Who cares and Why?

We want children to be compassionate, to have an ethic of caring but we shouldn’t approach this in a merely mechanical and humanistic way. You can’t separate the ethics of caring from belief in God, the realm of the Church or life in the home or the studies in school. That is why the school has to support and find support from these other pillars of education.– the Church, the Home and the School, which are the three pillars of education. To separate  these  makes the job of education more difficult or impossible.

Doesteyevsky said through his famous Brother’s Karamazov, that Hell is the torment of not loving.God is love and we are created to also love.The ethics of caring is related to who we are as persons. Love of God and love of our neighbor is a fulfillment of our ontological reality. Otherwise, the ethics of caring is just a mask put on a hellish existential fact…nothing matters. When we don’t care…it is a sign of our disease.

Our childhood is the womb of our formation. There is a whole psychology of child raising based in spiritual life and the formation of the soul and character.

Caring is more than a sentiment and as we see in certain enigmatic occurrences in Scripture, there is a hierarchy of values and necessity for discernment in what we care for.

  • Honor father and mother; but he who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me
  • The man who was called but first wanted to go back and bury his father
  • The poor you always have with you; As you do to the least of these my little ones you do to Me
  • Martha who served the Lord: Martha, Martha you are troubled about many things but Mary has chosen the better part
  • After St. Peter showed love and concern for the Lord, He said to him…Get thee behind Me satan because you value the things of men more than you value the things of God.

The right thing done at the wrong time or in the wrong way is NOT THE RIGHT THING! And something that isn’t right done for godly reasons can be the RIGHT THING, as for example a man going into a brothel to save someone from a destructive life.

The spiritual life  otherwise called the life in Christ is not a cookie cutter way but one that requires discernment and the uttermost care. Care for others therefore requires that we take care to please Christ above all things which illumines the optical lens of discernment.
Fr. Patrick


sunsetFrom whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? St. James 4:1

Do you hear about all the fighting in the world? Isn’t it disturbing? What can we do? St. James gives us a good beginning-deal with the war that is going on inside of ourselves and around us in our family. Why do people fight? Historians, sociologists and political scientists have important analyses of why. But the essential one is the state of our heart and how we then interact with those around us. If we could bring peace to our own soul and peace around us we would be making a great start in doing something for the peace of the world and our responsibility to peace in the world. How can we solve big problems, global problems unless we can quell the storm within us and around us?

Children discover your own soul and heart. Be at peace with Christ and with your brothers, sisters and parents. Be a peace maker where your influence is greatest.

A mother complained to a priest about the sudden and radical change in her teenage girl. “Father, she was fine, sweet and happy, and then all of a sudden she changed. Her appearance, her language, her attitudes all suddenly became gross.”

Is it possible that a child can suddenly change? Is she possessed? Has she been corrupted by some so-called friends? Did something happen to her to disturb her purity and peace? How can a person, even a young one, so suddenly change? Or is it possible that the changes were happening ever-so-slowly, and subtle seeds were planted and growing without parental notice?

Each day seeds are landing in the ground of the senses, the mind and the heart. This is true for all of us but especially critical for children. If we look to the Gospel parable about the sowing and growing of seeds, we will perhaps find some answers:

And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29 (NKJV)

How do these seeds come?

Seeds are carried by the wind, on the fur of animals and on clothing; floating on the water, falling in the ground, rooting in fertile or inhospitable areas. In other words, they come in all ways through sensorial impressions and into the heart, mind and soul. They come through conversations, books and especially movies and music.

St. Siloan relates that when he was a young boy a bookseller came and spoke of atheistic ideas—seeds that landed in his impressionable soul and troubled him for years. A college student who was a strong believer had to read Nietzsche for a course and was troubled by his thoughts and ideas.

St. Mary of Egypt, while in the desert, had to fight the blasphemous jingles that she was used to hearing and reciting when she lived an impious life in the world before her conversion. They would come back to her and she had to fight the desire to sing them again.

Seeds come in many ways and they are designed to adhere and germinate, grow and take root. Without attention and vigilance we don’t notice these seeds in ourselves or their manifestation. If this is true in us—and it is—how will we see what is happening with our children?

The mother might have been right in saying about her daughter’s changes: Where was I that I didn’t see it coming?

We need to attend to and take care of the weeds while they are still small, and to do so in the right way. We also need to know the right way to respond both to newly formed seeds and to old habits not conquered earlier. Here we would benefit from the wisdom of the Lord.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: Matthew 13:24-53 (NKJV)

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

We cannot and should not always try to rip out bad behavior or ideas. We need to take care of the wheat as well as the tares. Should we oppose the evil, or encourage the good, or both? And at what time and with how much force? These are not physics questions or medical or surgical questions. They are practical questions that parents face. Our attitude to our children can’t be all NO! We have to have a culture and family life that is alive, cultured, spiritual and filled with YES!

“My son is selfish,” one mother admitted, “always justifying himself and blaming others. Lectures although they are profoundly truthful don’t seem to change anything.”

What does he look like? He looks like a boy who is served as if an equal or superior to everyone else because he has been treated that way. It was unintentional, but who else is given food on demand, taken everywhere for his benefit, cared for physically and brought to Church? He has no responsibility, and therefore is in a higher category than his slave parents.

Upon further investigation, it appears that the boy is living in an unreal existence where he has no responsibilities, where there is nothing he is needed to do, and nothing he is required to do to help the family life. He is driven everywhere and is cared for with tender care, but the end result is self-centeredness and a weak sense of compassion or awareness of others. Will lectures and berating help? I don’t think so. We need to get to some of the root causes and change them and possible do some remedial Christian therapy. The boy needs responsibility for his wellbeing.

We hear in the news about osteoporosis, mostly as a female problem. But according to one doctor men can also have osteoporosis. As a matter of fact, astronauts living in outer space begin to lose bone mass because they do not have exercises which are weight bearing. Perhaps there is an analogy here with children who don’t have responsibility, or weight-bearing labors. They become weaker and more sarcastic. Some family responsibility and sharing of the load just might help!

Sweeping, setting the table, clearing the table, washing pots, folding laundry, carrying laundry baskets, cleaning rooms, caring for the pets, shoveling the sidewalk … There are many things to do and children should be trained in being useful and helpful. If a child is working hard, the child might have more respect for all the other people who are working hard for his or her benefit.

Attention to the character and attitudes of our children is really a labor of love and absolutely necessary. It is better and easier by far to do-it-as–you-go rather than wait for big problems– tares and wheat bound and rooted together.

Perhaps then we won’t be caught by surprise by “sudden” changes because we will be tending the tares and wheat each day with them.

A Day At School

Each day at Saint Herman of Alaska Christian School we begin with prayer. We do the Third Hour from the Horologion, and as part of the Third Hour we chant the troparion for the feast and the saint of the day. We chant the troparion and kontakion of our patron, St. Herman. We also hear the Epistle and Gospel reading of the day, and a homily either related to the Scripture, or to the festal period, or to another relevant topic. We sing the stichera of St. Herman, venerate the icons and receive the priest’s blessing. At the end of prayers we say the “prayer before a lesson”: O most gracious Lord, send down the Holy Spirit… Each day the lives of the saints are read from the Prologue during the first 5-8 minutes of our lunchtime meal. Meals start with prayer and end with the “prayer after meals”: We thank Thee O Christ our God, that Thou has satisfied us with Thy earthly gifts… On the name day of students, teachers or visitors we pray and sing Many Years; we also offer short molebans (supplicatory services at times of need) or prayers for visitors or for those who will travel. Prayer is the incense of the day–prayers for the increase of our knowledge, prayers that we fulfill Christ’s commandments and prayers for the well-being of others and general thanks for all things.

Being focused on the spiritual elements of the day is important. St. Nektary of Optina said that each day has its own grace, a specific and precious and unique spiritual jewel, and that it is our task to capture this grace of the day. Yes, it is true. Each day is as unique as the fingerprint of our hand–no two are alike. This day will never happen again, even though we think of the days “rolling into each other,” “another day, another dollar,” and other over-generalizations. This day is unique and I am assigned to respond to it. The saint, the Gospel, the hymns of the day all speak to me. The people I meet and the events of the day all are opportunities to fulfill the Lord’s will and commands. Why should I be asleep to this? Why should I miss the opportunity to learn, to grow?

The beauty of our school is that it is also a community and school of love and virtue. We have each other. Love of God and love of our neighbor can be practiced with each other. Learning to care for the cares of others, learning to obey and show respect, and to forgive, all these can happen and are encouraged here. We don’t need a special department of character development and ethics. Rather, these things are intrinsic and explicit in our daily life; for here school is, together with the Church, part of spiritual life, and part of our life in Christ … we just need to pay attention to the details of our day.

If a commanding officer tells a soldier to do something, what should he do? I asked a young Orthodox Christian officer. It! he replied. You do it, you follow the command.

What about the commandments of Christ? The Lord told us to do many things. Why are we so unclear about what we are supposed to do in relation to His commandments? Why do we take them so lightly? We are supposed to follow His commandments, but contrary to the soldier, we have a choice whether to follow our Lord or whether to follow another way. Both have different outcomes.

I have focused on this same message about the commandments of our Lord for years and yet have barely accomplished it myself. In reiterating the words of the Gospel and our Holy Fathers, I both condemn myself and receive renewed hope and vigor to try again, even at the eleventh hour. O Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

We have all heard the Lord say: If you love Me keep my commandments!

Which commandments does He mean? What do you think of when you hear “Commandments”? Of course, the Ten Commandments brought down from Mt. Sinai by Moses, commandments of great moral and spiritual meaning by which the people of Israel were formed in preparation for the coming of Christ. But the Lord Himself gave us commandments of far greater spiritual content and depth–not as in the past to keep His people in preparation for His coming, but to lead us to be like Him. We find these commandments throughout the Gospels: they are anything and everything He said that we are to do. They are the words He spoke as imperatives or suggested imperatives, as Beatitudes, as the Way of life. Do this and live!

Although The Arena by St. Ignatius Brianchininov is a confession and spiritual testimony dedicated to monks of “latter times,” it offers a profound explanation of and insight into the life of striving to fulfill Christ’s commandments which applies to all Christians, both monks and laymen (the difference being not in expectation but in the context of obedience). The Lord also clearly indicates that the commandments are for everyone when He sends out His disciples: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19-20). We are all meant to follow Christ’s commandments, which are the expression of His love and the way we live out our divine adoption and calling to be like God. The commandments might strike us as, well, commands, and who likes to be told what to do? But they are words of life, commands of help and consolation and perfection and love–and who would reject such a great gift?

St. Ignatius tells us that the commandments are first to be noted and studied so that they become the property of the mind. In our daily reading of the Bible, especially the Gospels, we should literally take notes on the words the Lord speaks as commands–first, anything and everything that is put in imperative form: Repent, turn the other cheek, give your cloak also, make friends with your adversary, etc. Make note and study their meaning and practical application both in their literal meaning and in their spiritual meaning, as revealed through the writings and preaching of Holy Fathers such as St. John Chrysostom, St. Theophylact (whose commentaries we have in English), St. Nicolai Velimirovich, and other ancient and modern Fathers.

Consider the first commandment of the first book of the Gospel preached by St. Matthew. Here the Lord continues to preach in the spirit of St. John the Baptist: Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Now, how can we repent unless we know what repentance is? We can all sing, even if we don’t do it very well. We can dance, or jump. But how do we repent? In a way, repentance is something quite specific and technical. We hear over and over again from the Holy Fathers that our life is meant for repentance. St. John of Kronstadt expounds this commandment by saying: Repent and the Kingdom of God will fill you! This indicates that the action of repentance needs further study and understanding if we are going to do it with a soldier’s obedience, and not just hear the words and go on.

Repentance does not mean saying (as we hear unrepentant children say): Sorrrry! And it doesn’t just mean feeling badly for what we did. Rather, it pinnacles in a change of heart and mind, both in a remorse and a will to change, and in fact in a change. It involves sorrow that bears fruit and, therefore, as St. John of the Ladder says, joy-making sorrow, sorrow that bears fruit in real change, even in a beginning of change.

Of the commandments in general, St. Ignatius says: [I]t is evident that the commandments of the Gospel must be so studied that they become the possession, the property of the mind; only then is the exact, constant fulfillment of them possible such as the Lord requires (3). The promise is that in following His commandments the Lord will reveal Himself to us and we, in return for our love of Him, will receive His love and the love of the Father. He says: He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him (John 14:21). St. Ignatius warns us not to expect the Lord to appear to the eyes of the senses but that He is seen with the spiritual eye, with the mind, in our thoughts and feelings, transfigured by the Holy Spirit (3).

While obedience to the commandments brings blessings, as they are words of spirit and life, negligence to them has its own effects in fruitlessness, estrangement from God, and losing our inheritance. And then I will confess to them, “I have never known you. Depart from me, you whose work is sin” (Matt. 7:23). It is through following the commandments, which are the will of God, that we overcome the will of the flesh and the old man, and walk in the way of salvation.

We should judge ourselves and confess our sins through the light of the commandments. The Lord said: He who rejects Me and does not accept My words has his judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge at the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father Who sent Me has Himself given Me commandment what to say and what to tell. And I know that His commandment is eternal life (John 12:48-50). St. Ignatius tells us that we shall be judged according to the commandments of the Gospel at the judgment which God has appointed for us Orthodox Christians and on which depends our eternal destiny (6). He then calls us to take care, to become doers of the commandments of the Gospel because we never know when death will come, when we will be called to account for how we lived our life. Blessed are those who have prepared themselves for their passage to eternity by a life in accordance with the Gospel! Woe to the easy-going, the careless, the self-willed, the self-opinionated! In other words, those who have not kept the commandments.

Instead of thinking of all the bad things that have happened to us and that people have done to us, we should consider how we have followed or neglected the commandments. Isn’t this more to the point? Since our life will be weighed in light of the commandments of the Gospel, we too should look at ourselves through this lens. Have I obeyed the commandments to love God fully and my neighbor as myself? How have I sinned against God, against my neighbor, and against myself according to the commandments? This type of introspection and thorough accounting is very much to the point. The sins that bother us might be incomplete when compared to commandments we have not considered or obeyed. More on the positive side, we should consider the commandments as a map to our earthly and heavenly life; and we should consider whether we are “on course” or have veered from the course, for we are athletes with a goal and soldiers with a task, not lazy drunken wanderers.

And now enlighten my mind’s eye and open my mouth to study Thy word and understand Thy commandments and do Thy will and sing to Thee in heartfelt adoration and praise Thy Most Holy Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages Amen. (From the Prayer of St. Basil the Great to the Holy Trinity, Morning prayers, Jordanville Prayer Book)

This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

While positive thinking should not be practiced as some kind of law that forces God to respond positively towards us, we should try to be positive, thankful and glad. Using the call to be “green” and to avoid global warming, someone exhorted us and encouraged good thoughts by saying: Don’t contribute to global whining!

Being positive, noticing the many  blessings in our life and being grateful are acts of will and discipline requiring attention and prayerfulness. Ascetic practice requires discipline, will, cutting off of certain thoughts and desires. So does being positive and nurturing good thoughts and positive attitudes. Being negative, hopeless or down about everything is also a habit. Elder Paisios was a great teacher concerning thoughts, likening thoughts to airplanes looking for a ready airfield to land upon. He showed us two habits of thinking by describing the difference between the bee and the fly. We can be like a bee who seeks the nectar of flowers in a field of cow dung, or like a fly that  seeks only rotting piles in a beautiful field of flowers. We have to look for our desired heavenly goal amidst life’s journey even when surrounded by problems. We struggle for patience oftentimes in the midst of irritating circumstances, for hope in the midst of adversity, for love where there is animosity. These circumstances represent the field where we find virtue and grow in virtue within our life in Christ.

Your thoughts control your life, Elder Thaddeus teaches us.

Let us take on the ascesis and discipline to  rejoice in the day that the Lord has made and to face it with hope and zeal, looking to Him for sustenance–Give us this day our daily bread. And let us look to imitate the attention and zeal of the saints in fulfilling God’s holy will in the context and contest of this day by the ascesis of good thoughts.

A Geronda or Staretz is a spiritual father who helps us on our path to the Kingdom of God through his prayers, his example and the grace of God with him. Of course our Lord is our Saviour, but a Geronda has authority because of his experience, his direct personal knowledge of God, his knowledge of the human heart and his special relationship with us. Because of these things, we listen to him and take what he says seriously. Geronda, what should I do about these intrusive thoughts that come to me? How can I overcome my feelings of resentments or pride? He understands and has something to tell us or show us. We don’t challenge or question our Geronda but instead try to follow what he says.

Nowadays we have given the status of Geronda to the media. I say the media is our new Geronda because we are so deeply affected by it and believe too readily what it says to us. But where is it leading us?

Many of us get our historical facts from movies that are more or less  accurate. A recent example of the effect of blatantly distorted history is the movie and book The Da Vinci Code. An elderly Russian professor who lived through the lies of Communist rule was aghast at how the book utterly twisted the facts of the lives and times portrayed. Dan Brown made up his own version of history and totally fabricated facts about historical personalities, and people believed the impressions based on a false history. He told everyone that his book was not history but a fabricated story, but having read it, people believed the story. There are many other examples of the power of the media to lead and shape people’s thoughts and lives. Maybe people who lived under oppressive regimes exercised their muscles of discernment on the twisted lies and manipulations of the media. Whatever the party line was, they knew it wasn’t the truth, and they had to piece together a truer picture with a lot of effort.

While the bumper sticker tells us in a tone of rebellion to QUESTION AUTHORITY and we begin to argue with our parish priest, our parents and other authority figures, we listen passively to the TV, radio and internet which have been given by us the authority–unknowingly or knowingly–of our new geronda. The real Geronda continues in his prayers for us patiently waiting our awakening and return!