Saturday, April 4, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

33. Be strict with yourself.

From Laura in Baltimore:

Last night, I had the blessing of standing (and standing, and standing...) and chanting the The Canon of St. Andrew. It is not an easy task, but strangely enough, one that I look forward to. Our dear priest, Father Gregory, refers to this service as “boot camp.” I can only agree with him.

What amazes me is that every time I participate in this service, certain verses seem to jump off the page and almost scream, “that’s you, Laura.” What’s really shameful is that sometimes it’s the same verse I remember screaming at me in years past. I think I must not grow much from year to year if this keep happening.

I try, as an Orthodox Christian, to stick to the rules, say my prayers, observe the fasts, etc. But I have to admit, it’s also easy to look for the loopholes. I think, “one little peek won’t matter,” or “one little bit of cheese doesn’t really matter, does it?” or even, “My whole life is supposed to be a prayer, so I don’t need to stand in front of the icons for another 15 minutes and pray.” It’s quite shameful. And the thing is, one little whatever might not matter in the long run, it’s the series of “one littles” that make the difference. Think how the Colorado river carved the Grand Canyon, one little drop at a time.

My own “little” sins and all the ways I’m not strict with myself seem to come into sharp focus during Lent and services such as the Great Canon. It’s easy to get discouraged, and often I do, thinking, I’ll never heal from all the damage I have caused and continue to cause myself and those around me through my sins. But I know that discouragement does not come from God, for chastisement and discouragement are two different things. And, like the monk who “falls and gets up” over and over, so should I, God willing, with a little more spiritual moxie.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.

From Kassiani Michele in Alabama:

I don't like this maxim very much. You can guess why......because I stink at it. I have an opinion about everything. This isn't always a good thing. I think some issues that go along with this maxim are being a good listener and keeping your mouth shut. HA!

I love to help people. I am always ready to jump on board and solve the problem but sometimes that isn't what is needed. Sometimes a listening ear is all that is needed. If asked for advice, think before you speak. It is ok not to have an answer. It is ok to say "Let's pray together about it" and then do it right then and there. I love that about one of my special friends. She will stop and pray in Wal-Mart!

How about when you see a friend in sin? Love is going to them and gently confronting them. There are times that are appropriate for this kind of action. I have been on both sides and I find that it isn't easy being on either side. But, praise be to God for a friend that will seek me out and love me enough to help me.

We are almost at the end of this journey we call Great Lent and I can say this has been a difficult Lent for me and my family. I thank God for revealing my sin and healing my soul. I pray you all have a blessed Pascha!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.

From Marjaana in New York:

Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.

Isn’t it funny how, every time we receive criticism we get all defensive and are able to point out to all kinds of extenuating circumstances: “I was too busy”, “I didn’t sleep well the night before”, “I wasn’t feeling well”, “I had too much on my plate”, “What do you expect, I’m no saint” . . . Yet, when someone else makes a mistake or wrongs us in some way, they are stupid, lazy, incompetent or just bad, horrible people.

I am so guilty of the above, but funnily enough, I had taken this as one of the areas of focus as part of my Lenten journey this year.

If we are to take seriously the great commandment: “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, shouldn’t we try to reverse that and try to take responsibility for our failings and transgressions despite the circumstances and give others the benefit of the doubt and look for ─ with a gentle heart ─ for their extenuating circumstances.

Tough? Yes! Nearly impossible at times? Yes! But, from the Orthodox perspective, aren’t we all supposed to be saints-in-training!

Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.

So what about the times when criticism is clearly not justified. We’ve all been there, I’m sure, the recipients of criticism as part of the blame game, a suitable outlet for someone else’s insecurity, fear, anger, bad mood or ─ sinful as we all are ─ their clear unadulterated desire to hurt you (arising from one of the above).

That’s why testing criticism carefully is important. I bet nine times out of ten we will find that while we may not be guilty this time, we may have gotten away with something earlier, many times, so there’s no point in being huffy.

If after careful consideration we realize that the criticism is truly not justified, the challenge is just to let it go and try to look at the person with compassion and think about how much pain they must be in, in order to behave this way. Is being vindicated really so important that you will risk escalating the situation putting the whole relationship in jeopardy?

Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Once again the prayer of St. Ephraim comes to our aid: “Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed are Thou, unto the ages of ages.”

And of course, in the final analysis, it is God to whom we are accountable, and accountable under his laws and as representatives of his Kingdom and his love rather than the Law of Man. So sometimes even when criticism is justifiable in worldly terms, the commandment of loving God with all thy heart and soul and loving thy neighbor as thyself trumps it. After all, wasn’t Jesus criticized for healing on a Sabbath. On the day of judgment, it will be on the degree of love and compassion for each other, our role as peacemakers that we will be judged on. So at times, that VERY IMPORTANT deadline just has to go whizzing by.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.

From Jocelyn in Baltimore:

The more I think about this maxim, the more I realize that defining myself based on people is, for me, a matter of spending all day long comparing myself to others. I'm better than so-and-so, more talented than so-and-so, less patient than so-and-so, more well off than so-and-so... and on and on the list it goes. Comparing myself to people can inflate my head when my judgments make me overconfident and prideful, and also devastate my ego when I judge myself lesser or disadvantaged.

But the key, truly, is pride. I'm prideful in myself if I spend my time comparing myself to others; I have a pride that I will somehow measure up.

No one can measure up to God, however, which is why it's not as satisfying to the ego to define yourself by God. But if you surround and bind yourself by God, you are free from the roller coaster of that pride will give you. You will be free to know who you truly are, as well. It may be ugly and painful, but true knowledge of yourself, rather than using others as a measuring stick, will ultimately create in you a more attractive personal beauty than anything.

Monday, March 30, 2009

29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.

From Mimi in Seattle:

When I read this maxim, my first thought was a quote from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers* “The same Abba Macarius while he was in Egypt discovered a man who owned a beast of burden engaged in plundering Macarius' goods. So he came up to the thief as if he was a stranger and he helped him to load the animal. He saw him off in great peace of soul saying, 'We have brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.' (1Tim.6.7) 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' (Job 1.21).

While I consider that we shouldn’t be attached to our possessions, and to let them own us, I realized upon later reflection this maxim is warning us against justifying ourselves. We always want to tell the story, as if somehow we miss the mark less if we have a good reason. When the pit of my stomach reminds me that I have done something wrong, it is easy for me to fall into this trap. Justification leads to rationalization.

I am pretty sure that my defense at the Dread Judgment Seat of Christ does NOT start with “so-and-so did it first” or the even more judgmental “well, they did THIS”. When I pick up my sin and examine it, the measuring stick isn’t what others have done, but what I have done. I recently read that St. Isaac the Syrian said, “A man who is truly humble is not troubled when he is wronged at he says nothing to justify himself against the injustice but accepts slander as truth.” This maxim reminds us that our actions aren’t for how other people see us, but how we are seen by God. When we learn to stop justifying ourselves we learn to accept responsibility.

I have far to go on applying this maxim to my life.

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.