Lecture given by Sophia Daniels at St. Michael’s Antiochian Church
Greensburg, PA * March 25, 2023
The 50 maxims in list form can be found HERE.
Glory be to Jesus Christ.
This lecture is entitled 50 maxims from the shed. Those of you who attended my last lectures – the classes last year may be surprised to see me here today. You may recall that Tom Brady and I retired last year – his last game – my last lecture, and Tom and I gave rather rambling, but riveting, compelling reasons for doing so. We were both certain that our decisions were best for both of us, Tom caved in first, and played another season. This didn’t work too well for him. He did not win the Super Bowl and so I have some trepidation about my own come back. Just before Lent, Valerie approached me at a coffee hour and asked, “Would you… could you during Lent, for just about an hour…” Cutting her short, I said “OK” crumbling in just like Tom. He and I have no resolve!! Both of us have agreed to say nothing of our plans for the future!
A warning here. The bad news I do repeat myself often, sharing my old stories, and laughing at all my own jokes. But the good news is that in time you will be able to cut out the middleman and give my lectures yourself.
Dear ones, the Psalmist says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in Unity.” By the way when I went to school in the 40’s, we were taught that the masculine was the “inclusive” pronoun. Clearly an old dog cannot learn new tricks and so it is. This morning, this lecture, the masculine is inclusive.
Father John told me the theme for today is “family “–appropriately so, because this day is the feast of the Annunciation to the Theotokos, the genesis of Christ’s family, and we could even say the genesis of our church family, as the body of Christ. Appropriately the icon of Mary, the Theotokos, our Mother, looms high above the altar, embracing her Son and all of us.
I do share very personal stories in my lectures and classes. This witnessing is not really in our Orthodox tradition. We take very seriously Christ’s teachings (Matthew 5,6,7) to fast and pray in secret. Our life itself is to be our witness to Christ, how we live out that life; we are to witness to Christ without a word spoken. Still in our tradition, Holy mothers and fathers did share their personal experiences intimately with close personal and spiritual friends. So, keeping the letter of the law for the purpose of this lecture, you are my intimately, close and personal spiritual friends,
This lecture is based on notes from my prayer shed. Over the years I sent these notes to Father Tom Hopko, sort of to validate them- that they were within the tradition of the Orthodox church, sound theologically, and that is how these notes came to be. And this is how the shed came to be. Basically, after a profound renewal experience, when I was about 30, my prayer rule, my life of prayer began to grow, and grow, and grow, until my life was no longer directed towards prayer, but prayer directed my life. Prayer is my way of life; in time, over time finding a prayer corner in my busy household, took more and more effort. My house surrounded by my own two active children – you’ve seen Rebecca and John -a lot of busyness there, six daycare children usually for 10 hours a day, sometimes even 12 hours, my husband, who was a very social deacon for many years, and a busier priest, always guests for dinner, overnight and over days, priests, the bishops and seminarians and the mothers and fathers of my daycare kids, lingering by the front door quite often themselves needing care as well as their children.
In any event, as my prayer rule was growing and growing my need for a perfect prayer corner was growing commensurately. My heart yearned, thirsted, desired a quiet peaceful place to pray. Being married, the bedroom was not an option. It is a shared space, so my longer prayer at bedtime did not work. So, I moved to a hallway. This was out of the question. It led to the cellar door and powder room – too much traffic. I then moved to the cellar, way in a back corner, icons tied to a drainpipe. But when Father Larry discovered me there, he too thought it was great. He moved in – little by little, desk by desk, file cabinet by file cabinet, books, office supplies, and himself. So I moved to the sunporch – this was good – but I didn’t realize because our house was on a “bank” that the neighbors down the street could see me praying there, until one asked me to pray for her as well.
There are vestiges of all those old prayer corners all over the house – my bored daycare kids once counted 75 icons. There are more now. My heart desired for, was starving for, thirsty for, a quiet, simple place to pray, and God who gives us everything we need to fulfill His will for us, sent me a little child, beautiful Emily, whose father, Rich, could build things. First, he built me a porch. Then a few years later a wonderful prayer shed. Boy, was Rich’s wife mad when she came to see his handiwork. And she saw he had used one of their French doors from the dining room (taken down for painting) as a door to my new shed. Sorry Candace!! I hope that wasn’t the reason for their divorce! It looks rather nice!! (You can see it on the pamphlet.) Rich built my shed in 2006. Father Tom blessed it on Labor Day 2007.
Some years later sitting in that shed, contemplating, well, actually doodling, I thought of Father Tom’s 55 maxims, and wondered if I could do that – i.e. – write my own. I only wanted to write 50 of them sort of non—compete thing with my spiritual father. And half an hour later, there were these “50 Maxims from the Shed” and so we begin.
Maxim 1. Be gentle, as opposed to being brash, harsh, causing hurt feelings by our voice, words, our demeanor, our attitude.
Maxim 2. Be meek.
Dear ones, we are “empowered”. We have high self-esteem. We are special. We are lovable and capable. We are cheeky, snarky. We are not meek. Meekness is not our thing – quaint actually. Yet to Christ, this quality is so important. He lists it in the Beatitudes. He calls the meek “blessed”. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth.” And we admire another culture, where they bow to each other, rather meekly, in greeting. Yes, we do admire the respect that the Japanese seem to show each other. And we don’t really like brashness or harshness when we see or experience it, - even a harsh glance hurts our feelings. (By the way, I’ll let you know how authentic this bowing to one another is in that other culture, when Rebecca gets home from Japan this summer. She is taking my granddaughter Katherine with her.) And I wonder that our bowing to one another in Liturgy might be a vestige, a small remaining bit of what once existed in our churches, the meekness and respect towards each other, in centuries past in our Orthodox church. Wistfully, I wonder, that we might, during the Liturgy, experience that meek respect for each other in a small way when we bow to each other, when we greet each other in peace. “Christ is in our midst. He is and ever shall be. "
Maxim 3. Be obedient to the will of God.
It is interesting that we are obedient to traffic laws, to the IRS, usually, mostly to following a recipe, to taking a prescription, etc. Yet, we cringe at the thought of obedience to God, obedience to the church. And yet this obedience is for our benefit. Like the prescription, obedience is for the healing of our bodies and souls. Again, obedience to God and church, freely chosen, (we are not a cult) is for the healing of our soul and bodies.
Maxim 4. Be kind.
I’m sure you have heard that when a butterfly flutters its wings, it is felt around the world. And that is what kindness is, “butterfly wings”. It “ripples “from us to another and another, around the world. Even a simple smile goes from face to face. Conversely so does rudeness – so sad, too sad!!
Maxim 5. Be silent.
I get so tired of hearing myself talk. I just make myself tired. But there are many kinds of silence- other aspects of silence. Other draining and tiring aspects of our life that would benefit from silence, silence of the thoughts, the silence of the body, always busy going here and there. Even when we sit, we are jiggling something. You know that saying, “a chicken with its head cut off.” Or this “ants in your pants”. I am so from the midcentury, the 40’s.
“Be still and know that I am God “, we were told by the Psalmist. There are the phones, television – I can’t believe I pay $200 monthly for cable and can’t find anything that’s worth paying for the electricity to watch it. Then the music, the music overhead in stores, even in the bathrooms overhead- screams actually not really music, car radios – the car next to us – waiting for someone on the telephone. Didn’t they say music has charms to soothe the savage beast? No more! What’s wrong with us that every dot and tiddle must be filled with this music that invokes the savage beast in us? “Be still and know that I am God, “she prays wistfully.
These first five maxims, gentleness, meekness, obedience, kindness, silence, are incongruous in our culture, yet are timeless basic teachings in our faith, characteristic of all the saints evident in our worship. Note that the communion line, is the only line on earth where there is no pushing or shoving; there is meekness in our veneration of the cross, kind, and gentleness in our disposition towards one another, humility in kissing the priest’s hand - the hands that prepared the body and blood of Christ for us, silence as we enter and leave the church. (Oh, wait a minute, not so much. We aren't very good at that, and I am the worst, always talking. And all that hearing myself talk makes me so tired of myself, just drains me.)
In the church there is meekness. There is gentleness, there is obedience to the will of God. There is kindness and silence. There is God!!
Maxim 6. Don't be double-minded.
To be double minded is to sit on a fence, between heaven and earth, between the spiritual and the temporal, between God and man. It is a sort of spiritual schizophrenia, giving way to delusion. Christ tells us we can't serve two masters. (Matthew 6: 24) We will be devoted to one and despise the other. We can't serve God and Mammon. Instead, it is our teaching that we are to seek the Kingdom of Heaven first, Christ tells us so, “and then all things will be yours”, He says.
Dear ones, when we set our eyes on Him alone, He gives us everything we need, even before we ask. Some advice here, when we have to make life changing choices, always choose the way that we know will lead us towards God. Always avoid choices you just know we'll lead you away from Him.
Maxim 7. Be patient.
I am not patient. I want what I want when I want it. I've often said impatiently “The whole world is incompetent”. Why should I have to put up with all that? I've prayed for patience and God who does answer all prayers, but not in the way we like, our God, sent me Father Larry. Oh, I like, do love Father Larry, but he is much more laid back than me (you might have noticed this) - usually doesn't worry about getting anything done, anytime soon. His favorite saying is, “We'll get it later. We will do it later.” Well, whatever, it will be later! And me - I want it now! I am proud. He will do it, get it, think about it later. He is humble. He is saving my soul. As I said, God answers our prayers. I prayed for patience - He sent me Father Larry.
Maxim 8. Don't try to figure things out.
You can't, in any event, and you will just drive yourself crazy. I have this from the highest authority, Father Tom Hopko and my first confession with him at Saint Vladimir Seminary Institute Week years ago. I was in the “zone”, thrilled to be there that week. I was on Mount Tabor- the matins, the vespers, the Liturgies, the lectures, the camaraderie. And when I went to Confession, I used The Beatitudes I had heard the choir sing that week as a template to examine my conscience. Seriously, seriously!! “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers.” Needless to say, I was none of these. And when I finished my confession, I anxiously awaited the lofty words of wisdom I expected to hear from Father Tom. He was silent for a minute or two. And then the “great one” spoke to me. “You think too much,” he said. “You'll drive yourself crazy. Stop thinking and give your brain a rest.”
There is a sequel to this story. Some years later, I did come across the pamphlet Father Tom wrote entitled, “Confession, according to the Beatitudes.” I wonder!!
Maxim 9. Don't be afraid. You are never alone. God is always with you.
Dear ones. We are not alone. We have never been alone. We will never be alone. God is always with us. God was with you in the past, even in the womb. The Prophet Isaiah. (49:5) tells us this. “The Lord formed me in the womb” for a reason and a purpose. He is with us here today. He will be with us in the future. We can trust Him with our life. We can trust Him with our death. You will never be alone.
Maxim 10. Don't worry.
God is not present in the worry. “Worry” is all in our own head, our over working imagination, our own thoughts, not God's will. And where God is not present, there is darkness, despair, bleakness -there is hell. When we go through difficulties, illnesses, troubles, God is right beside us. He gives us His strength, and He sends people to us to help us through. Saint Paul tells us, “God always works for the good for those who love Him.” (Roman 6:28)
Maxim 11. Don’t believe everything you think.
Father John. (Our Father John) set me straight about this. I said to him one day, “I can't understand why X would not do... whatever.” And Father John said, “Go back to the beginning of that sentence, what did you say?” “I can't understand...” I asked and he answered me, “Yes,” And then I understood. Since we don't know where people are coming from, we can never understand another's frame of reference- what trauma, what disappointments, sometimes, abuse of all kinds that they have gone through. Don't believe everything you think, dear ones. You and I just cannot believe everything we think. We will always get it wrong.
Maxim 12. Be Humble
In the book, Thoughts Determine our Lives, Elder Thaddeus tells us “The perfection of Christian spirituality is “humility” And so dear ones, humility is our goal as Orthodox Christians. God cannot fill what is already full. And since we are so full of our “self” -our ego - God has no room in our hearts. Or maybe this- we have no room for God. Humility cannot be acquired. It could only be desired. We cannot recognize humility in ourselves, but we do admire it in others. Those who are humble have peace and bring that peace to everyone around them. We actually can feel that the humble one is not judging us. He accepts us as we are and, in his presence, we judge ourselves. I cannot tell you more about this. I have no frame of reference. Tom Brady and I are not humble.
Maxim 13. Judge less. Pray more.
One year at Easter, as usual, we Kanzius siblings and spouses and children came to Mom and Dad's for dinner. (You have heard this before.) My multimillionaire brother John and his family were the last to arrive. John looked around the room at us, all dismissively, ignoring our, “Christ is risen!” greetings. You could see in his face how he felt about being there, - about us. Humility was not his strong point. In his eyes, we just did not measure up. As I watched him, I thought. “He is so arrogant and materialistic.” And my thoughts went on. And finally, I thought, “He doesn't even go to church anymore. And he was a cradle Orthodox.” Then it occurred to me later that evening when I got home that we siblings, all of us, measured the others, judged the others by our own standards. And we all came up short, deficient in the eyes of each other. Eventually John left the Orthodox Church and became an Episcopalian. It was a better fit for him, I thought. Besides, he was now golfing with his good friend, the Bishop of the Episcopalian Church in Erie. John had become too big for his Orthodox cradle. Then in 2002, John was diagnosed with a rare, virulent form of leukemia. The Cleveland Clinic basically told him to go home and die. John opted for an extremely painful experimental treatment. He fought for his life for six years and died in 2009. Leukemia took his life but saved his soul. While taking chemo, he developed and patented a machine for the treatment of cancer. He was featured in print, newspapers, Readers Digest, chosen by Discover Magazine as one of the 50 best scientific brains in America. His picture with his invention appears on the page following Stephen Hawkins. He was interviewed on TV, local news, featured on 60 Minutes. The day he died Channel 4 in Pittsburgh repeated a portion of their earlier interview of him, these are the last words I heard him say:
Interviewer:” But will this invention help cure your cancer??
John replied “No, but it's not about me. It's about others.”
John wanted to be buried as an Orthodox. Sadly, he was not. But he did come back to our faith. He received communion very shortly before his death. Father Hans Jacobse in Naples turned back to John as he was leaving the room and said emphatically, “John, you are not alone, God is with you.” I wish- tearfully wish- that all those years, long ago at that Pascha dinner at my mom's house that I had judged less and prayed more- that I had judged John less and prayed for him more.
Maxim 14. Be strong in your faith.
Dear ones. We cannot simply by our own volition, by gritting our teeth, forging on, be strong in our faith, and like humility, we cannot acquire it. We can only desire it. And so, we pray each morning, with Saint Paul in his letter to the Philippians. (4: 13) “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen me for work and prayer today. The French theologian, Fenelon tells us, “We are truly strong when we cease to believe in our own strength when we turn to Him.”
Maxim 15. Don't feel guilty, feel weak, Christ comes to us in our weakness.
Dear ones, we are guilt-ridden and guilt- driven, mostly because we just can't do it all. Try this: Choose to do the things that lead you towards God, his unconditional love, his peace, and let the rest go. Do triage on your life. Do what is most important to you. Let the rest go!! Guilt can be holy, leading us to God, or unholy, away from Him in despair, i.e., guilt can lead to repentance, to recognize our weakness and ask Christ to come into our life or it can lead to depression. Again, don't ever feel guilty, feel weak and turn that weakness over to Him.
Maxim 16. Don't forget how dear everyone is to God and treat each person accordingly.
I had such a difficult time with this, trying to put into words how dear we are to God. I thought of Christ's love for the tax collectors, the harlots, the children. I thought of the example of God's love in the parables, the father in the prodigal, the shepherd who looks for the one lost sheep. I thought of the love we have for our own children. I would die for my children to protect them. And then I remembered that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son for us. I could never do that.
None of this really measures up and can truly explain the deepest love God has for us. And I sort of got into the weeds here, writing and rewriting, trying to define God's love. Perhaps God's love is inexplicable beyond at least my feeble comprehension. And so, I'll take up Maxim 17 with this one. And try to explain both maxims with one broad stroke.
Maxim 17. Don't forget how dear you are to God and how much He loves you.
Too many of us think God can’t love us or forgive us. We forget God is love and that never changes. God is always love. As to those times we may not have been our best in the eyes of God, or our own eyes, consider this: Perhaps we could say God's love is like that of a father whose child has run out into the street, in the path of a car. He is angry, very angry, but he still loves. His love doesn't change. He still loves, but it is angry/love. Or perhaps it is like that of a mother whose three-year old son one day walks out of the front door and takes off. The police find him in front of Harry's bar -on Maple Avenue, nearly a mile from home, and he has crossed busy East Pittsburgh St. and East Otterman Ave. to get there. When the police brought him home, his mother did not spank him within an inch of his life. Rather, I picked John up and held him tightly close to my heart.
Dear ones, no matter what we do, no matter what we have done, no matter how egregious, God lifts us up and holds us tightly close to His heart, always and forever, in His unchanging love for us. Dear ones, let us treat everyone, all of us, and love each other with God's love that is as dear to us as much we are dear to God. And let us show ourselves and each other the same mercy as God shows us. Be merciful to yourself. Be merciful to one another.
Maxim 18. Bond to God your Father by spending time with him in church and in prayer.
In a perfect world, we bond first to our mother at birth and then to our dad by spending time with him. This is replicated in the church. We bond to God our Father through the Church, our mother. Our Mother/Church is the perfect nurturer. The Church, our mother, feeds us the Word of God. She cleanses us of our sins. Like a good mother, the Church clothes us with the garment of salvation. Our mother the Church perfectly loves us, nurtures us, teaches us how to get along together - actually teaches us everything we need to know in order to love God our Father and each other. And this bonding culminates in perfect love and union with God, our Father through the Holy Spirit in communion. And all of this nurturing and communion with God insists that we spend time in church, in the sacraments and in prayer.
Maxim 19. Fast. If you can't fast, eat sensibly.
Metropolitan Helviotheo Vlachos, The Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, the well-known theologian who published many books, blessed this church with a visit on Mother's Day the year before Covid. His book on Saint Gregory Palamas who we commemorated two Sundays ago, gives us a good Orthodox understanding on fasting. He explains in part that we need to fast because the soul is linked to the body, and both body and soul together must be saved, be deified, that the body must take part with the soul in the spiritual journey towards God. He tells us that fasting must be connected with prayer. He says fasting is the underpinning of prayer, but prayer gives meaning to fasting. And furthermore, that the soul is cured through fasting. The Metropolitan tells us. “Fasting is a way of life.” Dear ones, if you can't fast, eat sensibly.
Maxim 20. Do the best you can.
Dear ones, when fasting, do the best you can.
when praying, do the best you can.
when almsgiving, do the best you can.
when attending church services, do the best you can.
But, based on me, it is my hunch, that none of us is really honestly doing the best we can, and that if I am any example of that, and I am /we are very good at justifying, very good at giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Still, keep trying and just do the best you can!!
Maxim 21. Don't seek suffering, it will come.
There are some in other denominations who have a tradition, a piety of wanting to suffer for Christ, with Christ. There is a tradition of self-flagellation (whipping themselves) and the stigmata desiring Christ wounds on one's hands. We Orthodox do not have this piety, this tradition. There is enough suffering in our life. We do not seek it. Mother Teresa of Calcutta desired suffering, prayed for this and she received it- her prayer was answered. But it is my opinion, that this might just have caused her depression, described in her biography.
Dear ones, we do not need to seek suffering, it will come. We seek strength to endure. Again, what we seek and pray for is strength to endure. Christ tells us. (Matt 6), “Let the day’s own troubles be sufficient for the day.”
Maxim 22. Don't seek consolations.
Like suffering, consolations may come. - but we don't seek them out. The devil would play with us like a yo-yo - ups and downs. Our lives of Saints are filled with stories of delusion. Seek God's Kingdom alone. If anything unusual happens, tell somebody you trust, preferably your priest. I was blessed with Father Tom. Don't think too much about it. If anything does come to you, I repeat, tell someone. If it is from God, accept this gift of comfort and then let it go.
Maxim 23. When tempted, say. “Get behind me, Satan. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
And we are tempted often at the most inappropriate of times. Temptation is not sin. It can, however, lead us into sin if we pay attention to it, engage it. Sometimes I have to repeat the name, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”, over and over again until the temptation passes.
Maxim 24. Strive to pray in your heart always.
This is our Orthodox tradition. This is what those prayer ropes, bracelets, are for. (I've given my last one away and so now wearing this four oceans bracelet, made out of recycled plastic pulled from the sea until I can get to the monastery and get a new one.) These ropes and bracelets help us, teach us to pray the Jesus prayer with the beat of our heart and with the evenness of our breath until eventually it finds a place in our heart and prays habitually of its own volition. We will eventually reach a point where we will wake up in the morning with this prayer in our hearts. There are many variations. You can say traditionally, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner”, or a phrase from the Psalms, “Make speed to help me, O Lord. Make haste to save me.”, or sing “Holy God” in your heart, or just the word, “Jesus”. All this, silently in your heart, and through the faithful practice of this, it will eventually take hold and never leave your heart.
Maxim 25. Use your prayer book.
These prayers teach us how to pray. These prayers are tried and true, written by Saints. We Orthodox have used these for centuries. In time the words of these prayers eventually become our words. Consider this: Millions and millions of Orthodox Christians all over the world are using these same books, these same words, and across the time zones 24/7, booming, thundering, reaching up from this earth up to heaven, praying to God, praising God, with the same petitions, the same words. How wonderful is this!! And He is in the midst of us. He tells us so. And He is not a liar. He says, “When two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18: 20).
Christ is in our midst, Dear ones, in all our booming and thunderous prayers. He is and ever shall be.
Maxim 26. Pray in your own words. Tell Jesus everything in your heart. And on your mind.
It seems to me that we Orthodox are not very good at this. Yet in
1Thessalonians 5:17, Saint Paul tells us to pray constantly. Tell God everything. He knows it anyway and we need to acknowledge all the stuff that is in our hearts. I usually talk to Jesus and tell him everything on my mind, in my heart, get this junk out of the way and then settle myself down to use the prayer book with attention.
Maxim 27. Remember, where there is destruction, there is sin and amend your way accordingly.
Christ tells the young man. (Mark 18), who asked Him -What must I do to inherit eternal life- this: “If you would have life, keep the commandments.” The Bible, Dear ones, is our operating manual for our life itself. The law of God is not like the law of man. If a man breaks a traffic law, e.g., speeding and doesn't get caught, there is no consequence. The law of God is different. It is like the law of gravity, if you drop something, it always falls down. If we break God's law, i.e., the commandments and Christ teachings, there is always destruction, whether anyone knows what we did or not. This destruction is a consequence of breaking the law, not punishment. And even if sin is done in secret and no one but you and God knows about it, there is still destruction to ourselves and to many around us. And we fail to reach our full potential, i.e., that we don't fulfill God's purpose, His will for us, what God created us to be. And in our failure to be who God created us to be, the fullness, the potential of God's will for us, we hurt ourselves and we hurt others. This is why we need to ask for forgiveness on Forgiveness Sunday from everyone, even from people we don't know, forgiveness from everyone in the parish and to forgive each other. Quite simply, our failure to fulfill God's purpose for us is everyone's loss.
Maxim 28. Always remember, we are not defined by culture, agendas or politics: We are defined by Christ.
Dear ones, the devil has three identifiable characteristics.
The devil is a seducer. He seduced Eve, telling her if she ate the fruit, she would become like God. And he seduces us with his promises of “Good things”. But he always leads us to hell.
The devil was a liar. Christ tells us that when the devil speaks, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is the father of lies.
And the devil is a divider. The Greek word for the devil is. “Diabolos”. The verb, root word of the diabolos, means “to divide”.
And dear ones, it would seem to me that all politics, that they all have those same three characteristics by their very nature, as they promise us, seducing us, as they lie to us by breaking those promises. And politics, by its very nature, divides us.
Conversely, Christ is not a divider. He unites us through the Holy Spirit in communion, through the Holy Spirit. In Christ we are united to God and with each other, with everything what was in the past, everything that is now and with everything that is to come. And Christ is not a seducer. He does not seduce us. He is the father in the parable of the Prodigal son. He patiently awaits for us to come to our senses. And for us to come to Him, and like the Father in the parable, as soon as we do, He runs to us. And Christ is not a liar, He tells us in John (14:6), “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
We are not defined by politics. We are defined by Christ. We have been baptized into Christ. We have put on Christ. At Chrismation, the priest proclaimed that. “We are justified. We are baptized. We are illumined. We are sanctified. We are washed in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”
Dear ones, you are washed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. You are sanctified. You are illumined. You have put on Christ. You are Christ’s. We are not defined by culture, agenda or politics. We are defined by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Maxim 29. Never let hate into your heart. It will color all of your relationships.
Fill a glass, a vessel, with the purest, sweetest water. Add one drop of cyanide. The whole contents of that vessel is changed. It is now toxic, poisonous.
Dear ones. We are that vessel, We are that glass and we are filled with the purest, sweetest, dearest Holy Spirit. Just one drop of hate will change that. Never let hate into your heart; It is a bad trade off. It will change your whole disposition. It will spoil all your relationships. Hate contracts our heart, letting fewer and fewer into it, estranges us. Love expands until we hold all of creation, the whole cosmos within us, in our whole being. The Saints actually say that.
Maxim 30. Live each day in the day, not worrying about tomorrow.
We covered “worry “in Maxim 10. Father Tom often said simply, “Do what you are doing.” Once I watched one of my daycare kids, Melissa, standing on a chair in front of the sink, washing my dishes. Kids love to do this. Bubbles and water everywhere, and Melissa was singing. She wasn't doing the dishes to get them done. Melissa was simply doing what she was doing, and she enjoyed this, this moment. Life, its task, its work and endeavors are not something to just get through, but for the enjoyment, the sheer pleasure of doing what we are doing. Prayers, worship, liturgies, canons, Akathist, hours, the whole nine yards are not something to get through. We are to do what we are doing at the moment for the sheer pleasure of worshipping God in this beautiful temple that is Saint Michael's. Once recently, when I was in line to venerate the cross, I wasn't looking ahead. Father was holding the cross and I was holding up the line. Father John said teasingly (I think it was teasing), “Pay attention, Lady.” (I was happy that he called me “Lady”) Venerating the cross is, Dear ones, not something to get through. It is to do what we are doing.
Maxim 31. Don’t think you are bringing Christ to others. They are bringing Christ to you.
Years ago, a young man came to see me. Actually, Larry spotted him working at Sears. He was reading the Philokalia on his break. “You should talk to my wife about that,” Larry told him. “She's read it.” And so he did. This student at Saint Vincent's College was on quite a spiritual journey. He was raised Methodist, became a satanist while in high school and now was studying to become a Roman Catholic, from me an Orthodox. Bright, intelligent, challenging, I was pleased with my young charge, happy to help him, proud even that I was bringing Christ to him. Doug visited me regularly, weekly, for at least a year or maybe more. And then one evening he called. “I am not coming tonight” he said, “too much going on.” “Good? Bad? What?”, I asked. He replied. “I'll tell you later.” That night Doug committed suicide. They found him in the woods. There were heavy metal tapes on his tape deck in his car-the ones that glamorized death. His girlfriend had dumped him, and he reverted back to Satanism.
Needless to say, Dear ones, I did not bring Doug to Christ. Doug brought Christ to me. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said in an interview. “I am but a pencil in the hand of God.” And Doug taught me, dear ones, that is Christ who writes the story, every story.
Maxim 32. Stop reading words, e.g., theosis, deification and read the word “Christ.”
I disagreed with Father Tom years ago when he told me, people shouldn't be reading all those really deep books on Orthodox theology, e.g., the Philokalia. “They aren't for beginners”, he said. (Certainly Doug was reading them). Those books are “calculus” to those of us who are still counting on our fingers.
The Gospel of John beginning with verse one tells us, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This, Dear ones, St. John's “Word” refers to Christ. Christ is the” Word” through whom all things were created by God. We need to know the word Christ before we move on to deeper reading and how we come to know him is defined in Maxim 33.
Maxim 33. To know the word “Christ”, you need to read scripture every day.
Dear ones, to know Christ, read only first the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. When you finish John, go back again to Matthew- start again and again. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Again and again. Some days, a little at a time, even. Each chapter tells us more than one story, more than one parable, more than one of Christ’s teachings. Just read one of these out of the chapter, not the whole chapter, but read faithfully and get to know Christ. Get to know what it means to be a follower of Christ, get what it means to be a Christian. First to know it in your head, then to know it in your heart. Then read it some more until it becomes your very being, who you are. Then you are ready for calculus, the Philokalia, St John Climacus, etc.
Maxim 34. Think of your death. It changes your perspective on life and teaches you what is important.
Remembrance of death is not about death at all. It is about life. The Marxist, Lenin said. “Religion is the opiate of the masses” That is not true. “Secularism” is the opiate. Secularism is eat, drink and be merry. Secularism is the opiate, the novocaine that makes us forget our end and that we will have to account for those we've hurt, and especially when we hurt ourselves by our own bad behavior. Religion, more particularly our Orthodox faith, because by and large, Lenin was speaking to a Russian Orthodox audience, insists we remember the true meaning of life, that life has been given to us to repent, to grow in communion with God, to acquire the virtues, to learn to love, to care for one another.
Consider this: I have read in the lives of Saints the reason the devil was cast out of heaven immediately was because there is not time in heaven as we know it. It is always “now”, the “now point”, for lack of a better word. So when the devil rebelled, he was immediately cast out. Time is a gift from God to us, His creation, men and women, that we might spend this time to repent, to grow into communion with God, and to return to God our Father.
Maxim 35. Seek peace not through “things” which bring no peace, but anxiety.
My dad used to say, “You don't own “things”, things own you” And so it is. Think of our cars, our houses, how much of our time they take from us. These “things” are demanding masters. Think of our computers. Last week when I came to Presanctified Liturgy, Don was in the office waiting for his computer to “download” and said (loosely quoted), “They are supposed to be time saving to make our life easier, but I don't know…” Dear ones, we don't own our computers, they own us, and they are the most demanding of masters, usurpers of our time, money, peace of mind. And probably for those always on social media, their personhood.
Maxim 36. Try to do good for someone each day, especially someone you find hard to like.
When you do this conscientiously, it will surprise you how much you will change, how much your heart will soften towards others, and conversely how much you will change them.
Maxim 37. Serve Christ by serving others.
This naturally follows Maxim 37. By serving others, being kind to others, we are serving Christ. By loving others, we are loving Christ.
Maxim 38. In the morning, think about what you need to do and who you are going to see and ask God's blessing on both.
I use a pretty journal and it makes my day look better. I write in it each morning- what I need to do that day, letters to write, bread to bake. If I don't get it all done, I save it for the next day and the next and the next. No worries, as long as it is in writing, I won't forget it.
Maxim 39. At night, think about who you saw and what you did, and examine your conscience.
These two maxims 38 and 39 go together actually. This practice will make us more sensitive to our actions and reactions in all circumstances. This practice insists we become more sensitive and begin to recognize how we treat and talk to others. In time, we experience real spiritual growth practicing these two maxims. And asking for God's blessing reminds us that by serving others, we serve Christ.
Maxim. 40. Pray for those you've hurt over the years.
This follows naturally Maxim's 38 and 39. My own “people I've hurt” list begins with grade school and sadly continues.
Maxim 41. Stop talking and preaching. Listen.
OK, so this is for me and not following my own advice. This maxim is probably why my list of those I have hurt over the years is so long and continues to grow. All that, too much preaching and teaching business, not enough listening.
Maxim 42. Always remember, your opinion is probably wrong based on your own subjective experiences.
It was really liberating when I realized at age 82, that it really doesn't matter what I think, and actually it doesn't really matter what anyone thinks, for at death all knees will bow to the same God, the same truth. And it's my hunch. I do believe all of us will be very surprised when faced with that truth.
And I have that on good authority. Father Tom told me once that the holy nun, Mother Maria, who helped and saved Jews during World War II in France, had only one mystical experience. She was told, “It's not as you think, Maria.”
Maxim 43. Accept everyone as he or she is, and not how you think they should be.
I need to qualify this, however. For us, what we Orthodox believe is centered and is according to the Holy Bible and the Holy Tradition, e.g., canons and councils, as it is written and taught, as it has come down to us over the past 2000 years.
The Orthodox Church has never looked to society, government, and its courts to determine our faith. Governments have come and gone. Our church is the same. We have as our only authority, Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. And we certainly do not look to man's reason to determine what we believe. The Bible says man's greatest wisdom is foolishness to God. Fenelon, the French theologian, says loosely quoted, “Man is most reasonable when he ceases to rely on his own reasoning.”
Still, we accept everyone with love, warmth and respect with Christ's love. He accepted everyone, our Christ who says, “I did not come to judge the world. I came to save.” He asks the adulteress. “Does no one condemn you?” “No,” she says, and he tells her. “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” He does not condemn. Still, he does not endorse adultery.
Maxim 44. Love everyone unconditionally.
This goes with Maxim 43, “Accept everyone as he or she is and not how you think they should be.”
And, it is possible, believe it or not, to love unconditionally, and yet not endorse behavior. We do it all the time. Once when I was complaining about my rich brother to my mom. She stopped me saying “I know my children's faults.” (What!! Is she saying I have faults!! Well!) She said, “I know all my children's faults and I love them anyway.” A mother loves us unconditionally, in spite of all our faults, yet she does not endorse everything we do - our behavior.
Dear ones, love one another, with no strings attached, and love each other unconditionally. Love with Christ’s love.
Maxim 45. Remember, the one who is hardest to love needs it the most.
This goes with Maxim 44. Love everyone unconditionally. To show and express love, to give love, wholesome love that is, unconditionally, especially to those who have never felt love, some who never experienced love, fills both souls, giver and recipient, with such gladness. It makes our hearts sing.
There is listed among childhood abuses, one called. “Neglect abuse”. And a symptom, an earmark or characteristic of this is “Failure to thrive”. These, dear ones, are among those who need love from us, wholesome love, the most.
Maxim 46. Have a regular prayer rule in a special prayer corner.
Man is a creature of habit. Random prayer is not. We are Pavlov's dog, who was conditioned to salivate when he heard the bell ring. Our prayer rule and prayer corner is a Pavlov's dog’s bell. As soon as we approach the prayer corner and prayer book, we are conditioned to pray. Our minds turn to God. Our hearts begin to pray- in that corner in front of those icons with our prayer book and lists in our hands.
Maxim 47. Enter fully into the life of the Church.
Dear ones, the fullness of our church, the worship, the asceticism, the sacraments, the Bible, both Old and New Testaments- it all comes together in our church, our Orthodox Faith, each part giving meaning to understanding to the other. The worship, liturgy, holy days is the experience of the Bible, and the Bible defines, gives definition and structure to the worship, the liturgy, the holy days.
I know a priest, a former Protestant, converted to Orthodoxy. I asked him “Why?” He replied. “It all fits together. The Old Testament, The New Testament, the liturgy, the sacraments, the lives of the Saints, asceticism. It all comes together, fits together. No one could make up a Religion like this.” Amen to that, Dear ones.
Let it all fit together in our understanding and practice of our faith.
Maxim 48. Enter fully into the church’s worship and sacraments.
This church has been blessed with Father John. He clearly loves serving all of the services in the Church, and he does them all so well. He is a priest’s priest. This is obvious by all the priests who seem to “drop in” on their way through Western Pennsylvania. They like to serve with him.
One weekend Father Tom Hopko, who was staying with us at our house, asked, “Where shall we go to church?” I gave him options. He chose this parish because Father Nosal was one of the Saint Vladimir seminary priests. He said, “Let's drop in, but don't call him.” Father John was very surprised when he saw Father Tom. He said so to me not long ago. “I don't know how or why he got here, but once he was here.” (Father John remembered Father Tom's visit very well. Father Larry and me, not so much.) “Oh” I said. “That would be us who brought him, Father John.” Father Tom was very impressed with Saint Michael's and that one of his students was doing so well. Dear ones, entering into the life of this church and the sacraments is “Easy -peasy” for you!! There is so much worship going on.
Maxim 49. Enter fully into the tradition of the Saints.
Walk with them daily by reading their sayings and lives. Again, don't start with the Philokalia or Saint John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent. Read more contemporary Saints- Saint John of Kronstadt, St. Nectarious, St. Silouan. Read a little at a time. Glean out of their writings what helps you. Let the rest go.
Maxim 50. Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in Him and He will act. (Psalm37:5)
I've given you so much information, so much to think about. But if you remember only Maxim 50, this one, and really commit to Christ, He will show you the way, and He will give you everything you need and everyone you need to help you. Trust in Him and He will act.
OK, so I am adding one more maxim.
Maxim 51. Read Father Tom's 55 maxims from time to time.
I am giving you a copy. His maxims are more grounded than mine and very, very, so helpful.
Today is Family Day at Saint Matthew’s and I want to share a few thoughts very dear to my heart this morning, i.e., the children.
All babies, children, and teens are holy innocents. They suffer because they were born into a sinful world. They have no frame of reference. They suffer for our sins. This is Christ-like suffering - to suffer for the sins of others. Even the most vulnerable, the most difficult, even the most violent of our children, even teens, are either reacting to, or imitating the world they are born into -the world they are growing up in. Make no mistake. Today they are being raised in the prodigal son's pig pen. This world is a pig sty. It seems that this generation of adults raising these children have forgotten the way to the Father's home. And there is no one who can show them the way. We, the church, need to do this. We need to be this, our churches, and this parish needs to do this, i.e., to show the world the way to our Father's home.
Consider this: Years ago, I took a class at Seton Hill College entitled Child and the Society. It seems there are several cases of children found in the Wilds of Africa. These were orphaned at a young age, somehow surviving with the wild animals, foraging for food. Those who took them into their care found that they could be acculturated to a certain extent-language, dress, using utensils, i.e., spoons, forks, but one thing was missing. They could not be taught empathy.
Another study seemed to corroborate this, but the two studies were not related except by me maybe.
The second study was controlled. Mothers and their babies were videotaped each day, for a period of time over several months. These observations were made into a training film. It affirmed, at least to me, that empathy is learned- transmitted to the children by empathetic caregivers. On point, one baby, just beginning to crawl. laughed at his mother when she cried out in pain, having accidentally cut her hand. Months later when this child was now walking, the mother, (sounds rather clumsy, doesn't she) hurt herself once again. The child ran over to her to comfort her, hugging her, then kissing her boo-boo.
It is my opinion that at least one part of the picture missing today is empathetic caregivers. And even the empathetic are not permitted by law/regulations to show empathy, no values expressed, no hugging, and I'm sure no kissing of boo-boos, Put on rubber gloves before a Band-Aid. I broke all these regulations in my daycare. I hugged; I kissed babies every time I picked one up. Often, I kissed boo- boos. Again, children learn empathy from caring, kind, warm, compassionate caregivers and parents. So many, too many, children do not experience this. And again, it is my opinion that this results in sociopathic, lack of empathy behavior, resulting, culminating with other factors, e.g., too many broken homes, drug-addicted parents, almost too comatose to raise their children precipitates the violence in children. We are raising children in the wild, running and foraging with other children. While there are definitely many empathetic, warm and kind caregivers and daycare workers, too many are not. It's just a job.
One scenario in a daycare center haunts me to this day. To keep my home registered with the state of Pennsylvania, I was required to have so many hours a year of training, first aid, fire training, etcetera. If I was short, I could observe in a daycare center to make up the hours. In one center, one day, there were caregivers and children sitting in a circle for story time. One “crawler” kept trying to climb on a caregiver's lap and she repeatedly pushed him away until he gave up. This one example in itself reflects other incidents that broke my heart. I wanted to take them all home with me.
And so, we, parents, grandparents, parishioners, this parish must be aware of this. always keep this in our minds, in our hearts, to show these children of the “prodigal” sons and daughters, who don't know the way back to the Father, that we show the way to these neglected and unloved children. (It’s not too difficult to recognize them and love them.)
When my son John was 10 years old, we attended liturgy at Holy Transfiguration Monastery. Father Roman Braga, who was the chaplain for the nuns at that time, was formerly a Romanian Orthodox monk- priest arrested by the Romanian authorities as a political prisoner, i.e., for being a priest. He was tortured in the infamous Plotesti prison. As my son John approached the chalice, that morning, Father Roman, noticing the cast on his leg, raised both hands up, one with the chalice, the other with the spoon, and said so softly, so gently, so warmly. “Oh Johnny, what happened to you?” And he listened to John, holding up the whole line before giving John communion.
Dear ones, we need to be more Father Roman. Our children go through so much at school, each week during the worst, the most competitive social system ever devised. You and I would never go there, spend a day there, where we send our children. And we need to always be aware of this, aware of our children, parish children and all the children. And we need to pray for this awareness for our parish children and all children.
Lord, you will show us the way, how to minister to the precious children of this generation, Lord, your precious children. Lord, you will show us the way, and we will follow you. Amen.
Glory be to Jesus Christ.
March 25, 2023