Category Archives: Christian Practice

Lent and the Shaping of Desire

by John A. Monaco

Self-Mortification of St. Benedict
The Self-Mortification of Saint Benedict (Albrecht Dürer)

Christianity is a religion of desire. At first glance, this statement may seem counterintuitive and contradictory. After all, Christians are told to deny themselves, to take up their cross and follow Christ (Mt 16:24). Several prayers, especially in the Divine Liturgy, also seem to downplay desire. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, prior to the reading of the Holy Gospel, the priest prays for the revering of the Lord’s commandments so that, “having trampled down all carnal desires,” the Christian may do that which is pleasing to God. Similarly, the the prayer during the Cherubic Hymn, the priest prays that “No one bound by carnal desires and pleasures is worthy to approach, draw near, or minister to You, the King of Glory.” Church history is filled with numerous examples of ascetics and saints who renounced their desires, whether that includes St. Benedict throwing himself into the thorn bush to chasten his sexual desire, or Eudocia the Samaritan (whom the Orthodox Church commemorated on Forgiveness Sunday) who abandoned her earthly riches and physical beauty to the disdain of her former lovers. Countless entries within the Church’s illustrious hagiography follow a similar trajectory: a person with worldly fame and material pleasures experiences a conversion, and then sells her belongings, and embraces a life of poverty and self-denial. It would then seem that “desire” has an awfully negative place within Christian discourse. In other words, if you desire something, it is probably bad and sinful, and the way to holiness is thus avoiding what we desire and instead pursue those things we do not like.

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Shame or Love in the Age of Pandemic

by Fr. Elias Villis

Jesus washing his disciples' feet

When Archbishop Elpidophoros submitted an encyclical regarding COVID-19 to his faithful on behalf of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, what I found more scandalous and tragic than the pandemic itself was the judgmental and self-righteous voice from so many “faithful” (both clergy/hierarchs and laity) who spoke against those who were afraid to approach the chalice because of fear of catching a disease or spreading it.

Among the most troubling comments I’ve seen are: “If you believe that you will get sick by partaking of Holy Communion, you are in sin and should not approach.” And another: “How can you believe that the Body and Blood of Christ can make you sick?” 

Are these really the kinds of comments that lead us to God? Is the pandemic some sort of spiritual contest where we need are going to prove to the social-media world just how much more faith we have than others?

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Fasting from Communion in a Pandemic

by Mark Roosien

St. Mary of Egypt and St. Zosimas

St Mary of Egypt, it is said, received Holy Communion exactly once after she fled to the desert to repent: on the day of her death. 17 years of life in the wilderness were spent deprived of Body and Blood of Christ in the eucharist. This was not normal practice at the time for nuns, monks, and ascetics. Early monastic rules required even anchorites—those living in caves or huts apart from the monastic community—to come together with the others for Sunday liturgy to commune with God and unite with their fellow monastics in the Cup of the Lord. Yet St Mary was nourished only, as she told the elder Zosimas, by “the word of God which is alive and active.”

The spread of COVID-19 has forced Orthodox leaders to make difficult decisions about how and whether to hold church services. Some have advised that most people simply stay home from Sunday liturgy for the foreseeable future, especially the older and immune-compromised, as well as those who are sick. For most, this will mean obligatory fasting from Holy Communion.

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Men, Monks, and Making Saints

by Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis

Saints

On his recent visit to Mt. Athos in October, 2019, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew announced the imminent inclusion of five Athonite elders among the saints: Ieronymos of Simonopetra, Daniel of Katounakia, Joseph the Hesychast, Ephraim of Katounakia, and Sophrony of Essex.

There is a phrase in the Sayings of Abba Macarius with which I can identify. When asked to address a word of salvation, Macarius replied: “I have not yet become a monk myself, but I have seen monks.” While I feel singularly unsuited to write about saints, I can say that I have been privileged to meet saints who shaped my mind and ministry: Fr. Sophrony of Essex, Fr. Paisios of Athos, Fr. Porphyrios of Athens, as well as Fr. Iakovos of Euboea and Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia. My most treasured gift is a small cross containing the relics of contemporary saints: Nektarios of Pentapolis, Arsenios of Cappadocia, Silouan the Athonite, Joseph the Hesychast, and Amphilochios of Patmos.

There is no doubt that the acclamation and proclamation of a new saint is a refreshing gesture of consolation for the church, an affectionate expression of solidarity in people’s daily affliction. But can a gift—whether an act of grace by God or an act of generosity by the church—ever be manipulated or misused? Continue reading