Ponderings of a Byzantine Priest

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55 Maxims

by Fr. Thomas Hopko

  1. Be always with Christ.
  2. Pray as you can, not as you want.
  3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
  4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
  5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
  6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
  7. Eat good foods in moderation.
  8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
  9. Spend some time in silence every day.
  10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  11. Go to liturgical services regularly
  12. Go to confession and communion regularly.
  13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
  14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
  15. Read the scriptures regularly.
  16. Read good books a little at a time.
  17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  18. Be an ordinary person.
  19. Be polite with everyone.
  20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
  21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  22. Exercise regularly.
  23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
  24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
  25. Be faithful in little things.
  26. Do your work, and then forget it.
  27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  28. Face reality.
  29. Be grateful in all things.
  30. Be cheerful
  31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  32. Never bring attention to yourself.
  33. Listen when people talk to you.
  34. Be awake and be attentive.
  35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
  37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
  38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
  39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
  40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
  42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.
  43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
  46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
  47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
  48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
  49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
  50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
  51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
  53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
  54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
  55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

Untitled Poem – June 23, 1988

the suffering of the child
heralds the goodness
of the coming age.
with every tear, with
every pant of breath, the
suffering deepens.
the joy of the act
enlightens the child, so
much so,
he grows, matures
and teaches.
fruits of his father
are passed to me with
his suffering endured
on that wood. his
joy surpasses all
happiness. this
too is mine at his
giving. could i ask
for anything, then
but to suffer
and endure as he?

Isaiah: The Fifth Gospel

In Winter of 2004, I followed a graduate course on Eastern Christian Hermeneutics and Exegesis in the Prophecy of Isaiah. It was taught by an excellent man and professor, Fr. Andrew Onuferko. At the time he was also the Acting Director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Paul University, Ottawa. One section of the course highlighted the early Church and their use of the only Scriptures they knew of at the time what we Christians now call the Old Testament. The author, John Sawyer in his excellent book, The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity, notes that the early Christians used Isaiah extensively in their evangelizing efforts, even informally creating a ‘Gospel narrative’ something very much akin to what we now know as the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Sawyer proposes such a Gospel narrative in a collection of verses of Isaiah woven together. I have reproduced it below for your marvelling!

Behold a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son (7:14 LXX, Vg), a rod out of the stem of Jesse (11:1). His name shall be called ‘Immanuel’ (7:14), ‘Wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’ (9:6), Key of David (22:22), the Christ (45:1 LXX, Vg). To us a child is born (9:6). The ox knows its owner and the ass its master’s crib (1:3). The gentiles will come to your light and the kings to your rising … they shall bring gold and incense (60:6). The idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence (19:1). Behold my servant … in whom my soul delights (42:1). The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding … (11:2). By the way of the sea, beyond Jordan and Galilee of the nations (9:1), the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… (61:1). Surely he has taken our infirmities and borne our sicknesses (53:4). Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened … then shall the lame man leap like a hart (35:5-6). The glory of the Lord is risen upon you (60:1). He shall be a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation (28:16), but also a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling to both the houses of Israel (8:14). He said, ‘Go and tell this people, Hear indeed, but understand not …’ (6:9).

I will weep bitterly … because of the destruction of the daughter of my people (that is, Jerusalem 22:4). Say to the daughter of Zion, Your saviour comes (62:11 LXX, Vg). My house will be called a house of prayer for all people (56:7). My servants shall eat but you shall be hungry, my servants shall drink but you shall be thirsty … (65:13). Ho everyone that thirsts, come to the waters … (55:1). He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter (53:7). The government (that is, the cross bearing the inscription ‘King of the Jews’ on it) shall be upon his shoulder (9:6), and there shall come up briars and thorns (5:6). I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to those that pluck out the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting (50:6). He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities (53:5). From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds (1:6). He was numbered between the transgressors … and made intercession for the transgressors (53:12). They made his grave … with a rich man (53:9). His tomb will be glorious (11:10 Vg). Now I will arise, says the Lord, now I will lift myself up, now I will be exalted (33:10). Then shall your light break forth like the dawn (58:8). Seek the Lord while he may be found (55:6). Behold my servant shall understand, he shall be exalted and lifted up (52:13 LXX, Vg); he shall be high and lifted up (6:1). I will set a sign among them … I will send survivors to the nations, to the sea, to Africa and Lydia, to Italy and Greece, to islands afar off, to those who have not heard about me and have not seen my glory; and they will proclaim my glory to the nations (66:19).

John F. A. Sawyer. The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 49-50.

Tears – a new book by my mother

My mother’s first book, Tears – Healing After 18 Years of Grieving, is up on Amazon. In the book, my mother (Gloria) writes about how through various challenges, hardships, and painful events and the associated grieving she has been healed by a simple surrender to the Lord and been given and increase in the gift of faith. Although written mostly for the Christian woman, by a Christian woman, it will touch the heart of any reader. You can order yours here. It is also available at Salem’s Storehouse in Ottawa. [This is a repost from almost a year ago]

On Being a Christian in a Relativistic Age

Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood, New York, presented the first plenary address, “Christian Doctrine in an Age of Relativism,” at the 2008 Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies Study Days in Ottawa, Ontario. He prefaced his presentation with a caution to those who wish to delve into theological questions by means of a twelve-point list which emphasized things such as the necessary desire and willingness to endure struggle in coming to know Jesus Christ.

  1. There has to be a desire to know and the person has to be willing to pay the cost, make the sacrifice. It doesn’t just happen. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are free and it is a battle, something very difficult. The desire is everything – Scripture says – is the person is thirsting and hungry for righteousness? They will find it. Theology is not written in ink, but in blood. It is not studied but suffered and only through many afflictions that one comes to the knowledge of the Truth.
  2. There has to be hungering and thirsting – and that is called prayer. If a person doubts that God exists, there still has to be prayer – “To whom it may concern… I want to know who you are as you are not a creation of my mind, etc.”
  3. Be constantly reading the New Testament – not the Fathers, the Canons, the Typikon, etc. – the Word of God!!!! Read the New testament at least three times – what you do not understand let it go, what you do understand, put it into practice.
  4. Go to Church. Stand there, stand there and listen to the services. If you are having trouble with the faith, just stand there. Do nothing else. Even if you must vomit, then go outside and do so and return and continue to stand there and let the word of God lacerate you. Do not pay attention to anyone else; let the Word of God penetrate you, go through you.
  5. Do not lie. Do not harm anyone. Be kind and good to everyone you meet without exception, especially those with whom you live. Do some good works, at least an hour or two each week without anyone helping you. Extra money, give it away.
  6. No sex at all (unless you are married)! If you fall into it, stand and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and continue on.
  7. Do not get drunk. Eat well. Fast a couple days a week. Abstain and Fast.
  8. Sit in silence at least 15 minutes a day, not worrying about your own troubles, or theologizing, etc. Try not to think, but let the thoughts go by, and as you watch them come, you turn them over to God. Learn to be quiet. We learn from the saints, If you cannot practice silence, you must never ever speak because you will have nothing to say. St Ambrose of Milan in his book on the priesthood writes his first chapter on silence. As you turn your thoughts to God, ask – God if you are there, help me, show me what to do. As simple and silent as possible.
  9. Speak as little as possible. You do not discuss theology with others, and do not irritate others by your silence. You learn to listen to others; be attentive; do not argue.
  10. Find someone you fully trust. Doesn’t have to be a clairvoyant monk of Mt Athos or a therapeutically licensed person – share with that person in confidence everything. You do not speak in detail of sexual stuff, or in detail of other people. Must detail your family of origin, and beg God to see it clearly, admit it, and accept it. Many people try to demonize or idolize family members. There is an objective truth (F,S, HS, etc.) but there is a truth of my personal existential existence, etc. Why do I do the things I do, think the things I do, etc.?
  11. Do a check for any addictions in your life: drugs, alcohol, food, sex, religion, culture, etc. Every person has some sort of addiction/compulsions, etc. Get help when you need it without fear, or shame. Everybody needs help. Everybody needs other people. The only thing you can do alone is go to Hell (Russian proverb).
  12. Do your work, whatever it is, to the best of your ability, one minute at a time. Let the past go, do not be anxious about tomorrow, live in the present moment. Whatever you are doing, do it for the glory of God. We do not move capriciously – we all according to the testimony of Scripture.
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