Christ is risen!
In a couple of weeks we will celebrate the feast of mid-Pentecost, whose apolytikion begins: “O Lord, midway through the feast, give drink to my thirsty soul from the waters of true religion.” I have found mid-Pentecost to be an interesting feast, as it looks both back to Pascha, as we are still in the Paschal season, and forward to Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. It seems to be caught between what was and what is to come. In that context, it seems to be a very relatable feast for us today. Caught between the time when we were together and the time when we will be together, we look at both and ask for our souls to be fed. So where do we find the waters of true religion?
Of course, we are used to finding them in the services of the Church, and, while we can still find that by watching services on our TVs, computers, and phones, it is not quite the same kind of nourishment, especially when we are unable to partake of the sacraments. With that in mind, let us look for some ways to supplement our spiritual nourishment.
Let us begin with prayer. In the life of the Church, the communal prayer is built on the foundation of personal prayer. In these times when our communal prayer is suffering, let us strengthen our foundations so that, when we are together again our communal prayer life will be even stronger. To that end, here are a few questions for self-evaluation:
Do I have a consistent morning and evening prayer routine?
Do I spend a few minutes quietly saying the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner)?
If I have time, can I pray one of the services of the hours (available on the AGES Digital Chant Stand)?
Do I pray for those who love me and those who hate me?
Next, let us consider Scripture. If you have never read through the Bible (including the “extra” bits that Orthodox Bibles have) you could consider making an attempt. If questions arise as to what a certain passage means, there are resources available. The Christian Classics Ethereal Library (ccel.org) contains many writings from the Church Fathers, including, for example St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on a number of books of the Bible), the free Catena app (available for both Android and iPhone) allows you to click each verse in the Bible and, if there is commentary available on that verse, it will bring that commentary up. I am also available to look through the resources in my library if the previous sources do not provide an answer.
Let us now consider general Church literature. Orthodox Christians have often been accused of not knowing their own faith. Even if that is not actually the case, it is always good to learn a little more. For the more patient and yet adventurous, it could be through a work of theology, some of which are available for free online:
St. John of Damascus’s “Exact Exposition of the Christian Faith”
St. Basil the Great’s “On the Holy Spirit”
St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Dogmatic Treatises
Or, we could learn about the spiritual practices of the Church as, for example, in
St. Theophan the Recluse’s “The Path of Salvation”
St. Nikodemos of Mt. Athos and his “Spiritual Warfare”
Metr. Anthony Bloom’s “Beginning to Pray”
“The Way of the Pilgrim”
Archimandrite Zacharias’s “Remember Thy First Love”
We could learn about the lives of the saints (https://www.oca.org/saints/lives is a rich resource). Some more recent saints and saintly people have had their lives and teachings recorded in considerable detail. We can see there how the grace of God worked in their lives, how they dealt with the trials of life, and how they were able to give thanks. Examples of lives that are available to us include:
St. Silouan the Athonite
St. Paisios of Mt. Athos
St. Luke of Crimea
I pray that, midway through this year’s strange Paschal season, some of these resources will prove to be drink for your thirsty souls.
With love in Christ,