with myself and others? What kind of façade do I put up?
Have I done things that I don’t want to or am too ashamed to admit? Abuse of others or animals, incest, homosexual acts, perverse actions?
Have I abused drugs, sex or other things that I don’t want to acknowledge? Am I afraid that I am those things—an alcoholic, drug addict, gay, child abuser? Am I afraid to confess them? Can I forgive myself for these things? What do I feel guilty about? Does guilt control my life?
Immediately after the second service, starting at noon, the vestry will host a Town Hall Meeting for anyone interested in learning more about our sense of where God is leading All Saints in its jurisdictional relationships with Rwanda and ACNA. We are also eager to hear your thoughts, hopes, and concerns about our future place in the Anglican world.
Please join us at one of two services on Ash Wednesday (Feb 22), a rich abbreviated service at 12:00 noon and a full Eucharist at 7:00 p.m. The imposition of ashes will be offered at both services. Childcare will be provided for infants and toddlers.
This past Sunday was a red-letter day in the history of our church family: our official move-in day at the All Saints Annex!
It was so much fun to see so many people at our two Open Houses after each service. After many, many hours spent preparing the space, those of us who have been patiently (and sometimes impatiently!) waiting for this day were thrilled to see the space finally put to use for some of the many things we’ve been imagining: fellowship for our church family, conversations and friendships, good food, children having fun–what a joy! We hope and trust that Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg, and we know God has plans for this space beyond what we can imagine.
There are already lots of exciting things happening in the Annex: Children’s Church classes, youth groups, Essentials class, and Newcomers’ Luncheons already call it home. Staff have moved into their offices, and we’re excitedly settling in; what a gift it is for our pastoral staff to have space for a private conversation!
If you missed the Open House, don’t worry; there are lots of ways to get in on the excitement as we’re still very much in the process of settling in.
Come visit us! Check to see which direction Thomas Kortus’s desk is facing this week (it’s anyone’s guess!) or what new projects grace the lower elementary students’ bulletin board. Check out the work still in progress on our kitchen (it’s going to be great!) or sit down for a cup of coffee with a staff member in a comfortable new chair. Check out Barbara Barnes’s artwork in the youth room or preschoolers’ artwork in the yellow classroom.
Volunteer your time and skills! One thing is for sure: we need your help to do the good work God has planned for his people in the Annex. Spend a Sunday assisting in a Children’s Church class or working with the youth on a special project. Help clean up or set up for fellowship events by joining the hospitality team. Help design, decorate, and put the finishing touches on our walls.
Donate! We still need furniture, youth equipment, and many other things to make the Annex feel like home. Contact any staff member if you have gifts you’d like to share.
Give! Moving into the Annex represents a significant financial stretch for our church family. Help us meet our financial obligation to make this new home possible.
Pray! Most importantly, please pray for the staff working in the Annex, for the ministries making their homes there, and for the people God will reach within these walls. Give thanks for the many volunteers who have worked so hard to get the Annex ready.
I know I speak for the whole staff when I say thank you for what so many of you have already done to help make this move possible. Thank you to our volunteers, thank you for your donations and gifts, thank you for coming out to celebrate our Open House. Welcome to the All Saints Annex! Please don’t be a stranger!