Sunday, September 8, 2013

Statement by the Synod of Bishops on Events in the Middle East

Source: ROCOR

TORONTO: September 7, 2013

Kursk-Root Icon of the Thotokos "of the Sign"
The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, having convened under the domes of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Toronto, Canada, within the holy presence of icons of the Most-Blessed Virgin, the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign” and the Myrrh-Bearing “Softener of Hardened Hearts,” observes with alarm the unfolding events in the Middle East, in our thoughts kissing the podvigi [spiritual feats] of the persecuted Christians and new martyrs who sprinkle their blood upon the earth of their nation, which since ancient times has glorified the name of Christ. It is known that it was specifically the members of the Great Church of Antioch, the ancient followers of Christ, who first became known as “Christians.” And now their pious descendants are in danger, enduring persecutions for the faith of their forefathers. Anticipating armed intrusion into the boundaries of their country and condemning it, the Synod of Bishops calls upon all loyal children of the Russian Church Abroad to strengthened prayer for peace in Syria and the Near East, for all the persecuted and suffering for their faith in Christ, for the relatives of the victims who lay down their lives for God, the Church and their neighbor.
Icon of the Theotokos, "Softener of Hardened Hearts"

Standing in the presence of these miracle-working icons of the Mother of God and participating in the Church-wide celebration of the 400 th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty in Holy Trinity Cathedral in Toronto, we beseech the Most-Holy Mother of God that the “Lord grant strength to His people and bless His people with peace,” the peace of which Christ told the Apostles before His sufferings, the peace that He left for them. May this Divine peace, unearthly and eternal, reign in the hearts of the Christians of the Near East and strengthen them, and also inspire in us devotion and love in further carrying out our service, our duties and our life’s cross.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Russian Orthodox Podcast, Episode 82 - The Spiritual Development of Children

Episode 82 - an article written by Priest David Cownie about the challenges of Orthodox Youth Ministry, and how parents play a major role in their children's spiritual development.

"These are the disciplines and practices which can help our children withstand the assault of the world and the corrosive effects of pop culture."

Click here to listen via your web browser or download .mp3 file.

Or subscribe to "Russian Orthodox Podcast" on iTunes.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Becoming New Peters and Pauls


  Jul 12th, 2013

From the very beginning of Christ’s proclamation of the glad tidings, the Apostle Peter was right next to the God-Man. He saw the multitude of healings and raisings from the dead that the Lord performed; he was present both on Tabor and in Gethsemane; he received Communion at the Mystical Supper; and he was the first to confess Christ as God.

But except the Lord build the house, in vain do they labour that build it (Psalm 126:1). Simon did not become Peter until the Lord renewed him. His threefold denial of Christ demonstrates that human weakness can be very great.

But this betrayal did not extinguish Peter’s love for His Teacher. His words to Christ – Thou knowest that I love Thee – were not empty, because Christ replied to them with words full of confidence: Feed my sheep (John 21).

Renewed by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter became a zealous preacher of the Gospel who was no longer afraid of suffering and death, but ascended the cross in the steps of His Divine Teacher.
The Apostle Paul first appears to us as a persecutor of Christianity, taking part in the first Christian persecution in church history: the execution of the Apostle Stephen. To him, a “Pharisee of Pharisees,” Christianity seemed like a dangerous heresy.

But love for God saved him. The Lord revealed the truth to Paul, who went from being a persecutor to one of the most fertile plants in Christ’s field. His entire life became a living witness to how God’s grace can transform the soul, wholly filling it with the aspiration to serve the Supreme Truth without reservation.

Nowadays it is often said that the Apostles’ Fast arose as a sign of solidarity with those who were unable to fast during Great Lent and who thus used this time to make up for their omission. But this fast has another, equally important meaning. The Lord said that His disciples would fast when the Bridegroom shall be taken away (cf. Mark 2:18-20).

Our spiritual condition is often that of losing Christ, to one degree or another. In order to acquire strength of faith (inasmuch as lack of faith is driven out by prayer and fasting), we impose abstinence and increased prayer on ourselves. We can await the gift of God: His renewing and strengthening grace.

But why do we not become new Peters and Pauls by the day of their feast? What prevents us from acquiring such zeal? The main obstacle, it seams, is our own indolence. Because of it, we cannot sincerely repeat after the Apostles: Lo, we have left all, and have followed Thee (Mark 10:28).

Something always gets in the way: earthly inclinations, attachments, and habits that might not be especially sinful, but that are dangerous in that they become fine but impenetrable barriers between freedom in Christ and the narrow confines of our customary existence. On many farms in Australia, in place of a gate they place a frame hung with strips of rustling material. There is free passage, but animals still cannot pass through.

It is the same with our spiritual lives: it seems that there is not the slightest obstacle to the life in Christ, but a shadowy veil of worldly habits, which makes life in Christian freedom seem difficult, prevents us from fully opening up to God, from standing before God and following Christ.

The Lord commanded us faithful to “take up our cross and follow Me” (Matthew 10:38). But this call should not frighten us, For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Each of us can gauge the burden of sin based on his own experience of life.

The world of sin is limited. C. S. Lewis says that the entirely of hell would not contain even a single apple from the threshold of Paradise. The fast is the best time to leave behind the limitations of sin and to surrender to God’s wide expanses. This is not first and foremost about food: what is most important is one’s own spiritual disposition. The special prayers and the recognition that many other faithful Christians are fasting with you make the soul more amenable to accepting God in one’s heart.

Frequent Communion renews one entirely: not only the soul, but even the body is made to participate in God. Even if we often lose this divine gift quickly, this encounter with eternity does not pass by unnoticed.

Day by day, Communion by Communion, a Christian is gradually pulled out from the state of sinful affliction, being renewed from flesh to spirit.

Sometimes a fall comes after a time of spiritual ascent. We are weak, and modern man is not just doubly weak, but weak many times over. But not every fall should serve as an occasion for despondency. On the contrary, seeing the example of the chief Apostles, we can and should rise from the sleep of sin and put on the full armor of Christ.

If Peter, who denied Christ three times, could regain his apostolic dignity by his love; and if Paul, the passionate persecutor of Christianity, could become a wondrous preacher of the glad tidings, then nothing prevents our own spiritual perfection.

It is important not to rely on ourselves, recognizing that we are only God’s fellow workers in our salvation, that without Me ye can do nothing (John 15:5), and doing everything within our power.
Everything else is done by the Lord Himself, Who is “everywhere present and fillest all things.” In this shared labor, we await results of which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man (1 Corinthians 2:9). Namely, we can become not just righteous, but sons of the Kingdom. This is not only a gift of God, but the Lord’s plan for every person.

So let us follow Christ along with Peter and Paul, not in splendid isolation, but with our brothers and sisters in Christ – with those who, like us, have heard the Holy Spirit’s call in their hearts and not remained indifferent!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Which Came First? - by Fr. James Bernstein

As a Jewish convert to Christ via evangelical Protestantism, I naturally wanted to know God better through the reading of the Scriptures. In fact, it had been through reading the Gospels in the “forbidden book” called the New Testament, at age sixteen, that I had come to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our promised Messiah. In my early years as a Christian, much of my religious education came from private Bible reading. By the time I entered college, I had a pocket-sized version of the whole Bible that was my constant companion. I would commit favorite passages from the Scriptures to memory, and often quote them to myself in times of temptation-or to others as I sought to convince them of Christ. The Bible became for me-as it is to this day-the most important book in print. I can say from my heart with Saint Paul the Apostle, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

That’s the good news!

The bad news is that often I would decide for myself what the Scriptures meant. For example, I became so enthusiastic about knowing Jesus as my close and personal friend that I thought my own awareness of Him was all I needed. So I would mark verses about Jesus with my yellow highlighter, but pass over passages concerning God the Father, or the Church, or baptism. I saw the Bible as a heavenly instruction manual. I didn’t think I needed the Church, except as a good place to make friends or to leans more about the Bible so I could be a better do-it-yourself Christian. I came to think that I could build my life, and the Church, by the Book. I mean, I took sola scriptura (“only the Bible”) seriously! Salvation history was clear to me: God sent His Son, together they sent the Holy Spirit, then came the New Testament to explain salvation, and finally the Church developed.
Close, maybe, but not close enough.

Let me hasten to say that the Bible is all God intends it to be. No problem with the Bible. The problem lay in the way I individualized it, subjecting it to my own personal interpretations-some not so bad, others not so good.


It was not long after my conversion to Christianity that I found myself getting swept up in the tide of religious sectarianism, in which Christians would part ways over one issue after another. It seemed, for instance, that there were as many opinions on the Second Coming as there were people in the discussion. So we’d all appeal to the Scriptures. “I believe in the Bible. If it’s not in the Bible I don’t believe it,” became my war cry. What I did not realize was that everyone else was saying the same thing! It was not the Bible, but each one’s private interpretation of it, that became our ultimate authority. In an age which highly exalts independence of thought and self-reliance, I was becoming my own pope! The guidelines I used in interpreting Scripture seemed simple enough: When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. I believed that those who were truly faithful and honest in following this principle would achieve Christian unity. To my surprise, this “common sense” approach led not to increased Christian clarity and unity, but rather to a spiritual free-for-all! Those who most strongly adhered to believing “only the Bible” tended to become the, most factious, divisive, and combative of Christians-perhaps unintentionally. In fact, it seemed to me that the more one held to the Bible as the only source of spiritual authority, the more factious and sectarian one became. We would even argue heatedly over verses on love! Within my circle of Bible-believing friends, I witnessed a mini-explosion of sects and schismatic movements, each claiming to be “true to the Bible” and each in bitter conflict with the others. Serious conflict arose over every issue imaginable: charismatic gifts, interpretation of prophecy, the proper way to worship, communion, Church government, discipleship, discipline in the Church, morality, accountability, evangelism, social action, the relationship of faith and works, the role of women, and ecumenism. The list is endless. In fact any issue at all could-and often did-cause Christians to part ways. The fruit of this sectarian spirit has been the creation of literally thousands of independent churches and denominations. As I myself became increasingly sectarian, my radicalism intensified, and I came to believe that all churches were unbiblical: to become a member of any church was to compromise the Faith. For me, “church” meant “the Bible, God, and me.” This hostility towards the churches fit in well with my Jewish background. I naturally distrusted all churches because I felt they had betrayed the teachings of Christ by having participated in or passively ignored the persecution of the Jews throughout history. But the more sectarian I became-to the point of being obnoxious and antisocial-the more I began to realize that something was seriously wrong with my approach to Christianity. My spiritual life wasn’t working. Clearly, my privately held beliefs in the Bible and what it taught were leading me away from love and community with my fellow Christians, and therefore away from Christ. As Saint John the Evangelist wrote, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20). This division and hostility were not what had drawn me to Christ. And I knew the answer was not to deny the Faith or reject the Scriptures. Something had to change. Maybe it was me. I turned to a study of the history of the Church and the New Testament, hoping to shed some light on what my attitude toward the Church and the Bible should be. The results were not at all what I expected.


My initial attitude was that whatever was good enough for the Apostles would be good enough for me. This is where I got my first surprise. As I mentioned previously, I knew that the Apostle Paul regarded Scripture as being inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). But I had always assumed that the “Scripture” spoken of in this passage was the whole Bible-both the Old and New Testaments. In reality, there was no “New Testament” when this statement was made. Even the Old Testament was still in the process of formulation, for the Jews did not decide upon a definitive list or canon of Old Testament books until after the rise of Christianity. As I studied further, I discovered that the early Christians used a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. This translation, which was begun in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century B.C., contained an expanded canon which included a number of the so-called “deuterocanonical” (or “apocryphal”) books. Although there was some initial debate over these books, they were eventually received by Christians into the Old Testament canon. In reaction to the rise of Christianity, the Jews narrowed their canons and eventually excluded the deuterocanonical books-although they still regarded them as sacred. The modern Jewish canon was not rigidly fixed until the third century A.D. Interestingly, it is this later version of the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, rather than the canon of early Christianity, that is followed by most modern Protestants today. When the Apostles lived and wrote, there was no New Testament and no finalized Old Testament. The concept of “Scripture” was much less well-defined than I had envisioned.


The second big surprise came when I realized ...
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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Metropolitan Philaret on the Sunday of the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council


The Orthodox Church today prayerfully remembers the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, which once met in the city of Nicaea in order to investigate and judge the heresy of Arius. We know that in the first centuries of Christianity, the Church endured severe persecution, first from the Jews and then from the pagan Roman imperial power. But despite the fact that the persecution was bloody, despite the fact that thousands of Christians died under torture for their confession of faith, nonetheless, it was not dangerous for the Church.

The Christian of the first centuries remembered well that the Lord Jesus Christ said: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the sou: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). And in the Apocalypse He said: “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev 2:10). In these bloody persecutions Christians were faithful to death, went to martyric death, and received from the Lord Savior the crown of eternal life earned by them.

When the era of persecution ended, another began. This was much more dangerous for the Church. Then inside the Church appeared heresy, delusion, and distortion of the truth. They appeared immediately, but the first were not much noticed, and did not attract many followers. The heresy of Arius, which appeared when the persecution had ended, agitated the entire Church. Arius was a scholar and an eloquent presbyter, that is, a priest – a pastor in the city of Alexandria. The bishop of Alexandria died. At that time the flock choose its own pastors. The eloquent, educated Arius, who held a prominent position, was certain that he would be chosen, and that he would be the bishop. But the majority of the clergy and people chose another bishop, the presbyter Alexander, who was also well read, educated, and knowledgeable. He was not as outstanding and talented as Arius, but he was marked by his piety, and was truly of righteous and holy life. For this reason the clergy and flock honored him and elected him.

This piqued Arius’ wounded self-love. Unfortunately, this is always the story in the history of heresies. In the beginning there lies an evil motive, an evil impulse of a personal character, which is wrapped in a robe as a kind of fidelity to truth.

Thus Arius, in his self-love, decided to speak out against his own bishop – he could not accept the fact that he was not a bishop. Once Bishop Alexander spoke with his clergy about the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, about the equality of its Persons, that the Holy Trinity is a Trinity of Unity, inasmuch as in three Persons there is One Divine Essence, One Divine Nature. Arius boldly stood up and began to contradict him and began to assert that the Son of God is not equal to God the Father, as Bishop Alexander had said, or not born of Him, but created by Him, as a creature, as creation. True, higher, more perfect, but still creation, a creature. Alexander tried to reason with gentle admonitions to reason with Arius, but he persevered. And since he was eloquent, this heresy arose, and because of him it spread and eventually roused the entire Church.

Alexander, as a bishop, excommunicated him from the Church. He left, but began to spread his doctrine further and further. In the end, the Equal-to-the-Apostles Emperor Constantine himself commissioned the Elder Hosius of Cordova, well known for his piety and deep wisdom to make out what this was, what this was for a heresy. The elderly Bishop Hosius, pious and wise, arrived in Alexandria. Without any prejudice, absolutely impartial, he investigated this question, and returned and told the Emperor that Arius was preaching a horrible heresy, which subverts all of Christianity. For if the Son of God is not equal to God the Father and is not born of Him, then He is not God, but creation, which means that he was not incarnate as the true God-Man. That means that the deed of our salvation was not accomplished as our Christian faith teaches us.

In the end, an Ecumenical Council assembled. Arius had only a few bishops on his side. The overwhelming majority of bishops (and more than 300 assembled for the Council) stood firmly for the Orthodox faith, condemned the heresy of Arius, and excommunicated him himself from the Church, as a persistent and uncorrected heretic.

This heretic died a horrible death, but his heresy agitated the Church for a long time. Only gradually did it begin to subside. It had to be fought by Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, who lived after Arius. But, in the end, truth triumphed, but there was a moment when in the East, of all Orthodox bishops, only St Athanasius the Great remained, and in the West only St Hilary of Poitiers; all the other episcopal cathedras, hundreds of cathedras, were taken by bishops who were themselves Arian heretics.

The Church, however, was not lost. It was difficult for St Athanasius to fight with the heretics in the East. Many times he was exiled, but he remained unmoved. When he learned in his solitude that at last he had an ally, a successor, in St Basil the Great, did this great defender of Orthodoxy breathed a sigh of relief. Thus did the Church experience this heresy, that is how it was disturbed by it.

After Arius there were other heretics. They were also condemned by Ecumenical Councils. But today we remember the First Ecumenical Council, which condemned Arius and his heresy. Amen.

Friday, June 7, 2013


"Summertime... and the living is easy." That's how the song goes, anyway. Lemonade, the old fishing pole, picnics, the beach, or maybe rocking on the porch, it all fits into our summer fantasies. If you watch any television at all, visions of slow paced summer living are hard to miss. Where is that barbecue grill, anyway?

Part of our American birthright is the right to pursue happiness. But ask any American to define happiness, and the answer is often vague-more money would help, better health, stronger and more attractive bodies, a nicer house, a better job-the list is endless.

Despite our inability to define happiness with any precision, we kill ourselves in the pursuit of it. Convinced by that world that we must have Brand X to be happy, we work overtime for more money to be able to buy what we think we need, but then there is precious little time or energy left to enjoy Brand X. I don't know how long it will take us until we finally realize that the pursuit of happiness will never produce happiness. It only gives us the never ending pursuit of the unattainable.
Joy is birthright of the Orthodox. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, but joy is deep and everlasting. Jesus said, "I have said these things that my joy may be in you, that that your joy may be complete." (St. John 15)

But, you may ask, how can I have joy when I am sick, poor, unattractive, alone, hassled, tired, overworked, underpaid, unappreciated, and so far from attaining any lasting measure of happiness?
The answer is not easy for us to hear.

"Blessed are the poor in Spirit... Blessed are those who mourn... Blessed are the meek... Blessed are they that hunger and thirst... blessed are the merciful... blessed are the pure in heart... blessed are the peacemakers... blessed are those who are persecuted... blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you... rejoice and be exceedingly glad." (St. Matthew 5)

The Lord once again sets the world on its head. Joy does not come from the pursuit of happiness or the good life. It comes from the pursuit of holiness, which is the pursuit of the Kingdom of heaven. Our joy comes because we obtain a mystery, a great treasure that neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor life, nor death can take from us. And the world, the flesh, and the devil will most certainly try to take it away. Guaranteed.

How powerful is this joy? "Let us lay aside every weight and sin that so easily besets us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the sake of the joy set before him endured the cross... (Hebrews 12).

It was joy that carried Jesus through such agony. It was joy that propelled the disciples out into a world that would hate and persecute them. It was joy that caused the martyrs to face death singing and rejoicing and loving and hugging each other until it brought their pagan onlookers to amazement and admiration. This was no mere emotion of fleeting happiness. It was joy, full and complete.

Do a word search and Bible study on the word "joy" and you will be amazed at what you'll find. How can this joy be ours? It is a gift of the Spirit, but it requires our effort. "Seek first the Kingdom of God... go, and sell all that you have... strive to enter the narrow gate... keep My commandments... in other words, pursue holiness and not happiness. Then we will obtain a great pearl, a heavenly treasure that neither thieves, nor rust, nor moth can consume. We will obtain rest, peace, and JOY!

Source: All Saints of North America Russian Orthodox Church, Middlebrook, Virginia

Monday, May 20, 2013


Photo reports of Pascha (Easter) celebrations across the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America:

Photo report of Ss. Sergius and Herman and Holy Transfiguration celebrating together in Atlantic Mine, MI:

Friday, April 5, 2013

Photo Report: First Divine Liturgy with Fr. Innokenty

This past Sunday, the 2nd of Great Lent 2013, Hieromonk Innokenty for the first time celebrated the Divine Liturgy with Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission.  This is the second Liturgy of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America of the Russian Orthodox Church to be ever served in Greater Peoria, and the second for Holy Transfiguration.