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Topic of the Week –
The Christian’s Holidays“…Christ wants us to enjoy our lives. I’m honestly saying this to you. It’s in our Holy Scriptures. Do you know what it says? “My delights were with the sons of men.” ‘Delights’ equals ‘celebrations’ (having fun). This is the Holy Spirit talking here. God says that He has fun. (He has a feast) when He is with people. And when is it that we are with God celebrating with Him? Mainly in the Holy Liturgy. This is when we are celebrating (or having a feast) together with God. This is the Christian’s party!
If we learn to live this way, our holidays won’t be lasting for 15 or 20 days – some people live only for these days. They think they truly live only at weekends or when they are on holiday. But you should have a holiday every day! Day and night glorifying God, living this party together with God! This is what a Christian’s life should be like in the end. ‘My delights with the sons of men.’ Christ Himself says this!…”
Excerpted from F. Savvas the Athonite -The Christian’s Holidays
“As we read in a letter to Diognetus, Christians pass their days upon earth but they are citizens of heaven, because the world is God’s enemy… but we all can ‘depart’ from this world in some manner, meaning keep a certain distance from the so called worldly way of life.We’ll analyze one dimension of the issue of holidays and generally the issue of entertainment and we’ve chosen the title “Holidays of a Christian” but we could also have chosen the title “The entertainment of the Christian” which unfortunately has changed meaning today, being identified with “having fun” and there’s a difference in meaning as far as entertainment is concerned…Modern entertainment has turned into an industry. And it’s one of the tools they are using in order to achieve the so called globalization. Do you think that I’m exaggerating?… They claim that everything is God and that all religions are the same. They claim all have the same true God, they are all paths to the true God…. I’m telling you these things in order to be concerned…. a voluntary self destruction is coming… they are forcing us to enter a fake world so as to promote whatever they want….
I’m saying all these things so as to think about ourselves and resist to all that. And the starting point of our resistance is our spirituality. Even when we are on holiday. And always. We should remain consistent in our beliefs.
Let me tell you something from our Evangelion (Gospel). It’s from Mark 6:31…. If you want to know how to live right all you have to do is see how Christ lived and how he taught his Apostles. “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile.”
Not too much… because resting too much leads to other things… passions are stirred up.
“For there were many coming and going.” Many people would come to the Apostles and go and they had no leisure, even so much as to eat…. And so the Lord is sending the Apostles to go on a holiday, but pay attention here for there are some prerequisites.
Ye yourselves – meaning alone…. You may say “But why? Don’t we love other people?” We do, but we need to be alone for a while. By yourself – for a while – to see inside you while you are in peace.Into a desert place. You need to relax, to rest for a while? Go to a deserted place. People go on holidays to Mykonos, to Santorini, to the Bahamas. Among the crowds where people are like sardines… Is this relaxation? It’s the exact opposite. And let’s not talk about the temptations to fall into sin.Notice that the Lord is sending them to a desert place and not to a man-made comfortable place. Today we have the impression that when everything is perfectly organized and comfortable, we’ll have the rest that we need, but we won’t. Comfort brings boredom, always remember this.
In the old days, when living conditions were difficult, people didn’t suffer from depression or boredom as much as they do today. Why? Because they knew that in order to live they had to struggle…. Now things have improved and such issues are left behind. But still depression is the number one cause of diseases. Boredom leads to depression. It’s its final stage.
What is boredom? It’s when man can’t find something to do, saying, “Why do that? It’s meaningless. I have no reason to do anything.” This is the extreme stage of boredom. This is depression, it’s resignation from everything. Why all that? Because man has lost his orientation which is God. And instead of leading his soul towards God, he scatters himself. And what he actually does is he increases his boredom and his depression even more.And how is entertainment expressed today? With an absolute absence of communion. If you take a look at groups of young people in cafeterias you’ll notice that each one of them is absorbed in his mobile phone screen pretending they are in each other’s company…. So even entertainment tends to become an isolated kind of entertainment. Man shuts himself absorbed in his own passions and unrestraint selfishness and this is, as you know, what starting to live in hell means…. This is what absolute hell truly is: You have communion with no one else, neither with people nor with God.Remember something from the life of St. Makarios when he saw a skull in the desert and asked: “Who are you?”And the skull replied: “I am a high priest of the idols.”
“And how is life there?”
“It’s very bad, we’ve been tied back-to-back with each other.”(Unable to see each other’s face. There’s no communion. This is what hell is.)“And when you pray for us we can turn and look at each other’s face and feel a little respite.”St. Paisios called this “a glass of orange juice.”
I recently read the life of a contemporary saint, he was a Russian starets, who said that “The antichrist will come when there will be no path leading to the door of our next-door neighbor.” Do you understand this? This means that people will be so isolated to themselves, that their houses will be like fortresses…. In the old days all houses used to have their doors open, there was no locking or anything. Can you leave your door unlocked today? Eventually there’ll be no path leading to our next-door neighbor, the absolute lack of communion. And what’s the cause of this? It’s enslavement to passions.
The first one who rejected the communion was the devil himself for he rejected having a communion with God thus becoming a rebel against God which led to his isolation. Therefore, pay attention to all the parameters, these are all from our Evangelion.
“Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile.” You don’t need to go to big cities with nice hotels and huge gardens, etc and spend all this money…. Go to a mountain slope and sit down for an hour and say a few words to God and see what rest really means. Provided you have a clear conscience after having confessed, of course, and have cleansed yourself…. [otherwise] you’ll suffer wherever you may go. True rest lies in the quiet… in the absence of the stimulations of passions. The passions are stimulated through the senses and the thoughts, of course, by things we have in our memory but mainly through our senses, especially through the eyes. If a man isn’t in control of his eyes, his ears and all his senses, then he can’t have peace because of the attacks from the devil through the stimulation of the passions. And passions are what exhausts people…
“Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” Where there are no stimulations of passions. Something very simple: Why go on a trip and not on a pilgrimage? Or turn your trip into a pilgrimage by visiting a monastery seeking the company of holy men and women and teach your child to have saintly monks as friends, or nuns if it’s a girl.…
Do you want to get rid of tiredness? Fight against sin. Go to a deserted place where there are no temptations for you to sin. And what does the Lord say then? “And rest a while.” This “a while” has its own importance. Not for too long. Otherwise there’s fear that you fall into idleness, laziness, or languor. A constant state of relaxation shouldn’t exist here on earth, we should know that it exists only in heavens.
“…at time one should depart and isolate himself and live in private so as to be able to concentrate his mind and remain focused shielding himself from thoughts of the outside world which scatter the mind.”
This is what mainly tires one: A scattered brain…. there’s a term, ‘multi-tasking’… this isn’t how man was made to function. Man was made to live a simple, quiet, humble life, his brain concentrated so as to have the ability to commune with God. Because when your brain is scattered and you can’t find your own self, then you can’t find anyone else either, be it God or your neighbor.…
Which is a true entertainment in the end? How can we truly enjoy our holidays? This may sound too extreme to you, but I would say that true entertainment for a Christian is the Holy Liturgy. It’s the worship of God. If you get to truly feel the Holy Liturgy then you’ve found true entertainment.
Do you know how our life is going to be in Paradise? If we are worthy to go there, God willing… Our life in Paradise is going to be a constant Holy Liturgy. A constant glorification of God. This is what Paradise is going to be.Do you really want to find rest? Then learn to love God. To worship Him. Our love for God is mainly expressed during the Holy Liturgy. Because the strongest and greatest of all prayers that we have is the Holy Liturgy. There is nothing higher than that. It’s the offer of Christ to His Father, sacrificed, this is what the Holy Liturgy is all about. We offer to the Father His sacrificed Son and we pray for His mercy and forgiveness in the name of His Son’s sacrifice. There’s no higher thing than this and there’s no better or higher rest for one’s soul than this…. A Christian should never neglect this.According to the Apostles’ teachings a real Christian should be going to Church day and night and worship God every day, twice a day. And we only go once a week and reluctantly too. It makes me sad to see people come to the Holy Liturgy after it starts, or after the Gospel reading and even after the Cherubic hymn. But are you a Christian? Do you have the impression that you intended the Holy Liturgy? Are you a robot and you just press a button, thinking, “Now, I’ve come to the area of God’s worship, I’ve been lifted up to the skies!” Doesn’t our soul need some time for preparation? This is what Orthros is all about. If you don’t attend the Orthros, if you don’t listen to the morning Gospel reading (eothinon) which is about the Resurrection which is read every Sunday, then did you really get the true “taste” of Sunday morning Church participation? Every Sunday is a Resurrection, it’s a Pascha Day. Then you wonder: “Why do I feel empty inside my soul?” How can it not be empty when God is absent or His Grace?And there are also the feast days. I told you that Democritus in ancient Greece talks about feasts, too. But today we have the Christian celebrations. If you pay attention you’ll notice that we have a celebration every day in our Church. Every day is a feast day.I remember once a doctor came to Mount Athos and we have a Holy Liturgy every day [at our monastery]…. And do you know what this man spontaneously said to me? “Father, you seem to be having a celebration every day here.” I said “Yes, it’s true. We celebrate every day.” We celebrate and we glorify God in the Holy Liturgy. He meant it when he said that the Holy Liturgy was a celebration, he was a faithful man. And he realized this, he experienced it and the words came out spontaneously….”
Listen to the entire talk here: F. Savvas the Athonite -The Christian’s Holidays
“…Democritus said: “A life without feasts is like a long road without taverns.” In other words a life without feasts is like a long road without inns (resting places). Just think of making a long journey to Athens or Sparta, or even further, for example, without any stop to relax. You can imagine how tiring this would be. You certainly need a break, some drivers say you need to stop at least every two hours. Especially if you are the driver this is absolutely necessary.
Feasts are relaxing when they have to do with the Church, not the worldly kind of feasts….”
Excerpted from F. Savvas the Athonite -The Christian’s Holidays
“As Orthodox Christians we must carefully examine every aspect of our involvement in the world, its activities, holidays and festivals, to be certain whether or not these involvements are compatible with our Holy Orthodox Faith.”
— St. Nikolai Velimirovich
“A monk found a great deal of temptation in the place where he first began to struggle. Once he lost his patience and decided to go far away to find his peace” because the devil tempted him all the time with thoughts, etc.
So he thought: “I’d better go somewhere else to escape from the devil.” Take some time off in other words, or have a holiday.
“Just as he stooped to tie his sandals,” – he hoped to go somewhere the devil wouldn’t go “he saw someone in front of him tying his sandals too.”
“Who are you?” he asked him.
“The one who is pushing you out of here. And I am making ready to precede you to where you plan to take refuge. I’ll be there before you arrive!”
This was the devil who had tried to push him out, but he did not succeed at it, because the brother stayed in his cell after that and struggled with patience, until he conquered his temptations.”
What does this incident teach us?
That the devil doesn’t take a break (he won’t go on a holiday) nor is there any place that the devil won’t go – although the devil isn’t omnipresent, only God is omnipresent but through his subordinate devils who fell together with him from Heavens because of their pride, have scattered all over the world creating temptations everywhere, and war too, and mainly against Christians of course. Therefore, one should never think: “You know, I’m entitled to some relaxation after all my spiritual struggles” because the devil never goes on holiday. The devil never takes a break. Therefore, a true Christian should never loosen up. And wherever one should go, like any human would, he should continue his spiritual struggles there because he’ll certainly come across temptations there too, and everywhere which the devil send to those who struggle.
Excerpted from F. Savvas the Athonite -The Christian’s Holidays
“A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren (his subordinate monks)…” They were telling jokes, not dirty ones of course “and he was shocked.” Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, ‘since you are a hunter, put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ So, he did. The old man then said ‘Shoot another’ and he did so. Then the old man said, ‘Shoot yet again’ and the hunter replied ‘If I bend my bow so much I will break it for there is a limit to this.’ Then the old man said to him, ‘It is the same with the work of God (and our brethren). If we stretch the brethren beyond measure, they will soon break, if they have no moments of relaxation or entertainment.’
Some consider this book to be very strict since it describes the strict lives of the monks. But this term doesn’t sound good in Orthodoxy. There is no strict or lenient Christian life but there’s only one Christian life and the only difference between the monks and the laity is marriage. Both monks and laity have to keep what our Evangelion says, the laws. And there are no two books, a light, secularized, loose Evangelion for the laity and another, a stricter one for the monks.
Yet many consider this [Sayings of the Elders] to be a strict book, but here we see that in this book, there’s this story also by the founder of monasticism, St. Anthony who was telling some jokes with his subordinate monks. This teaches us that man has such a need to loosen up, to relax a little, or, if you want, have some play time once in a while, of course nothing sinful. But here some discrimination is needed, because today relaxation, rest and holidays have been identified with entertainment which is a secularized psychagogy (recreation, entertainment of the soul).
What’s the meaning of psychagogy? If we analyze this Greek word it means “education of the soul.” Educate the soul to what? To lead it towards God. This is the true meaning of the word “psychagogy”. To lead my soul to God.
When psychagogy turns into entertainment this means that a Christian tries to identify himself with the world and lead his soul not to God.
What does the word “entertainment” mean (in Greek)? It actually means “I scatter myself.”
But “psychagogy” is the exact opposite. It’s to put together all your powers and lead them to Christ while entertainment is to fall apart.
I came across a doctoral thesis by a scientist of the University and I read it and its topic was entertainment of young people today in a specific area of Athens. Do you know the expression the young people used for their entertainment? They said: “I want more madness”. This is a commonly used expression in places of entertainment where you are supposed to relax. Madness. Going crazy. To lose yourself, to get out of control. To be scattered or else destroyed. But this is exactly what hell is. When you lose yourself you lose everything. This is what Christ names as “loss”.
Salvation is the exact opposite, to gather yourself, to gather your powers and head towards God.
So, we’re talking about educating ones’ soul and not the scattering of the soul, the destruction of the soul.
Unfortunately, today, relaxation and holidays have been identified with sin.
After his school exams a young boy said to me “Father, I had the need to relax a little, take a break from spiritual things too since it’s summertime now, and I fell into the worst of sins.”
What I mean is that there’s no place for loosening up for a Christian. We need to come to terms with that….Today we have this situation where we confuse psychagogy (recreation of the soul) with entertainment….”
Excerpted from F. Savvas the Athonite -The Christian’s Holidays
A Message from Maria Spanos
I am passionate about our Orthodox Christian faith and seek to help others learn as much as they can about it. My purpose here is to share online resources that help strengthen our relationship with Christ and bind us closer to His Church. I believe they are invaluable in learning about our precious Orthodox Tradition, and are a great aid for teaching family members, friends and others about Orthodoxy. ~Maria
Two of my favorite quotes:
“A true Christian behaves in this life so that it may be a preparation for the future one and not only a life here below. In his actions, he does not think what will be said of him here but of what will be said there in heaven; he represents to himself that he is always in the presence of God, of the angels and all the saints, and remembers that someday they will bear witness of his thoughts, words, and deeds.” — Saint John of Kronstadt
“Of all the holy works, the education of children is the most holy.”
— St. Theophan the Recluse