Friday, July 29, 2011

St. Ephraim the Syrian: Healing Tears of Repentance

Psalm 74

"Who will cure my soul if not Thou, O Christ, the only Physician of souls!  Where will I find a remedy for the disease of my soul, if not with Thee, O fountain of healing!  Thou Who dist cure the ailing woman, cure also my soul from the ruin of sin.
     May Thy compassion descend on me and help me to overthrow the enemy.  Fortify me who am infirm by the strength of Thine arm, and the Evil One will be ashamed when he sees that I am prepared for battle.  Animate me and the Evil One will be humiliated.  In shame will he be turned back, and I will glorify Thy name.
     Accept the tears of my wretchedness and blot out the record of my debts, and again will the enemy be ashamed, seeing that Thy loving-kindness has destroyed the fruit of his wicked deeds and that I will not be punished.
     May Thy compassion come to mine aid, that I might pass safely through the realm of temptation, and that I might thereafter be close to Thee, with Thee always.
     My sinful soul will glorify Thee and Thy Father and the Holy Spirit, for she has wept and been heard, and, washed with tears of repentance, she has been made a temple inhabited by the Divinity Which has created the world."

Psalm 112

"O Giver of all good things, O fountain of healing and treasure of compassion, Thou only good and kindhearted God, Who ever grantest good things to those who ask!  I beseech Thee, that Thine abundant grace might descend upon me and gather together my mind and heal my hidden sores anew, for distractions and wandering thoughts constantly renew my secret sores.
     O long-suffering Lord Who ever curest with grace and compassion, heal the great spiritual infirmities that are within me, a sinner!
     I have nothing to give Thee, O Master, in return for Thy cures.  And what price could be put on Thy cures?  Neither heaven nor earth can give a reward worthy of them.  It is impossible to purchase these holy heavenly cures, for they are priceless.  Thou givest them only in return for tears, O our Savior; and in return for bitter weeping dost Thou grant them to all.
     O my Master, grant me who am unworthy daily tears and strength, that my heart, enraptured and streaming forth fountains of tears, might be ceaselessly illuminated by pure prayer, and that a few tears might blot out the weighty record of my sins, and a small measure of weeping might extinguish the fire that burns therein.  For if I weep here, there will I be delivered from inextinguishable fire."

*Note: The shedding of tears does not refer to just crying due to emotional sadness, but the shedding of tears due to sorrow for one's sins, true humility, and genuine repentance (a sincere desire to turn away from sin that brings sickness and to turn toward God, Who heals.) One who prays with this disposition invites the transforming, Life-Giving Divine Grace into his heart.     

A Spiritual Psalter or Reflections on God, Excerpted by Bishop Theophan the Recluse from the Works of our Holy Father Ephraim the Syrian Arranged in the Manner of the Psalms of David, trans. by Antonia Janda (Liberty, TN: St. John of Kronstadt Press, 2004), 127-128, 179180.

The icon shows St. George, St. John of Damascus, and St. Ephrem the Syrian

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Prayerfully Giving Thanks in All Situations

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (Thess. 5.16-18).  As Orthodox Christians we are indeed called to always give thanks to God through prayer in all situations, even in difficult situations.  We are not near-sighted, but see our present position in terms of our future destination.  With this attitude, St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8.18).

In one of his homilies, St. John Chrysostom includes a prayer of thanksgiving for all things said by "a certain holy man." We may also use this prayer to express our thankfulness to God whatever the situation:

“I know a certain holy man who prayeth thus. He used to say nothing before these words, but thus,

We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits bestowed upon us the unworthy, from the first day until the present, for what we know, and what we know not, for the seen, for the unseen, for those in deed, those in word, those with our wills, those against our wills, for all that have been bestowed upon the unworthy, even us; for tribulations, for refreshments, for hell, for punishment, for the kingdom of heaven. We beseech Thee to keep our soul holy, having a pure conscience; an end worthy of thy lovingkindness. Thou that lovedst us so as to give Thy Only-Begotten for us, grant us to become worthy of Thy love; give us wisdom in Thy word, and in Thy fear. Only-Begotten Christ, inspire the strength that is from Thee. Thou that gavest The Only-Begotten for us, and hast sent Thy Holy Spirit for the remission of our sins, if in aught we have wilfully or unwillingly transgressed, pardon, and impute it not. Remember all that call upon Thy Name in truth; remember all that wish us well, or the contrary, for we are all men.

Then having added the Prayer of the Faithful, he there ended; having made that prayer, as a certain crowning part, and a binding together for all. For many benefits doth God bestow upon us even against our wills; many also, yea more, without our knowledge even. For when we pray for one thing, and He doeth to us the reverse, it is plain that He doeth us good even when we know it not.”

* Note: The prayer of the faithful mentioned above is presumably the Lord’s Prayer.

St. John Chrysostom, Homily beginning with Colossians 3.18-25 (Homily X), Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon NPNF, Vol. 13.  Online here:

Monday, July 25, 2011

St. John Chrysostom: Therapy within the Church

 "I account you happy for the zeal, beloved, with which you flock into the Father's house. For from this zeal I have ground for feeling confidence about your health also with respect to the soul; for indeed the school of the Church is an admirable surgery--a surgery, not for bodies, but for souls. For it is spiritual, and sets right, not fleshly wounds, but errors of the mind, and of these errors and wounds the medicine is the word. This medicine is compounded, not from the herbs growing on the earth, but from the words proceeding from heaven--this no hands of physicians, but tongues of preachers have dispensed. On this account it lasts right through; and neither is its virtue impaired by length of time, nor defeated by any strength of diseases. For certainly the medicines of physicians have both these defects; for while they are fresh they display their proper strength, but when much time has passed; just as those bodies which have grown old; they become weaker; and often too the difficult character of maladies is wont to baffle them; since they are but human. Whereas the divine medicine is not such as this; but after much time has intervened, it still retains all its inherent virtue. Ever since at least Moses was born (for from thence dates the beginning of the Scripture) it has healed so many human beings; and not only has it not lost its proper power, but neither has any disease ever yet overcome it.

This medicine it is not possible to get by payment of silver; but he who has displayed sincerity of purpose and disposition goes his way having it all. On account of this both rich and poor alike obtain the benefit of this healing process. For where there is a necessity to pay down money the man of large means indeed shares the benefit; but the poor man often has to go away deprived of the gain, since his income does not suffice him for the making up of the medicine. But in this case, since it is not possible to pay down silver coin, but it is needful to display faith and a good purpose, he who has paid down these with forwardness of mind, this is he who most reaps the advantage; since indeed these are the price paid for the medicinal treatment. And the rich and the poor man share the benefit alike; or rather it is not alike that they share the benefit, but often the poor man goes away in the enjoyment of more. What ever can be the reason? It is because the rich man, possessed beforehand by many thoughts, having the pride and puffed-up temper belonging to wealthiness; living with carelessness and lazy ease as companions, receives the medicine of the hearing of the Scriptures not with much attention, nor with much earnestness; but the poor man, far removed from delicate living and gluttony and indolence; spending all his time in handicraft and honest labours; and gathering hence much love of wisdom for the soul; becomes thereby more attentive and free from slackness, and is wont to give his mind with more accurate care to all that is said: whence also, inasmuch as the price he has paid is higher, the benefit which he departs having reaped is greater."

St. John Chrysostom, "Homily Against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren," NPNF, 1st Series, Vol. 9, St. John Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises; Select Homilies and Letters; Homilies on the Statutes.  Available on the website of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Discussion with Dr. H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr:

Dr. Engelhardt, MD, PhD, is one of the top bioethicists in the world.  He is the author of The Foundations of Christian Bioethics and Senior Editor of Christian Bioethics journal (Oxford University Press). In a video of a discussion that took place at St. Luke's Orthodox Cathedral in Hong Kong, Dr. Engelhardt talks about the Orthodox Christian practice of medicine and bioethics.  In the video, he mentions "Question 55" of St. Basil the Great's Long Rules, which I previously posted.

This video can also be found on Youtube.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fighting Evil Thoughts: Humility & Prayer

"Evil thoughts afflict the proud soul, and until she humbles herself she knows no rest from them.  When wrong thoughts besiege you, call like Adam upon God, saying, ‘O Lord, my Maker and Creator, Thou seest how my soul is vexed with bad thoughts…Have mercy on me.’ And when you stand before the face of the Master, steadfastly remember that He will give ear to all your supplications if they be for your good.

A cloud blows over and hides the sun, making everything dark.  In the same way, one prideful thought causes the soul to lose grace, and she is left in darkness.  But, equally, a single impulse of humility – and grace returns.  This I have experienced and proved in myself” (441).

“It is very difficult to recognize pride in oneself.  But here are some signs to tell you:  if the enemy (devils) assail you, or wrong thoughts torment you, it means that humility is lacking in you, and so even if you do not realize the presence of pride in you – humble yourself” (447).  
- St. Silouan the Athonite

Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, trans. by Rosemary Edmonds, Chapter 17, “Concerning Intrusive Thoughts and Delusions,” (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991).

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A Prayer for One Who Has Shameful Thoughts

O Master, Lord my God, in whose hands is my destiny: help me according to Thy mercy, and leave me not to perish in my transgressions, nor allow me to follow them that place desires of the flesh over those of the spirit.  I am thy creation, disdain not the work of Thy hands.  Turn not away, be compassionate and humiliate me not, neither scorn me, O Lord, as I am weak.  I have fled unto Thee as my Protector and God.  Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee; save me for They mercy's sake, for I have cleaved unto Thee from my youth; let me who seek Thee not be put to shame by being rejected by Thee for unclean actions, unseemly thoughts, and unprofitable remembrances.   Drive away from me every filthy thing and excess of evil.  For Thou alone art holy, alone mighty, and alone immortal, in all things having unexcelled might, which, through Thee, are given to all that strive against the devil and the might of his armies.  For unto Thee is due all glory, honor and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

The Great Book of Needs, Volume 3, trans. by St. Tikhon's Monastery (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2002), 47.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

St. Basil the Great on the Art of Medicine

Selections from St. Basil regarding "Whether recourse to the medical art is in keeping with the practice of piety."

"In as much as our body is susceptible to various hurts, some attacking from without and some from within by reason of the food we eat, and since the body suffers affliction from both excess and eficiency, the medical art has been vouchsafed us by God, who directs our whole life, as a model for the cure of the soul, to guide us in the removal of what is superfluous and in the addition of what is lacking. Just as we would have no need of the farmer's labor and toil if we were living amid the delights of paradise, so also we would not require the medical art for relief if we were immune to disease, as was the case, by God's gift, at the time of Creation before the Fall.. After our banishment to this place, however, and after we had heard the words: 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread,' through prolonged effort and hard labor in tilling the soil we devised the art of agriculture for the alleviation of the miseries which followed the curse, God vouchsafing us the knowledge and understanding of this art. And, when we were commanded to return to the earth whence we had been taken and were united with the pain ridden flesh doomed to destruction because of sin and, for the same reason, also subject to disease, the medical art was given to us to relieve the sick, in some degree at least."

"Now, the herbs which are the specifics for each malady do not grow out of the earth spontaneously; it is evidently the will of the Creator that they should be brought forth out of the soil to serve our need. Therefore, the obtaining of that natural virtue which is in the roots and flowers, leaves, fruits, and juices, or in such metals or products of the sea as are found especially suitable for bodily health, is to be viewed in the same way as the procuring of food and drink. Whatever requires an undue amount of thought or trouble or involves a large expenditure of effort and causes our whole life to revolve, as it were, around solicitude for the flesh must be avoided by Christians. Consequently, we must take great care to employ this medical art, if it should be necessary, not as making it wholly accountable for our state of health or illness, but as redounding to the glory of God and as a parallel to the care given the soul. In the event that medicine should fail to help, we should not place all hope for the relief of our distress in this art, but we should rest assured that He will not allow us to be tried above that which we are able to bear. Just as in those days the Lord sometimes made clay, and anointed, and bade wash in Siloe, and on other occasions was content with the mere command: ‘I will, be thou made clean’ whereas He left some to struggle against their afflictions, rendering them more worthy of reward by trial, so it also is with us. He sometimes cures us secretly and without visible means when He judges this mode of treatment beneficial to our souls; and again He wills that we use material remedies for our ills, either to instil in us by the prolonged nature of the cure an abiding remembrance of the favor received, or, as I have said, to provide an example for the proper care of the soul. As in the case of the flesh it is essential to eliminate foreign elements and add whatever is wanting, so also, where the soul is concerned, it behooves us to rid ourselves of that which is alien to it and take unto ourselves that which is in accordance with its nature; for 'God made man right and He created us for good works that we might walk in them."

"To place the hope of one's health in the hands of the doctor is the act of an irrational animal. This, nevertheless, is what we observe in the case of certain unhappy persons who do not hesitate to call their doctors their saviors. Yet, to reject entirely the benefits to be derived from this art is the sign of a pettish nature."

"When the favor of a cure is granted us, whether by means of wine mixed with oil, as in the case of the man who fell among the robbers, or through figs, as with Ezechias, we are to receive it with thanksgiving. Besides, we shall view the watchful care of God impartially, whether it comes to us from some invisible source or by a physical agency, the latter, indeed, frequently engendering in us a livelier perception of the favor as coming from the hands of God. Very often, also, the diseases which we contracted were for our correction and the painful remedies we were obliged to submit to formed part of the instruction. Right reason dictates, therefore, that we demur neither at cutting nor at burning, nor at the pains caused by bitter and disagreeable medicines, nor at abstinence from food, nor at a strict regimen, nor at being forced to refrain from that which is hurtful. Nevertheless, we should keep as our objective (again I say it), our spiritual benefit, in as much as the care of the soul is being taught in the guise of an analogy. There is no small danger, however, that we will fall into the error of thinking that every kind of suffering requires medical relief. Not all sicknesses for whose treatment we observe medicine to be occasionally beneficial arise from natural causes, whether from faulty diet or from any other physical origin."

"So, then, we should neither repudiate this art altogether nor does it behoove us to repose all our confidence in it; but, just as in practicing the art of agriculture we pray God for the fruits, and as we entrust the helm to the pilot in the art of navigation, but implore God that we may end our voyage unharmed by the perils of the sea, so also, when reason allows, we call in the doctor, but we do not leave off hoping in God. It seems to me, moreover, that the medical art is no small aid to continency."

St. Basil the Great, “Question 55” in “The Long Rules,” St. Basil: Ascetical Works, trans. by M. Monica Wagner, The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, Vol. 9 (Wash., D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1962), 330-337.  The text of this book is available online in various formats:

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Christian Bioethics in a Post-Christian World"

In April 2011, Dr. H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. (Prof. Emeritus, Baylor College of Medicine/ Prof., Rice University), one of the top bioethicists in the world, spoke at a bioethics conference in Houston, TX.  The conference focused on Health Care in a Secular Culture: The Conscience of Physicians & Nurses at Risk.  Dr. Engelhardt presented a paper on Orthodox Christian bioethics entitled, "Christian Bioethics in a Post-Christian World: Facing the Challenges."  I highly recommend this lecture for those who labor in the healthcare field, students preparing for such work, and others interested in the difference between "traditional Christianity" (i.e., the Orthodox Christian Way of Life) and secularism.

The video is also available on Youtube.