Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On the little things in Life ( St. John Maximovitch )

Many people believe that to live according to the faith and to fulfill the will of God is very difficult. Actually—it’s very easy. One needs only attend to details, to trifles, and try to avoid evil in the slightest and most trivial things. This is the simplest and surest way to enter the world of the spirit and draw near to God.

A man often thinks that the Creator demands great things of him, that the Gospel insists on complete self- sacrifice, the abolition of one’s personhood, etc., as a condition of faith. A man is so frightened by this that he begins to be afraid of becoming acquainted with God, of drawing near to God, and hides himself from God, not even wishing to look into God’s Word. “If I can’t do anything important for God, then I’d just better stay away from things spiritual, stop thinking about eternity, and live ‘in a normal way’.”

There exists at the entrance to the spiritual realm a “hypnosis of great deeds:” one must either do some big thing or do nothing. And so people do nothing at all for God or for their souls! It is very strange—the more a man is devoted to the little things of life, the less he wishes to be honest or pure or faithful to God in those same little things. And, moreover, each one must adopt a correct attitude toward little things if one wishes to come near to the kingdom of heaven.

Wishes to come near: In this is summed up all the difficulties of the religious life. Often one wishes to enter into the kingdom of heaven quite unexpectedly, in some miraculous and magical way, or, by right—through some kind of great feat. But neither the one nor the other is the right way to find the higher world. One does not enter God’s presence in some wondrous manner while remaining indifferent on earth to the needs of the kingdom of God and its bright eternity, nor can one purchase the treasures of the kingdom of God by some kind of eternal act, however great that act might be. Yet good deeds, holy deeds are necessary for one to grow into a higher life, a bright will, a good desire, a heavenly psychology, a heart that is both pure and fair.

A glass of water: Verily, verily I say unto you that whosoever offers one of the least of these but a cup of cold water, in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward. In this saying of the Lord is the highest expression of the smallness of the good. “A glass of water”—this is not much.

Communicating in good spirit: In every communication between people there must without fail be a good spirit: this spirit is Christ, openly manifest or hidden. “In the name of a disciple:” this is the first step in communicating with another person in the name of Jesus Christ Himself. Many people, not as yet knowing the Lord and the wondrous fellowship in His Name still have among themselves an unselfish, pure and human fellowship which brings them ever closer to the Spirit of Christ.

The lesser good is necessary: As a matter of fact, the lesser good is more necessary for mankind than the greater. People can get along with their lives without the greater good; without the lesser they cannot exist. Mankind perishes not from a lack of the greater good, but from an insufficiency of just this lesser good. The greater good is no more than a roof, erected on the brick walls of the lesser good.

The lesser, easier good was left on this earth for man by the Creator Himself, who took all the greater good upon Himself. Whosoever does the lesser, the same creates—and through him the Creator Himself creates—the greater good. Of our little good the Creator makes His Own great good. For as our Lord is the Creator who formed all things from nothingness, so is He more able to create the greater good from the lesser.

Through such lesser, easy work, done with the greatest simplicity, a man is accustomed to the good and begins to serve it with his whole heart, sincerely, and in this way enters into an atmosphere of good, lets down the roots of his life into new soil, the soil of the good. The roots of human life quickly accommodate themselves to this good earth, and soon cannot live without it... Thus is a man saved: from the small comes the great. “Faithful in little things” turns out to be “faithful in the greater.”

Our moral sense: Lay aside all theoretical considerations that it is forbidden to slaughter millions, women, children, and elderly; be content to manifest your moral sense by in no way killing the human dignity of your neighbor, neither by word, nor by innuendo, nor by gesture. Do not be angry over trifles against your brother vainly (Mt 5:22) or in the daily contacts of life speak untruth to your neighbor. These are trifles, small change, of no account; but just try to do this and you will see what comes of it.
Prayer: It is hard to pray at night. But try in the morning. If you can’t manage to pray at home than at least as you ride to your place of employment attempt with a clear head the “Our Father” and let the words of this short prayer resound in your heart. And at night commend yourself with complete sincerity into the hands of the Heavenly Father. This indeed is very easy.

And give, give a glass of cold water to everyone who has need of it; give a glass filled to the brim with simple human companionship to everyone that lack it, the very simplest companionship...

O wondrous path of little things, I sing thee a hymn! Surround yourselves, O people, gird up yourselves with little works of good— with a chain of little, simple, easy and good feelings which cost us naught, a chain of bright thoughts, words and deeds. Let us abandon the big and the difficult. That is for them that love it and not for us for whom the Lord in His Mercy, for us who have not yet learned to love the greater, has poured forth the lesser love everywhere, free as water and air.

St. John Maximovitch
Vol. 12, Issue 05-06 Orthodox - Heritage

Dealing and getting away from a Secularized Christmas

Question: I hate the secularization of Christmas. How can I and my family keep the Nativity Fast and celebrate Christmas without getting into all the commercialization that surrounds it in society?

Almost all of what can be said in reply to this question is very obvious and simple, but can be difficult to implement. For those with families, it would be advisable to talk over all these points together and to encourage each other in adhering to everything as we draw nearer and nearer to the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. If a beginning in the following suggestions has not already been made, it is never too late to start.

First of all, be sure to keep the fast! In following the fast as we should, many of the intrusions which the world makes into our homes during this time will automatically be eliminated. Remember, a “fasting” day or period is not limited only to food, but includes vain entertainment as well.

With this in mind, we would like to stress that no one should look at “fasting” as something negative: “we can’t do...”, “we can’t eat...”, we can’t go. Instead we need to redefine the way we see a fasting period, such as this time before the Nativity of the Lord. This is a preparation period and a time for spiritual growth—and this idea is certainly not something negative!

The world in which we live is constantly intruding into our innermost lives as it attacks all of the bodily senses; this is never more obvious than during this time of the year. We are encouraged to see, hear, taste, touch and smell all sorts of things that take our minds off of traveling the road to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ.

Obviously, for those who are either single, widowed or have no young children in the home, all of what we need to do to make the Nativity Fast a true time of spiritual growth is much easier. The target for so much of the advertising during this period is aimed directly at those who are most vulnerable—the children—and the things which are advertised are usually the very things that we need to avoid. Each household is a unique situation, and this will have to be kept in mind when trying to implement the suggestions we would like to make.

Those with children at home often find the actual fasting from foods difficult during this time when it seems that so many rich, enticing and definitely non-fasting foods are pushed at us. It often helps to have special Lenten foods that the family enjoys and which are served only during this and other fasting periods. We do not, however, want to dwell only on the culinary aspects of the fast in this article; we assume that all reading this are indeed adhering to this aspect of the fast, since it is not optional.

A fast only from specific foods is certainly not the sum total of our preparation for the Nativity. Fasting includes avoiding entertainment—another thing which abounds during this season. It is possible in almost all circumstances to avoid office parties and other gatherings by truthfully stating that as Orthodox Christians we do not begin to celebrate until the Feast has arrived. IF attendance at such an event absolutely cannot be avoided, then it is always possible to find things to eat that do not break the fast, and also to simply excuse yourself early.

This is certainly a time when we should be intensifying our reading and daily prayers. We find a number of great saints whose feast days fall within this fast: St. Nicholas on December 6, Saint Spiridon on December 12, St. Herman on December 13, St. Ignatius on December 20 to name just a few. Read their lives and truly pray to them. Also, within the time of this fast there are quite a few of the prophets whose feast days are also commemorated: read their prophecies as well from the Old Testament. The Katavasia of the Nativity are sung beginning on November 21—whether you are a singer or not, get the words and music from your priest and learn them, singing them throughout the day when you are alone or with your family. They are very beautiful and uplifting.

These are just a few of the things that can be read as a family, as well as individually, and our daily prayers can—and should—include a petition to God to keep us from all which would harm the soul.

Many parishes offer a retreat or seminar during this time. If your own parish is not having something like this, there is a good chance that a surrounding parish is! Speak with your priest and ask him about this. If there is not a retreat or seminar (and even if there is!) it would be a good idea for several people, like yourself, who want to redirect their priorities during the Nativity Fast to meet together in a reading group. Accountability always tends to make us read and pray more!

The so-called “Christmas specials” on television and the bombardment of commercials that tell us of all the things we absolutely must have or must buy to be a good mother, father, brother, relative, friend, etc., are enough reason for everyone to turn off the television! The “Christmas specials” seem to emphasize that the “true meaning of Christmas” involves being loving, caring, self-giving, etc (sandwiched in between commercials which appeal to greed) and mention nothing of the fact that God has become flesh in His love for mankind in order to restore us to that image that was lost!

Now we finally come to the most obvious aspect of the secular celebration of Christmas—presents. While it is now too late to implement this suggestion, it is certainly something that can be remembered and acted upon for next year purchase gifts before the Fast begins!

Limit gifts to a minimum. Certainly everyone has said at one point or another that the proverbial “next year” will be different and more simple. Begin now. There are so many ways in which this can be done, and again, every situation is unique. Most people like gift certificates or a donation made to their favorite charity in their name. Within families, it can be as easy or as difficult to limit the frenzy of gift-giving as you decide to make it.

Above everything, remember that we begin to celebrate when the world around us is finished celebrating! On December 25 we hear non-Orthodox people saying, “Well, that was a nice Christmas, but I’m glad it’s over.” For us, having fasted and anticipated the Lord’s birth for forty days, we are just beginning to celebrate, to sing carols and to comfort our weary bodies with richer foods.

Let us celebrate the feast of the Lord’s Incarnation with spiritual joy instead of being so tired and burned out that we echo the sentiments of those outside the Faith who are glad to see these days, which are so holy to us, come to an end.

Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ is come from the heavens, receive Him! Christ on the earth. Rejoice, all the earth, sing to the Lord, for He has covered Himself in glory!

From The Veil, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Nativity Fast, 2005). Originally titled "The commercialism of Christmas". The Veil is a publication of the Protection of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Monastery. Free subscriptions to The Veil are available by writing or calling the convent: 2343 County Road 403, Lake George, CO 80827; 719-748-3999. Posted on 12/10/2006 with the permission of the convent.