A Community of Love

Catechumens: Where any two of us are gathered together in the Name of Christ, there is Christ in our midst. Therefore one of us speaks: “Christ is born.” and another responds: “Glorify Him.” One of us says “Christ is in our midst.” and another answers “He is and ever shall be.” We hold to the One Church, founded upon the Apostles, following the Fathers, and unified under the Bishop. We stand firm in our Confession of the One Faith which except we hold whole and undefiled, we imperil our salvation. And yet, the Church is also we who gather in Christ’s Name. And the One Faith is confessed in our gathering together in His Name. Not, to be sure, a nominal gathering, or a gathering of nominalism. We do not mean that anyone who claims to do something in Christ’s Name is indeed doing so. For it is also true that those who are His are in His Church, love His Saints, glorify His Mother, cling to the Bishop, and confess the Faith He delivered. We are the Church both in being correct and in being a community of love – never one without the other.

One thing impressed upon me by the Holy Supper on the Eve of Nativity is that the early Orthodox ate together, and that they ate together the way a family does. This is significant, I think, as a sign of their unity in love. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we read of the Church gathered together breaking bread. They went even farther, of course; they sold what they had, gave mightily to the poor, and lived in community, working each for the common good. We can learn much from this. Which of us would not be willing to sell at least some of what we have to satisfy the needs of others? Which of us would be unwilling to give and to work where we also receive and partake? But how too is it so significant that the early Orthodox ate together?

Perhaps it is speculation, but it does not seem too much of a stretch to suggest that they were making of one another a kind of family. Not only ‘begetting’ children in the Faith and standing as ‘parents’ at Holy Baptism, but these families became ‘interlocking’ members of each other, bearing witness to the reality of the Church as the One Body of Christ by sharing in each others’ sufferings and joys. They were mutual members not merely in the sense of a theoretical set of relationships, but they were continually gathered together, according to the Acts, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. The implication is a community seeking theosis, with each other, whose bond and unity is love.

And again, I am reminded of this by the Holy Supper, since the Holy Nativity – God becoming man for us – has the sole purpose of our theosis, our union with God, the deification of ourselves and all creation. Because of the Incarnation, all things are now for our salvation, but most especially each other. Sartre said “Hell is other people.” but we believe that other people lead us to Heaven, in our love for them, and in their manifold helps to us.  The Holy Communion in Christ’s Incarnate flesh and blood fulfills all meals and all possible union between men. The common meal of the family of God then indicated the extension of this reality of being and sharing the Body of Christ into a continual attitude

The Law and the Prophets bare witness entirely to Christ, the Incarnate God, and it is He that said to us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” When we say “Christ is born.” therefore, it is this love for each other that is one meaning of our answer – “Glorify Him.”

– Catechetical Letter 12/28/2005


Catechumens: I said to the world: “My love, how I long for you. I know what the world is for. Entertain me. Comfort me. Satisfy me. Fill me. Be my reason for being. Do not be hard or difficult. Do not try my patience. Give me what I want now. Hide me in the warmth of your embrace; hide me even from my soul. There is no comfort like your bed. There is no pleasure like your food. Blot out my thoughts and surround me with sleep. My lover, my tryst, my true passion.”

And the world said to me. “Do not worry, love. I will keep you warm and comfortable. Your comfort will be my chief concern. I will slow your mind and excite your passions. You will be my plaything and lie upon my lap. You will have no purpose but me. I will be your whole life. Your all. Drink deeply of me. You will spend your days in comfort. You will spend them.”

So I thought only of that comfort. I wanted to be warm all the time. I never wanted to hunger or suffer. I wanted to feel good all the time. I wanted the fruit of slumber rather than labor. I did not want to be assaulted with difficult things. I wanted the world to tell me what I want. I wanted it to find things for me to enjoy. I listened when it told me I was bored, and that I should play with whatever it gave me. I said to the world, “Deliver me from pain. Let me live for pleasure. Have my mind. Have my will. O World, take my flesh.” So I pulled it around me like a blanket. I buried my face in its darkness. I slipped out of thought and ceased willing. Such was our union, that I ceased even to be.

Then God was found in the world.

I could not think when He spoke. I could not choose what I wanted. I could not feel a love beyond myself and my comfort. I called Him “Lord,” but then I turned and went back into the darkness. I went on and on. I went on until the world was all that was left. Even so, I looked back to make sure He was still there. That’s when I saw that I was in flames. All that was good had followed Him.

– Catechetical Letter 12/28/2005

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. St. Paul the Apostle



Catechumens: I have an evil twin. It is the self that is pious with the pious but disregards the truth in private. It is the me that speaks one way with the saintly, and another with those who do not see God. I am the man who embraces my brother at Church and rails at my wife at home. I am a divided person, a split-man, half of a soul and part corpse. If a lie is the difference between deception and truth, then the life I regard as my ‘normal’ life is the lie. But then my ‘Church’ life is a lie, too. In truth, there are no half-lies, and there is no half-life. I am either man or wraith, either fake or sincere, either charlatan or disciple.

If I am changed in appearance, in play acting, but my ‘unsupervised’ life is unredeemed, then I am the Pharisee who goes away unfilled. I am the rich man whom the Lord sent away empty. I am that unworthy disciple. I am found with the Lord, but I do not regard Him in my heart. I walk with him, but plan my escape.

Nor do I love others. I am angry but civil. I am thinking of myself but am courteous. I am careful with you my brethren but careless with others and when alone. I do not see the cloud of my witnesses. I do not believe in this Kingdom of which the Lord speaks. I praise the Saints that I may not feel compelled to live as they do. I laud the martyrs that I may not feel compelled to let go of my own life. And I do regard it as my own life; after all, it is all I have. Much good may it do me on that frightful day, since I have laid up no treasure in Heaven and sleep at the sound of trumpets

Deliver me from the Man of Death, O Lord, for like Judas do I give Thee a kiss.

– Catechetical Letter 12/28/2005

Do not befoul your intellect by clinging to thoughts filled with anger and sensual desire. Otherwise you will lose your capacity for pure prayer and fall victim to the demon of listlessness. St. Maximus the Confessor

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? St. Paul the Apostle




Catechumens: It is difficult to write of excess in a culture in which we slather our foods with gravy and sauces and oils and sugars. Everything must be seasoned and coated and drowned in stimulation and titillation. It is folly to write of it while smoking like a coal engine, drinking caffeine like any drug addict, and sucking down soda, desserts, and rich foods like a pagan king in a city aflame and at its foul end. I cannot do it. I can only say that I know that I live in this city, and that it is a time on the brink of death.

Master, let me not be found at the Altar of Excess, blind to Your coming at the end, and blind to Your coming every day. I came to You and asked, “Lord, what must I do to me saved?” And You said to me, ‘Sell this world of excess back to the world, and concern yourself with your brethren, the poor.’ But I, desiring to always be full, went away empty, because I am the rich man. – Catechetical Letter 12/28/2005

For in our bodies too all distempers arise from excess; and when the elements thereof leave their proper limits, and go on beyond moderation, then all these countless diseases are generated, and grievous kinds of death. St. John Chrysostom

Life Behind the Veil

Catechumens: I want to say that it is difficult to live in the ever-present awareness of God’s world. The real world, rather than the veil that is pulled over my eyes – “the frail shadows of elusive dreams”. But then I think of what that world is, and how it came to be, and I am ashamed. It is my life apart from God that is the illusion. It is my atheism that is the veil. I don’t really believe that “the bridgegroom cometh in the midst of the night”. I live as though the illusory world were an end in itself.

Fasting: How can I eat when I have betrayed and crucified him? How can I find it difficult, when He hungered 40 days in a desert, when He cried blood, when He stood for me in execution, and raised me with Him? And dare I say that I am only a man, when He became man for me?

Feasting: How can I pass the day like any other when He is born and He is risen? How can I fail to honor the day that He honors, having filled it with His Grace? How can I fail in hospitality to His friends, greeting them in the day of their honor? How can I feel no excitement? Is my soul dead? How can I forget those who have begotten me and anchor me, through so righteous a chain of begettings?

The Hours: How can I sleep, and how can my soul slumber, when I would wish so desperately to rise to meet him if he came for the last time. He waits for me. He is to be found where the Church is praying. Is my lamp trimmed and filled with oil? Then let us go together and meet the Lord who walks about in the Church.

My Rule of Prayer: How can I think my prayers long or that they are too long for me to pray? “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” asks the Lord who has gone up to the highest mountain to pray for me. He intercedes for me even now. How can I find it tedious when it is God with Whom I speak, unless my soul does not regard Him in prayer, and does not befriend Him who is my friend.

The world is changed. The universe is remade. God has become man for me. Glory to Him forever.

– Catechetical Letter 12/28/2005

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.St. Paul the Apostle


Christ: One person, two wills, two natures

Against Monotheletism & Monophysitism, these quotations:

“He being one Son, dual in Nature, not dual in Person. Wherefore, do we confess, preaching the truth that Christ our God is perfect God and perfect Man.” — (Troparion of the Resurrection on the Feast of the Holy Forefathers).

O faithful, let us acclaim the lover of the Trinity, great Maximos who taught the God-inspired Faith, that Christ is to be glorified in two natures, wills and energies: and let us cry to him: Rejoice, O herald of the Faith. – Kontakion to St. Maximus the Confessor

We must, then, maintain that Christ has two energies in virtue of His double nature. For things that have diverse natures, have also different energies, and things that have diverse energies, have also different natures. – St. John Damascene


Catechumens: The reasons people give for deserting the Faith seem most often to fall into one of three categories: distortions of reality (misrepresentation), non sequitur (irrelevancy), and transferring blame to others (passing the buck). How often have I done this, deserting the Faith in my heart, mind, and will? I once justified independence by saying that others were too ‘ethnic’ and don’t make enough room for my culture or, alternately, because a lot of people weren’t showing up when I was. I justified failure to study my Faith, failure to overcome the passions, failure to follow the Fathers, failure after failure. In short, I deserted.

We pray the words of the Prophet at Great and Holy Vespers, “Incline my heart away from evil words, from making excuses for my sins.” Desertions, however seemingly small, are sometimes accompanied by making excuses for sins. While I find it easy to be surprised at the desertions of others, I find my own desertion to be less an apostasy, less serious. And in that delusion is the apostasy. These excuses, delusions in which the Adversary delights, seem to beget more delusions, until finally I have run away from the Desert and into the lush fields, but the lush fields are full of pitfalls and snares and vipers, while the Desert is actually green and moist with life.

“The garden is the only place there is, but you will not find it until you have looked for it everywhere and found nowhere that is not a desert.” – WH Auden

— Catechetical Letter 12/14/2005

Now we are in darkness

We are in darkness, now, until God becomes man. We look now, in this Little Lent, toward our Winter Pascha, toward the Nativity of God, when God became man to bring man to God. Let us prepare ourselves, fasting from food and from every passion. Let us meditate on the darkness of Death, the unknowable darkness of the heart, and that blessed darkness in which the Holy Trinity is the only and unapproachable Light.

We look to the Incarnation, as we follow the Gospel on our holy calendar, because He has become man for us, to make us God with Him. We can rejoice in the redemption of our nature, because he has united human nature to his divine nature, in perfect union and distinction. Let us each be united to Him also in person.

Let us now pursue our union with Him, our theosis, for each of us must be redeemed as persons and so become whole. God, by becoming man, has confronted each of us at the personal level, leaving us no recourse to neutrality nor safety. Either we turn away from the defining event in human history, the meaning of existence, choosing nonexistence, or else we respond to the Incarnation by seeking Him out as the Heaven that came down to earth.

— Catechetical Letter 12/14/2005

The Way of Humility

“The way of humility is this: self-control, prayer, and thinking yourself inferior to all creatures.” – Abba Tithoes

Be Manly Strong

Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. – The Holy Apostle Paul to the Church at Corinth

Why a weekly letter?

Throughout the week as I think of you, my godchildren, catechumens, enquirers, and brethren in Christ, there are things I wish to say to you that do not fit easily into our weekly lessons. Even when I resolve to speak to you, if I don’t write down my thoughts, I forget them, only to remember them after we have met. In writing them down, they often take the form of scrawled notes on napkins and, often, I wish I could give them to you in some form that would bring them back to mind on occasion. I’ve hesitated to create a ‘newsletter’, until we receive a blessing to formalize our catechetical school. So, for now, I’ll simply put them in the form of a catechetical letter from myself, godfather and catechetist to you, my beloved children, friends, and brethren.

Do me the service, then, as I risk being somewhat bold in the manner of my speaking to you, of remembering that I really have nothing to say if the Church does not say it, nor have told you any truth if I contradict the consensus of the holy fathers or the seven holy Oecumenical Councils. That is partly why I decided to ‘dedicate’, still unofficially as yet, this series of letters to the honor of The Pillars of Orthodoxy, as I hope also to receive blessing to do for our ‘portable catechetical school’. If I have anything at all good to say to you, the glory is to God, and if I err, it is my error and my shame.

– Catechetical Letter  11/30/2005

Our prayer and readings throughout the week

I’ve been thinking about how our prayer and readings throughout the week both mimick and follow the liturgical services of the Church, whether we have attended them or not. For each service, there is the keeping of the calendar, mindful of the season, whether, for example, it is the Nativity Fast or Penetecost, mindful of the day, whether it is a fast or a feast, and of which saints, icons, or events, are especially venerated on the day. For each service, there are readings, common prayers and changeable prayers (e.g. the Troparia and Kontakia for the Saints commemorated this day), intercessions, thanksgiving, acknowledgement of our sins, prayers to the Lord and to the Theotokos… You see where I’m going; our own rules, our own practices, mimick and follow those of the Church’s liturgics.

For each day, there are readings. Likewise, it is the pious custom of Orthodox Christians to read the scriptural readings appointed for the day, even when not attending services. I have found myself out of step with the Saints in this regard, struggling as I do to keep even the simple prayers of my rule. And if I do not pray, how shall I read? I am well aware, too, that the fathers always couple fasting with prayer; and teach us that “as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion.” – better to eat and be dispassionate than to be passionate and fast from food.  After all, it is partly liberation from the passions, at war with me in my flesh, that the fast from food is meant to serve. So how is it that I find it easier to keep the rule of the fast in food than to follow the train of holy fathers in their supreme fasting from the passions?

In the same way, I find it easier to be regular at liturgy, and to tick off the times and seasons than to live the life of which the liturgies speak, and of which we pray and read. So, I cannot call you, my fellow catechumens in Christ (we are all always catechumens in the Lord), to live the pious life that I am presumably living. Far from it. Instead, I can only ask you to help me in my struggle, as I strive to help you in yours. Let us encourage and exhort one another. Let us help one another over the hurdles, pulling one another up the ladder, grasping hands so we don’t fall. Most of all, let us press on since, only if I press on will I have any word or example or meaning when I turn to give footing to another.

– Catechetical Letter 11/30/2005

I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him Who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.
Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and  its lust: but he that does the will of God abides foreverSt. John the Apostle



For now, the goal is to learn as much as possible the fullness of Orthodoxy, to fix your thoughts on the Incarnation and the heart’s desire for theosis, to liberate the mind as much as possible from heresies and false ideas, and to eventually receive the Holy Mysteries. This is the first part of the ultimate goal of continual theosis or deification/divinization. In this, we seek the death of the passions, the gift of tears, the resurrection of the person, and growing union with Christ Our God. Discuss anything that concerns, worries, distresses, or burdens you overmuch, with your catechetical instructor, and later with your Father Confessor.  — Catechetical Letter 4/16/05  [The first piece of “advice” I ever gave]

The Divine Liturgy & Other Services

Keep the calendar as much as you can, participating in the times and seasons even when you cannot participate in the services, but participate in the services whenever possible. Remember, the laity is a part of the priesthood as well, and the Divine Liturgy is a type of the liturgy in Heaven, the temple a part of the Heavenly Temple. Staying away from the services is a form of independence and a denial of the Church, and so a denial of the Incarnation. You must actually plan specific times to participate, or else it will always be lumped with what are happenstance, accident, and mere convenience.  — Catechetical Letter 4/16/05


Ours is a mind of repentance and mourning illuminated by joy. The fathers teach us to say “All will be saved, and I alone will be condemned.” When asked who crucified Christ, the proper response is “I did.” When one of the fathers was asked who the sheep are and who are the goats, he replied “I am one of the goats, but as for the sheep, God alone knows who they are.” Our Lord has said to us, “When you have done all that is commanded you, say ‘We are useless servants; we have only done what was our duty.” In the Gregorian Rite, the communicants say with the Roman officer, “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.”

And yet, it is healing. We also say “O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and you are annihilated. Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen.” Fr. Silouan of Athos says, “Keep your mind in Hell and despair not.” This is a difficult balance, and is an area of discernment. Remember your sins, and be humble and aware of your helplessness without Our Lord, but do not despair (which is a passion), and let nothing rob you of His Glorious Resurrection, which the enemy is always trying to do.

— Catechetical Letter 4/16/05

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