I remember so well the first time I stayed overnight in an Orthodox Christian monastery. I dreamed of every Christian camp and conference I had attended up to that point in my life, for they represented the highest and deepest of my spiritual experience. After just one day in the concentrated prayers of the monastic daily cycle, those previous experiences of prayer became as mere foretastes of reality. Continue reading
From a small city church in Russian Siberia to one of America’s largest cathedrals in San Francisco, our batiushka (endearing term for priest) is about to finally complete his mission and strengthen a Cross-Pacific relationship that began in the middle of this past century. The story is bound up with one of America’s most beloved saints, Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco, who after establishing St. Tikhon’s Orphanage in China, fled Shanghai in 1949 when the flood of communism spilled into that ancient land as well. The saint fled first to a storm-ridden island in the Philippines and then to San Francisco in 1962. What concerns our Siberian pastor is that many other Russians fled with the Archbishop from his home city of Kyakhta, an important trade center on the northern border with Mongolia. To mark this connection between the mother city and the place of these emigrants’ exile, batiushka has brought a copy of the icon Mother of God, Surety of Sinners, all the way from its original home in Kyakhta to the San Francisco Cathedral “Joy of All Who Sorrow” on Geary Boulevard. Continue reading
I would like to dedicate our annual back-to-school post to our new community of Classical Conversations gathered in Newton, MA. Good strength and success to students and teachers everywhere, and may God grant us all a good and prosperous school year.
“I mean, like, with culturally relevant teaching…[?]…” her high-pitched voice droned, lilting upwards at the end of the phrase as if everything said was more of a question than a statement. Was she really that unsure of what she was saying or was it a habit learned from an academy which no longer believed truth to be something definitive? I was sitting through yet another required teacher training seminar wondering if I was the only one in the room more interested in the message than in these interminable lectures on teaching methods. Yet this particular post-modern drill sergeant took the message/method dichotomy a step further than I had ever heard it taken. She delivered a conclusion to her talk that can only make sense to a brain thoroughly washed in ideology and completely abandoned by common sense: “It doesn’t matter what we teach our students…[?] as long as we teach them with the right method.” Continue reading
And what of us in the West, and particularly in America? Do we have any image that explains our situation as well as Gulag does that of Russia? I am afraid there is an image, most unflattering to us, which is almost our equivalent of Gulag. It is “Disneyland” an image which exemplifies our carefree love of “fun” (a most un-Christian word!), our lack of seriousness, our living in a literal fool’s paradise, unaware or barely aware of the real meaning and seriousness of life.
I have labored for years to understand this word of wisdom from one my most formative of spiritual fathers. The truth of it resonated deeply upon first hearing it, but I have had great difficulty articulating the opinion to those outside of Orthodox Christian influence. After all, Disney means more to us Americans than just another movie theater company. It is a whole experience, a place of pilgrimage, even a complete view of the salvation of mankind, and this was finally made much clearer to me recently by Disney’s own excellent apologetic for its dogma, Saving Mr. Banks. Continue reading
Test thyself, who thou art; come to know thy nature; come to know that thy body is mortal, while thy soul is immortal, that our life is two-sided: one side, proper the flesh, is transitory, while the other, related to the soul, does not admit limitation. Therefore, take heed to thyself, do not dwell on the mortal as eternal, and do not disdain the eternal as transitory. Do not care about the flesh, because it passes away; take care for the soul, a thing immortal.
— Saint Basil the Great
Fr. Herman (Podmoshesky), sometime abbot of St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, died today after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease and diabetes. While his wish was for his body to lie in the ground close to his friend and co-struggler in the monastic life, Fr. Seraphim Rose, his precious soul, which he poured out on behalf of so many, will still be alive in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved him. He is one of the first Orthodox pastors to teach me the true place of beauty in the spiritual life and how important it is to feed one’s soul with truth, beauty, and goodness before ever aspiring to things of the spirit. Continue reading