A Letter from Butyrskaya Prison – Pascha, 1928

Serge Schmemann, son of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his wonderful little book, Echoes of a Native Land, records a letter written from one of his family members of an earlier generation, who spent several years in the prisons of the Soviets and died there. The letter, written on the night of Pascha in 1928 is to a family member, “Uncle Grishanchik” (This was Grigory Trubetskoi who had managed to emigrate to Paris).…

Life from within our Death

The following is taken from Archimandrite Sophrony’s His Life is Mine. It is a deep word of encouragement to us all that in Christ healing is truly possible.  It is usual for the Christian to be aware concurrently of the prsence of the never-fading celestial glory and of the brooding cloud of death hanging over the world. Though the feeling of death torments the soul, it cannot extinguish the fire of faith. The…

An Orthodox Family

Yesterday, at least two of the comments on the post about my son’s birthday asked questions about the family and Orthodox conversion. This is extremely close to my heart – both because of the blessings we have enjoyed in our family – and the blessings and difficulties I have seen in others. I should quickly add that my own family then and now faces issues. In 1998, myself, my wife, my three…

The Necessity of Monastics

A month or so ago I received an email from a young protestant who wondered: “What good is monasticism?” His arguments and observations were pretty similar to others I’ve heard over the years. I recall my older brother once asking me, “If a hermit is in the desert and is very holy, what good does it do since no one knows he’s there.” These questions, of course, come from our modern mindset…

Praying with Icons

In one of our recent services (Paschal Vespers as I recall) we had a handfull of visiting Russian Nationals. I’ve noticed this before – it’s sort of a cultural distinction – but the women (they were all female) came in, and stood for extended lengths of time before the icons, as if waiting for something, and then lit their candles. It is not universally true, but I have often noticed that we Americans,…

The Struggle for Prayer

Fr. Sophrony relates part of his struggle for prayer and the grace he received to help others. The passage is from On Prayer. …On more than one occasion I felt as if I were crucified on an invisible cross. This would happen on Mt. Athos when I got angry with those who vexed me. My wickedness would destroy prayer and fill me with horror. At times it seemed impossible to struggle against…

In the Details – God Reigns

 For the second day, I am sitting in airports, just one of many thousands effected by a snow storm and a storm of flight cancellations. I cannot complain – I was comfortable last night and am so now. I will have missed my Tuesday appointments and responsibilities but it cannot be helped. But these are the events that precisely make up the stuff of our life. A plane doesn’t work. Traffic won’t…

Praying in the Belly of a Whale

The marvelous book of Jonah, read in its entirety on Holy Saturday, includes a very rich prayer which is obviously intended to be spoken from within the depths of Hades itself – thus its inclusion on Holy Saturday, the day on which Christ is proclaiming liberty to those “in prison.” Like the phrase from Psalm 139, “Lo if I descend into Hell there art there,” this prayer in Jonah is a poignant…

Beginning to Pray

  I have always found the little classic Beginning to Pray, by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, to be one of the best introductions to prayer. I first discovered the book in college and used it in a small study group. It has never ceased to be relevant to my situation in life. His opening paragraphs are worth a short read (and more). As we start learning to pray, I would like to…

The Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina

I have loved this prayer for years and found it essential in beginning the day. Key phrases have a way of coming back throughout the events of each day. It is worth committing to heart. O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will. At every hour of this day, direct and…