Saturday, March 15, 2008

6. Cultivate communion with the saints.

Good morning! I have to share this quote with you before I turn the space over to Ina. It's from this podcast of Ancient Faith Radio, where Fr. Thomas speaks about his Maxims. (He lists 55, and a few are slightly altered, so perhaps we're using an earlier version.) At the beginning, he says this about Great Lent:

"The Lenten season is that time of the year when Christian believers try to be what they ought always to be, and to do what they ought always to do, but don't."

Good food for thought! And here is Shamassey Ina.

The ‘communion with the saints’ part of this maxim has come easier for me than the ‘cultivation’ part. Or at least communion has usually come first. Because of the great patience and mercy of God, He has taken the first steps in introducing me to saints by some unique situation every time. In the beginning of my Orthodox journey I felt sure that God knew that it would be unlikely that I would pursue the tradition of saints or even know what to ‘do’ with saints, unless He intervened. The whole concept was so foreign to me that I would never get it, if He did not walk me through the whole thing without my even knowing it.

Ironically, as I look back now, I am reminded that ‘saints’, in a way, were the tool God used to finally push me over the edge into Holy Orthodoxy. When Fr. Timothy stood in my kitchen and said that the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ were worshiping God in the heavens all the time and that we just stepped into that worship for a few minutes on Sunday morning at the Divine Liturgy, a light bulb went on in my heart. This image stunned me and seemed so correct and so amazing that I suddenly knew that all the liturgical trappings about which I was so suspicious didn’t matter…they were my own issue. If I wanted to get in on the heavenly worship with those that had finished the race I would just have to stop setting up my own standards for how things ‘ought’ to be and take God at face value where ever that would lead and whatever that would look like.

My first ‘communion’ with a saint was not even the patron saint that Fr. Timothy gave me. I didn’t really ‘meet’ them until recently. Some of you were present when I ‘met’ my first saint--St. Nina. I had been Orthodox about four years and knew absolutely nothing about her or ‘saints’, so she apparently knew it would take something unmistakable to get my attention. I was so confused by the loud rushing sound, the tears pouring from my eyes, and seeing that no one else seemed to be hearing it, that I just kept looking down so no one would notice. I might not have even mentioned it but Fr. Gregory was sitting right across from me during the reading of St. Nina’s story and he ‘noticed’ me and asked what happened. I described the sound but said I couldn’t really hear any of the story. Not until Fr. Gregory said that he felt that St. Nina had ‘chosen us’ in our search for a patron for our Sisterhood, did I really contemplate what had happened. When I went home and read her story I was even more stunned and felt my first connection to someone outside of our time. Since then I have felt tied to St. Nina and see her sending various people and blessings to us and often wondering why she chose us and why we are such wimpy followers of her and her leading. It seems like it’s not every day that a lady from the 4th century comes to Linthicum, Maryland. How can we take it lightly? How can we be worthy?…. Holy Saint Nina pray for us! I guess this part of ‘cultivation’ just comes naturally once we meet them.

The next saint I met was St. Paisius Velichovsky. Again, I had never heard of him but stood in his cell in Niamts Monastery in Romania and wondered why I was crying. In fact, I had visited that monastery a couple of years before and disliked it. (Increasingly, I am learning to distrust all my own opinions.) About 10 days later in a bookstore in a monastery in England I ‘happened’ to find the story of his life on a sale table. Reading that, quickly led to my discovering the connection of the long string of Paisius(es) that God had put into my path so I could meet this compiler of the Philokilia. When I got home I rushed to find the book given to me at my first monastery, by the first monk I had ever met. I recalled that at the time he had a name that I had never heard before-- Paisius!! And then inside that book I discovered that it was also signed by the author and that monk’s spiritual father, Elder Paisius of the Holy Mountain! I had been so fascinated by him when I read of him in the book Mountain of Silence but I never realized that God had already tried to ‘introduce him’ to me. Thus the slow witted Ina finally got the connection God had been trying to give me with these holy Paisius(es).

God is so patient. He has led me in similarly blind ways to Seraphim, Inna, Pinna & Rimma, etc. I find that in prayer I refer to them with their first names or earthly titles…like ‘Fr. Seraphim’ when I am asking for their intercessions for my various friends and family. This is probably wrong and presumptuous, but just what happens when I am talking to them. Thus, my ‘cultivation’ of these new friendships has come sort of naturally after God has created unusual ‘meetings’ of these Holy Men and Women. I naturally want to read about them and even read their own writing if available. I feel so close to them when I pray with them each day and when I ask their intercessions for my various friends and family in trials. When Margo first told me that my first monk, Paisius, was now on Mt. Athos, I felt a tinge of sorrow because I would likely never meet him again. Then, just as suddenly, God gave me a surge of peace and joy reminding me that actually I am very close to that monk because I am tied to him every day in prayer! Wow! Cultivation of friendships outside the bounds of time and space!!! Only God can do this. And saints have so much time on their hands to pray for us. Plus, in their time on earth they proved that they really know how to commune with God. Such Friends! Alleluia! God IS with us and all His Saints!

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The Forty Maxims

  • 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
  • 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
  • 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  • 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  • 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  • 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
  • 10. Be faithful in little things.
  • 11. Do your work, then forget it.
  • 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • 13. Face reality.
  • 14. Be grateful.
  • 15. Be cheerful.
  • 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  • 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • 18. Listen when people talk to you.
  • 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  • 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  • 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
  • 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
  • 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  • 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  • 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  • 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  • 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  • 33. Be strict with yourself.
  • 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
  • 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  • 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.