Jan 5, 2017. Priest Seraphim Holland PO 37, McKinney, TX 75070
Dear …: I am replying to your letter of …..
I’m glad you wrote me, and wrote me with such honesty. You said something like: “if I wouldn’t throw this letter away maybe I would write to you”. You don’t need to think like that. We are all sinners, and you had many obstacles in your young life. Of course, we are responsible for the things we do, but only God knows how responsible we are. You found your way out a very pernicious lifestyle. One of the worst things about that lifestyle is people say lies about God and about themselves in order to perpetuate it. You found a way past those lies. That is very impressive. Of course, there are still habit, and habit is a very difficult thing to stop and to change.
You will need to build new and better habits. It starts with prayer, and the middle is prayer and the end is prayer. I would guess that there are people in your life that have hurt you, such as that man. If you remember his name, then you should write his name down in the names of everyone else was harmed you or lied to you or manipulated you and you should pray for them every day. We cannot forgive someone unless we pray for them. This is very important. You may already be doing this.
A simple way to pray for people is to say: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon (name)”. You can say this once for everybody or three times or 10 times or whatever works out. When I want to pray for someone with more intensity I sometimes do a prostration when I pray for him. It’s very important to make a list and use it every day. Maybe you have an incredible memory – in that case you don’t need a list but in my experience most people need one.
You will be getting out of prison soon and going to basically another prison. I’m sorry it will be in … that’s far away. I know somebody kinda near there, by Texas standards. You’ll need a lot of patience and also a lot of energy to overcome. I will add you to my prayer list.
I am happy to have a correspondence with you and answer any questions that you want and perhaps have some guided reading. It will be easier to get you stuff when you’re in Lubbock.
I’m going to give you some advice about sexual purity. First of all, we must understand why we should be sexually pure and what is sexual purity. The answer to the first question is God is pure and he has told us things that appear in are not pure, so if we are children of God we should want to be like God and be pure. Of course, purity in this veil of tears is a relative thing. No one can be totally pure as of course the Scripture tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the righteousness of God. Even though this is true, the Christian life is the pursuit of purity, by God’s grace.
For Orthodox Christians salvation is not merely being forgiven our sins. That is not enough. Of course, God forgives us, but he also helps us to overcome our sins to eventually cast them as far away from us as the east is from the west. The most compelling thing about Christianity for me is the freedom that is promised to me. I do not have that freedom right now, because I am often captive to my sins and my passions. And even if I do a good thing sometimes I have to fight to do it, I have to fight against myself. True freedom as Jesus Christ promises it is to be: “free indeed”. This freedom is the freedom that God has. God can do anything he wants, and all He wants to do is good. When He desires to do good, He can do it effortlessly. When we desire to do good sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is a great labor to do it. In the next life there will be no labor to do good. That will just be good and our wills will be perfectly matched with God and we will know God and be united to him.
Sexual passions are very powerful, and they enslave a person. Even if a person is able to keep from acting on sexual impulses there are still thoughts and there is still effort involved. And perhaps if a person has sexual impulses-- to fornicate for example -- he may be able to withstand those impulses but not the impulses to masturbate or to look at pornography. All sexual things that are impure are not like God, and all of them because the soul to see God less clearly, as if we have weak eyes.
You already come a very long way. Your letter is shown me that. You may have falls, even now. Of course, it is critical that you don’t have falls that become crimes, but also all falls cause us to be in prison – that is under the bondage of our passions.
If you have sexual thoughts, or you look at sexual material, or you masturbate, or any of these things are temptations for you then you should react to them. We can react before during and after a temptation. For instance, if you have a temptation to look at sexual sexually explicit material then thrown away, leave yourself, do prostrations. The same thing applies to masturbation. If you’re able and you going to the day room then you will be safe. Even during the commission of a sin God may give us the strength to stop it. And after we have sin is the most important time. Because sexual sins bring us a lot of shame, we don’t want to think about them in an explicit way. We just feel terrible about ourselves and it brings down our energy. After sexual sin is the time to have more energy. We have something called a “prayers for purity”, and these are prayers which are said after any kind of sexual sin. The most important part of the prayers is the prostrations.
If you’re interested I will try to send you a complete booklet about prayers for purity. In the meantime, I will describe prostrations, which you may not be accustomed to. We make the sign of the cross, and then we get down on our knees and touch our four head to the ground and stand back up. We can say things like “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner”, or “I’ve sinned immeasurably O Lord forgive me a sinner”, and we say this for some number of times. Saying it once, if we say it with our whole heart, would be enough, but we rarely say things with our whole heart. Therefore, we need to say things with repetition. If you repeat these prayers and try to do prostrations or at least do a bow when you say the prayers, then you’ll have an intensity in your heart that will really help you. I know a lot of things are new to you. You might not have ever seen a prostration. It’s hard to describe it in a letter.
God will see your effort and will give you grace if you pray for those who have harmed you and also those you have harmed pray for those that you have harmed. If you do not know their name, then at least pray in a general sense for those you have harmed. I will include some prayers that I say every day, and hope that they will lead you in the right direction.
I understand exactly what you’re saying about Protestant worship. It basically says the same things over and over again. It actually is very shallow. It also is very unpredictable you have no idea what someone gonna say and sometimes it’s really crazy. We don’t have that kind of thing in the Orthodox Church.
If you write me back, and especially if you ask me any questions or tell me the things that you want to know, I will also write you things.
You ask a question about beards. It is our custom for priests to have beards. Unfortunately, in our modern age some priests don’t wear beards for reasons that escape me. It is not required for a layman to have a beard nor is it forbidden. I personally think that is very bizarre to scrape a sharp implement over your face every morning, perhaps even when you haven’t had your coffee. I think men should have beards, but that’s not really a religious opinion, that’s just a personal preference.
I pray Thee, O merciful Lord, for all the peoples of the world, that they may come to know Thee by the Holy Spirit.
O Lord grant mercy unto them that bear hatred or enmity against me, and also unto them that revile or slander me: That none of them may at all suffer any evil, whether in the present or in the age to come, on account of me, who am impure. But cleanse them all in Thy mercy, and protect them by Thy grace, O Thou who art good.
My God, have mercy on everyone I have judged and everyone I have wronged – if I have given any alms, give the reward to them instead.
St. Paisios of Mount Athos, quoted in biography “St. Paisios of Mount Athos“ by Hieromonk Isaak, pg 425
O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on all who are bent over and help them to rise up.
Lord, give me tears so that my heart can weep day and night out of love for my brother! St. Silouan An Athonite Gerontikon, page 362, On compunction and tears.
Holy Elder Porphyrios, help me to have pastoral attentiveness and discernment.
"Elder Porphyrios, Testimonies and experiences" , by Klitos Ioannidis, pg 94. Italics not in original prayer
My God, I am a wretch. Have mercy on me, and the whole world too. "St Paisios of the Holy Mountain", by Hieromonk Isaac. Pg 530
“O God, help my brother and me, through his prayers! (St Gaza of Dorotheos)
From the Old Believer Prayer Book, with line 4 added
Save, O Lord, and have mercy on Thy servant(s) ________, [bow]
Deliver him (her, them) from every tribulation, wrath and need [bow],
From every sickness of soul and body, [bow]
Forgive him (her, them) every transgression, voluntary and involuntary, [bow]
Teach them to pray and to live with purpose. [bow]
And do whatever is profitable for our souls. [bow].
We must weep at night to feel joy in the day.
We cannot know the Man of Sorrows if we do not weep at night.
Everything in the world is corrupting and will pass away
- even those things that bring us apparent joy.
There is only one eternal joy.
If we weep at night, sometimes we will feel part of that joy.
The cold world does not know joy.
Entertainment brings not joy.
Indulging desires brings not joy.
Fulfilling ambitions brings not joy.
Only Christ brings joy.
He will come to us and abide in us, but only if we make room for Him. There is no room with earthly joy.
Only sorrow, weeping and repentance will make room for joy.
Do not weep when in the world, among those of the world.
Observe the world with your heart, and if you have made room, you will see the hidden reality in life.
Save those things in your heart for the evening, when you will weep.
This weeping is dear to God; He hears all who weep to Him.
By Priest Seraphim. My words were inspired by a favorite passage in “Everyday Saints”. A wise monk commented about a morose novice, something like this: “He does not cry enough at night”.
Here is some stuff, below that I wrote to somebody about questions about an icon which was on the card that I sent….
By the way, the reason the reason Theotokos, Mary is bigger than Christ in the icon is because she was bigger. He was an infant and she an adult. Did you notice also that Christ does not look like an infant but instead he looks like a small adult? Our icons never show Christ as a helpless infant but as an aware person even though He is small. That is because even when Christ was an infant He, being God, knew all things.
Of course, if a person enters into our theology regarding the Theotokos and Christ, he would see that we never speak of her without speaking of her role in the incarnation. Jesus Christ took on all of his manhood from the Theotokos. That is a very important thing. The reason we call her the Mother of God is because being the mother of Christ is no big deal. The word “Christ” means anointed, and it refers to Christ Jesus being fully anointed with the Holy Spirit. It also refers to his humanity. He was born a human being just like we are human beings with the only difference being that he was not inclined toward sin like we are. He was tempted like we are in that he was presented with the possibility of sending but since he had no attraction to any kind of sin, he never sinned. We are often attracted to sin, and we sin because of that attraction or we fight off that attraction and avoid that sin. But even our fighting off the attraction of sin shows that we are far from perfection. In the next life we will be able to do good without effort. In this life often, we must expend a lot of effort to do good.
Of course, Christ’s humanity was fully anointed with the Holy Spirit, that is, filled completely with the Holy Spirit. His divinity has no need to be filled with the Holy Spirit as He and the Holy Spirit are of the same essence since they are both God. Mary is the mother of God because she bore a man who is also God.
Here is an answer to somebody who wonders if he tried to hard when he wrote a lot of cards to people and nobody but Marina and I responded….
You ask a question in your letter maybe you tried too hard. Maybe. I do so many things that seem to be ignored by people. I just served a very important service this Friday morning and I was alone for the first 20 minutes, and only 4 people ended up being there besides me. In cases like this, I must battle myself. I’m inclined to be cynical, or to be discouraged or to wonder what the world am I doing if hardly anybody is paying attention. Those are all very wrong kinds of thoughts. The Scriptures pretty clear that those things that we do for God will never be forgotten. It doesn’t matter people see them, or even respond to them. I’m not preaching to you here – I’m preaching to myself but also hoping that you will listen. Discouragement is a really diabolical feeling. I hate it.
I’ve been trying to write poetry lately, and I’ve got a poem really is not very good yet but it’s theme is basically built around that old question: “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around, does it make a noise” My thesis is that a priest would always answer this” “Yes!” -- That is because God hears it. God hears everything, and sees everything and responds to everything even if it doesn’t appear that He is responding. I really do believe this. That’s why talk about it. I don’t always feel it but regarding that “feelings smeelings!”
When the soul is insensitive it is profitable to read frequently the Divine Scriptures and the sermons of the God-bearing Fathers that inspire contrition… Dorotheos of Gaza
When God wishes to take pity on a soul and it rebels, not bearing anything and doing its own will, He then allows it to suffer that which it does not want, in order that it may seek Him again. - Abba Isaiah
“Come close, all of you, and tell me of your troubles as though I were alive! I’ll see you, I’ll hear you, and I’ll come to your aid.” -Saint Matrona the blind of Moscow, said right before her death~
O God, the Father of love, the generous bestower of all blessings, Who granted speech even to senseless beasts, grant me helpful words and open my slow, dumb lips for those who can hear. By Thy grace, give a wise ear to hear rightly whatever true things I say, and to not be confused or harmed by any foolish things I say, and to live unswervingly in the way which pleases Thee. For it is written that without Thee we can do nothing good or salutary for the soul, and 'Except the Lord build the house , they labour in vain that build it'. Adapted from: THE MONKS CALLISTUS AND IGNATIUS, OF XANTHOPOULOS “Directions to hesychasts , in a hundred chapters”, Chapter 2, Page 165, “Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart”. (Scripture: John 15:5,Ps . 126:1)
I posted a picture of the diskos, with all the particles of bread on it, and wrote:
Not my prettiest work, but a wonderful reality. Rich and poor, living and dead, all are gathered around the lamb of God, where there is life. There is no distinction between persons. All are made in the image of God, and all need God. No person is so good, or rich, or accomplished that he needs God less, and no man, who is poorer, or less accomplished, needs God more.
This diskos also contains distinctive particles, for the Theotokos, and nine "ranks" of Saints, all which were placed neatly on the right and left side of the lamb (respectively and according to the perspective of the lamb). They also have no life without Christ, and their need is indistinguishable, and no less than regular people. They cannot be seen, under the pile of crumbs, as all are brought near to Christ.
There are so many now, that we need a bigger diskos.
It is our tradition, and dogma, that we commemorate the living and the dead in preparation for Divine Liturgy. A particle of bread is placed on the diskos for each person commemorated. All these pieces will be poured into the chalice at the end of the liturgy, with the prayer: "By Thy precious blood, O Lord, wash away the sins of those here commemorated, through the intercession of Thy saints."
I wrote this too. Tomorrow will be 200 days (Dec 27, 2017), for +Daniel. On my way to St Herman Youth Conference. I will give a talk, entitled "Using the energy in grief". Losing a child is not JUST pain. It is also energy. That energy can lead us to depression, anger, confusion, or to good, in the memory of our loved one. I can say this with authority because I have experience. There are bad moments, but there is also collaboration and comfort. I talked with a man in prison recently whose son died in a terrible away, because of criminal neglect. My experience is helping him. There have been many opportunities like this, as everybody looks normal at Walmart, but almost everyone has dealt with great loss.
This too: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1Tim 6:6) The true meaning is that there is no contentment without godliness! This is why we struggle, to fulfil our destiny, to live according to the image of God within us, and attain His likeness. This is only possible because of Jesus Christ, Whose birth many celebrate today, and if we struggle.
Elder Ephraim on Love…: "Love demands discretion, and discretion, in turn, is an art. If you are unfamiliar with the art of love, then you do not know how to love. Love overlooks the flaws of our brother. It forgives mistakes. It tolerates bad habits. It gives way to obstinacy. It avoids criticism.
It is oblivious to sarcasm. It disperses suspicions. It does not accept slander. It does not pass judgment or debase others publicly. It covers all shortcomings in a polite and brave manner. "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil" (1 Cor. 13:4-6), thunders the Apostle Paul. Love, through its simplicity and sincerity, is unaware of evil. It is crystal clear like water from a pristine lake. No fierce wave of evil or deceit can disturb it.
The person who loves is the greatest victor in the spiritual battle. He wins using a smile and kindness." - 'Art of Salvation'
Christ is not a perfect philosopher and a good lawgiver. He is not a moraliser and the leader of a religion, even the most perfect one. Rather, He is the champion over death, the devil and sin. He did not come simply to change the external conditions of man's life; He came to make man holy, to transfigure him, to deify him, to make him a son of God by grace. He is the Son of God by nature (natural child); we must become children of God by grace (adopted children). - “Entering the Orthodox Church , The Catechism and baptism of adults”, Metropolitan Hierotheos, Pg 46
If you do not like pain, then find another religion, because Christianity is to feel like Jesus feels. -Me
St. Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 175 - 235 A.D.): Our faith is not founded upon empty words; nor are we carried away by mere caprice or beguiled by specious arguments. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the power of God, spoken by the Word himself at God’s command. God wished to win men back from disobedience, not by using force to reduce him to slavery but by addressing to his free will a call to liberty. The Word spoke first of all through the prophets, but because the message was couched in such obscure language that it could be only dimly apprehended, in the last days the Father sent the Word in person, commanding Him to show Himself openly so that the world could see Him and be saved.
We know that by taking a body from the Virgin He refashioned our fallen nature. We know that his manhood was of the same clay as our own; if this were not so, He would hardly have been a teacher who could expect to be imitated. If He were of a different substance from me, He would surely not have ordered me to do as He did, when by my very nature I am so weak. Such a demand could not be reconciled with His goodness and justice.
No. He wanted us to consider Him as no different from ourselves, and so He worked, He was hungry and thirsty, He slept. Without protest He endured His passion, He submitted to death and revealed His resurrection. In all these ways He offered His own manhood as the first fruits of our race to keep us from losing heart when suffering comes our way, and to make us look forward to receiving the same reward as He did, since we know that we possess the same humanity.