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SCHEDULE OF DIVINE SERVICES
5 September, Vespers - 5 p.m.
6 September, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
12 September, Vespers - 5 p.m.
13 September, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
(The Slavonic Liturgy
will be served one week earlier because the Vladikas will be in
Vancouver at Holy Resurrection Sobor on the last Sunday of the month)
19 September, Vespers - 5 p.m.
20 September, Hours - 9:30 a.m.
Slavonic Liturgy - 10 a.m.
BIRTH OF THE THEOTOKOS
20 September, Vigil - 5 p.m.
21 September, Liturgy - 10 a.m.
ELEVATION OF THE CROSS LITURGY (IN ENGLISH)
26 September, Vespers - 5 p.m.
27 September, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m
3 October, Vespers - 5 p.m.
4 October, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
10 October, Vespers - 5 p.m.
11 October, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
13 October, Vespers - 5 p.m.
14 October, Hours & "Protection of the Theotokos"
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
17 October, Vespers - 5 p.m.
18 October, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
24 October, Vespers - 5 p.m.
25 October, Hours - 9:30 a.m.
Slavonic Liturgy - 10 a.m.
31 October, Vespers - 5 p.m
1 November, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
7 November, Vespers - 5 p.m.
8 November, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
14 November, Vespers - 5 p.m.
15 November, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
21 November, Vespers - 5 p.m.
22 November, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
(Nativity Fast begins on 28 November)
28 November, Vespers- 5 p.m.
29 November, Hours - 9:30 a.m.
Slavonic Liturgy - 10 a.m
"Entry of the Theotokos"
3 December, Vespers - 5 p.m.
4 December, Hours & Liturgy - 10 a.m.
5 December, Vespers - 5 p.m.
6 December, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
12 December, Vespers - 5 p.m.
13 December, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
18 December, Vespers - 5 p.m.
19 December, St Nicholas
: Hours & Liturgy - 10 a.m.
19 December, Vespers - 5 p.m.
20 December, Matins - 9 a.m.
Liturgy - 10 a.m.
26 December, Vespers - 5 p.m.
27 December, Hours - 9:30 a.m.
Slavonic Liturgy - 10 a.m.
31 December - Midnight Moleben for Civil New Year - 12 p.m
ORTHODOX BROADCASTING (AUDIO AND VIDEO)
HOLY SPIRIT ORTHODOX MISSION
DAILY DIARY OF THE MONASTERY*PHOTO
is not the enemy of truth; truth is never harmed by reality. Reality
can be despised and what is untrue can be embraced, by depising the one
cannot make it false, and embracing the other cannot make it true.
the Photo Album for more pictures PHOTO
Starets Varlaam delivering a sermon at the Monastery
All segments of this website are Copyrighted
THE OLD TESTAMENT IS ABOUT YOU
ABRAHAM AND LOT
Unselfishness and love of peace
is it about the character of Abraham that might show us why God chose
him as his chief apostle in this era and chose him to establish that
centre where God would reveal the faith?
is not shown to be perfect, he lied in Egypt about Sarah, his wife, and
caused a great deal of distress by saying that she was his sister and
allowed Pharaoh to take her into his household because she was a
beautiful woman. This caused a great deal of distress with the result
that he was more or less thrown out of the land of Egypt instead of
being put to death. God preserved Abraham and Sarah, for he had given a
promise to Abraham that could be fulfilled only through Sarah.
Nevertheless, we will find Abraham to be both generous and ethical in
his overall behaviour.
Abraham brought his nephew
Lot into Canaan with him. One of the things we notice is that Abraham
is not full of ego and self-cent redness. He is interested in peace, he
doesn’t want strife between himself and his brother’s son. This concern
for peace brings him to suggest that he and Lot take their flocks and
their people and part company so that there will be no conflict
between them. He does this in a very unselfish manner. Abraham
suggests that Lot can choose which direction he will go. “If you
choose to go to the left, I will go the right. If you choose to
go to the right, I will go to the left.” He gives Lot the choice
instead of insisting on the choice himself, and choosing the best land
for his own use. In a reversal of Cain’s action, although he is the
oldest and the one with authority and power, he yields to the younger
man, the one who is under his authority. Instead, he yields and
gives Lot first choice. Lot looks down on the green valley of the river
Jordan and chooses this waterway, as far down as the southern shore of
the Dead Sea, in which he will graze his flocks.
We see that Abraham is conscious of the possibility of strife and
resolved it in favour of peace and he has been unselfish and allowed
Lot to choose the better land and the better area for himself. Abraham
deals in every way honestly and fairly with the people with whom he is
intermingled now in Canaan. He doesn’t take things that belong to
someone else, there’s a negotiation, a price, a purchase, an alliance
for everything and every bit of land that he needs.
Such choices confront us regularly in our daily lives. It is difficult
to choose peace over getting our own way or yielding to someone else
even when we are wrong. Moreover, do we in all cases and every time
deal fairly and justly with all people? In all these matters, Abraham
is an example for us to follow.
ABRAHAM, SARA AND THE PROMISE
the story of Abraham and Sara, we enter into the truly historical era.
All that went before is the recording of ancient oral tradition, but
Sara and Abraham bring us into the era of history recorded in writing
and inscriptions that appeared in every area of the great fertile
crescent and the Nile valley.
Why would God call
him out of that land and take him to another one, if He wanted him to
be a witness to Him, to the Truth, the Living One, an apostle as it
were, and to give to him and Sarah both this promise? Perhaps we can
only speculate that Chaldea was given over so deeply to a kind of
idolatry and the rising of the monarch as a divine person.
Perhaps, however, there is another reason: because Canaan was in the
centre of the world “fertile crescent” in which the most ancient
civilisation developed. Here, the great empires of the world met and
that so much of the trade and travel passed through. The Egyptian,
Chaldean, Assyrian, Hittite and other empires, finally the Greek Empire
of Alexander of Macedon; all of these came together, encountering each
other around the area of Canaan. This means much of the
information and influence exchanged between the civilizations passed
through that area. As a result, God is calling His apostles Sara and
Abraham to that place, where the witness can be given to all of the
activity that goes through this area. In a way this is the proper
centre for dissemination of the true faith in God. Abraham heeds God’s
will and he is called to this great challenge, “Come out of your
father’s house, out of this land of your ancestors and I will lead
through a great wilderness and a desert, on a great, long, arduous
journey to a land you have never seen, know nothing about and where you
have not so much as a place to put your foot that you can call your
own, and there I will make you the father of many nations.” Abraham
believed, he followed God and went to that place to which he was called.
Not all of us are called to such an extreme exercise of faith, but we
are called and we have to make a choice. Sometimes the choice is to
leave a place where we are being spiritually destroyed, even though we
have roots, a home, family and people there. Yet we realize that
spiritually it is a place that is not satisfactory for our salvation
and we need to go someplace else, because our salvation is far more
important than all these other considerations. We need to trust God,
His calling, to lead us to the place where we should be. Abraham could
have said “Look, I do not have anything there, no land, no relatives,
no people, if I move down there with my flocks, sheep, my people, my
tribe, those who are already there are going to resent it, they are
going to be angry and may try to destroy us.” He could have found all
kinds of excuses, like the men in Christ’s parable, “there was a
certain ruler who made a wedding banquet for his son and he called for
those who were invited,” but they all made an excuse why they could not
come. Abraham made no excuses, he simply packed up and went. This is a
choice too that we have to make often, between the things that are
material that we might possess or have and things that are spiritual; a
choice between paradise and alienation. This story is not only about
Abraham and Sara; it is also about us, about our choices and our
priorities, about our relationship with God, with Christ Jesus.
I wonder how many people are aware that, traditionally in Judaism,
people were discouraged from reading Genesis and the book of Ezekiel
until they had mastered the rest of the Scripture. That was because
there are so many temptations to form idolatries based on the texts
themselves. I believe we have seen some of those idolatries formed by
our Fundamentalists both in and outside the Orthodox Church. That is
why we want to discuss this in a more existentialist manner; that is to
say, how does it bear on our actual existence, our actual lives? There
are two schools in both science and in existentialism. Orthodox
Christian theology is existential; St Gregory Palamas was a great
In these two schools there
are two views, the one that mankind and the universe have no meaning,
that we are just some carbon-based organisms that happened to infest
the universe by accident; or the other school of both science and
existentialism that mankind has very profound meaning for the universe
and the universe itself has profound meaning.
universe and the world have profound meaning to us because this is
where we live, this is our home, and the universe is our rather large
backyard. It is ours and it is filled with incredible beauty that is
ours to enjoy as well. We see this beauty more clearly now because of
the Hubble Space Telescope and all of the images sent back by cameras,
but even without that we see such an incredible beauty. We realize that
there is an intense meaning to all these things. Moreover, the Holy
Scripture itself has far more meaning than many writers, even
profoundly Christian writers actually give it. For Fundamentalists it
is the Old Testament, particularly the Torah, the first five books,
which many Jews call the “book of instruction”, but Christians tend to
call “the books of law.” It has an abyss of meaning that many of our
Christian people fail to grasp; some reduce it to a history or a list
of reasons for punishing people, and they begin to see justice only as
punishment, rather than as “rebalancing,” “setting things right.” But
that is actually the original meaning of the words translated as
“justification” in the New Testament justitia in Latin and dikaiosine
in Greek. Certainly in the Greek of the Scripture, these words do not
signify something juridical. One grows weary of seeing Fundamentalist
Christians rummage through the Old Testament trying to find ways to
hurt people and never looking for ways to apply the deeper meaning to
people so that we have a deeper understanding of humanity. That is what
we are pursuing in this series of discussions.
have come now to the calling of Abraham, which yet brings us to another
dimension of meaning that applies to each of us. We see this great
choice being made by Abram in Chaldea. Why did God call Abraham out of
Ur of the Chaldees and lead him through that great, long, arduous path
through Haran, down to Damascus into a land where he did not have any
place? He did not own anything until he bought the Cave of Machpelah
(Hebrew: מערת המכפלה, Me'arat HaMachpela, literally, "Cave of the
Double Tombs"; Arabic: المغارة ż Al Magr, "the Cave") to bury his wife
in, and he grazed his herds in what would have been communal land,
because the Bedouins, the wanderers would graze their flocks wherever
they could, yet this land was promised to Abraham and that is a story
for yet later.
Right now we want to look at the
original calling of Abraham. Why would God call him out of that land
and take him to another one, if He wanted him to be a witness to Him,
to the Truth, the Living One, an apostle as it were, and to give to him
and Sarah both this promise?
WHY "BABBLE"Why "The Tower of Babel?" (The origin of our English word "babble.")
Hebrews refer to the Tower of Bab'el as "Babel." This is a Hebrew play
on words. The Hebrew word "vavel" means confusion, chaotic or babbling,
and they made a word play on Bab'el. What actually transpired at the
tower is something we can never know. It is certain that the various
languages, races, and nations did not originate with the collapse of
the society that built the tower. If we follow biblical chronology,
there were already tribes in the Americas before the tower was built
(indeed, before the flood took place). However, some sort of chaos and
sever rupture in the society around the area of the tower certainly
took place early in that civilisation's history.
8 There are many facets to the Hebrew Scripture or, as we call it, the "Old Testament." 1
ON THE TOWER OF BAB’EL
Let’s reflect that the flood at the time of Noah was generated by the
flood of human passions, which had built up to such an enormous volume,
that it was able to drown man spiritually, to crush his life and rob
humanity of an authentic life except for those who chose to orient
their will toward God and toward God’s will. After the Flood and after
Ham’s betrayal of his father, we see that the descendants of Noah went
into the plain of Shinar and there they decided to build another city.
In this city they are going to exalt themselves.
We know that in the time frame of history, this story is not literal.
If that was the case, if these things had taken place according to the
chronology of Scripture, the Flood would have occurred at the time when
the Egyptians were building the pyramids, and certainly all of mankind
did not speak the same language at that time. There is, however,
something here that is rather important for us to understand, an that
is that it does matter how we use the skills, abilities and
talents we have. It is not appropriate for Orthodox Christians to
use them for aggrandizement, simply to give oneself a name, only for
our own interest and to exalt ourselves. This happens with people who
have a lust for power and who desire, not a peaceful and harmonious
life, but who desire to rise up above others and to dominate them or to
get ahead at all costs. We see this in the society around us, and can
be tempted to follow such a path. We must, however, discover another
The story of the building of the city
possibly refers to ancient Urok (Arak) in Mesopotamia. The ruins of
this city have been uncovered, together with a ritual tower called a
ziggurat. It is important to understand that the theme of this story is
a conflict between ego and virtue. This is a conflict that takes place
within our own hearts when we follow with our own passions and
We are going to talk a bit
about what the word virtue actually means and see how it is pitted
against ego, then we will see how this story about the building of the
city and the tower of Bab’el is about us. Bab’el means “Gate of God.”
The tower was going to be built right up to the Gate of God – right up
to the heavens, an assault on Heaven itself as it were. The word virtue
(Gk. “arÍte”) actually means to use our skills and abilities to create
something beautiful and useful. A sculptor who takes a piece of stone
and sculpts a beautiful statue from it because he wants to create
beauty – this is virtue. He has used his skill to the best of his
ability, to create something of quality, something of beauty. If a
sculptor uses his talents and abilities to carve a statue only to make
money or to make a name for himself, it is not virtue, it is simply
business. This is the difference between virtue and ego. In the
building of the city and the tower, we see that skills and abilities
were used for the sake of ego, self-centredness and self-love, whereas
the skills could have been used to build a home or a shelter, or
something of elegance and beauty for the sake of beauty and usefulness.
We will not speculate on alternate interpretations of the motives of
the builders because this is a story with a moral to it, and the moral
point is made by the way the story is told in the Scripture. We must
take the story as we have received it in order to understand its
meaning. This story is an analysis of passions of pride and ego and a
lack of humility. These are things that can drive a community apart and
create deep divisions and enmities.
continue discussing virtue and the concept of virtue and ego. We are
all given some kind of ability and skill, even if that ability is
something that does not fit into the marketplace well. Love, for
example: the ability to have an open heart toward people and to be
loving and kind and gentle can be manifested in many ways. Those people
who go out of their way to be kind to street people, to give comfort
and consolation to somebody in sorrow, to visit someone in a nursing
home; all these things are acts of virtue because we are using the
skill or ability that we have within us for something positive,
something useful, something good, and not something that focuses on our
own ego, lust for money or self-centredness. Every one of us has to
face the challenge of whether or not we will examine ourselves and try
to see what kind of skills and abilities or talents that we have. Our
calling is to do this not in terms of being competitive in the world,
and not in terms of seeking a proper job position, or seeking what kind
of an education we will get so that we will have marketable and
commercial skills of some kind. Those things must be done by everyone
in our society, but that is not a path to virtue or to an expression of
our Orthodox Christian faith. In this context, we should see what
skills and abilities we have which can be put to a good creative and
positive use. If a person is very skilled at fishing, then find someone
who is lonely, who has no one and would love to have companionship and
company and take them fishing with you, share that moment with them. We
can use any of our skills and abilities in a virtuous way. Virtue and a
virtuous way does not mean being ultra moral, praying and being
in Church regularly. It also is manifested in the use of our energies
in a manner which is compassionate, caring and creative, and which
reflects the idea that we understand that our energies are a gift from
God to be used for the good of others. It may be easier for us to use
the same abilities and gifts solely for self-serving reasons and ego.
It is understood that we have to take care to prepare ourselves for the
future, choosing how we will educate ourselves so that we earn our own
living and support our families, but we can also plan how to use these
skills only for selfish goals. This is the struggle that faced the
people who came out of the ark, multiplied and came into the land of
Shinar. They were presented with an opportunity for a new beginning;
the possibility of faithfulness and virtue was set before them. The
story of the tower of Bab’el is reflected so often in man’s repeated
failure to follow through on such opportunities. It is the story of our
own personal failures also, for the story is about each one of
us. This is the point we wanted to make in this
discussion of the Tower of Bab’el and the building of the first city
after the settling of the ark. A new society is formed, but formed on
the same basis on which Cain built his city – the a drive
toward egotism and self-centredness. We should not assert that
everybody who was there, present and taking part in the building up of
culture, society and civilization in that area of Chaldea (Babylon)
were disposed in that kind of negative manner. The story is there,
however, to emphasize our own struggle, the struggle of humanity in
general. War, murder and all manner of wicked ness flow from ego and
self-love, and this is the great story, the great warning to us from
all these narratives in the Scripture. This is the struggle we must all
undertake in choosing the path of our own lives.
This story is about you, it is about us, it is about us as individuals
and us as societies. To use our skills and abilities in a virtuous
manner, to create something beautiful, creative, useful to mankind to
others, whether it is in a great or small way, it is nevertheless a
virtue which helps us in the struggle for our salvation and draws us
closer to God, Who created the universe in beauty and made a fit place
for man to live creating something that was shared by all humanity and
all living things.
Hopefully when we read or hear
the story of the Tower of Bab’el, the story of Chaldea (Babylon), we
will remember that the story is about universal meaning, about our
choices between virtue and ego, unselfish love and self-centredness.
Hopefully, we will come to understand that our great struggle to
return to Paradise is the struggle to return to unselfish love, and in
that unselfish love, to use all of the gifts that we have in a virtuous
manner; that is, to create beauty, harmony, peace, love,
something that will make mankind a little better and the life of the
world a little more peaceful. This is what the story is really all
about and what it is actually trying to reveal to us, so that we will
know that this very struggle is taking place within each one of us, in
our hearts every day of our lives.
one of the more important, though neglected, aspects is the personal
one, the aspect that speaks to each one of us as an individual.
It is important to see the Hebrew Scripture as more than a history of
the short-lived Kingdom of Israel and the remnant of Judea. The Old
Testament is a chronicle of humanity, but it is also the story of each
one of us, of our own spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical
As we navigate the narratives of this
great book, if we pay attention, we constantly find ourselves in
familiar surroundings; the depths of love and hate, the corrosive
effects of egoism, bitterness, malice, envy and self-focus, but also
the heroic struggle of mankind, the presence of hope and joy. There, we
find the same constant tensions between constraint, self-discipline and
self-control, and the chaos and destructive energy of unconstrained
desires and passions. All these are present in the daily lives of each
one of us, and in the society and culture around us.
Join me in examining the ways in which the Hebrew Scripture tells the
story of each one of us, of our parishes, our families and our
communities, as it unfolds the history of Israel.
There is a notable detail in the creation narrative. Light exists
before those heavenly bodies that we usually associate with the source
of light. This is something that has to be the case, whether one is
speaking in strict scientific terms or in spiritual understandings. The
energy of creation, formless, void and in chaos, gradually formed into
the stars, including our sun, as form and order began to permeate the
The separation of light from darkness
is the result of the rotation of the earth on its axis. But there is
spiritual revelation here. We are told that God-the-Word separated the
light from the darkness. Let us begin then, with God, our Lord Jesus
Christ, separating light from darkness in the universe. This should be
the most profound image that we carry with us, for on the Cross,
God-the-Word once more separated light from darkness in the hearts of
IN THE BEGINNING
the Symbol of Faith when we confess, “And without Whom nothing was made
that has been made,” we are talking about Jesus Christ, we are talking
about God the Word as the One Who made all things. In the creation
narrative, when we talk about the separation of light from darkness,
this has a very profound meaning that will echo down throughout the
whole period of human existence, up until the end of human history.
Christ Jesus separates light from darkness. The light is necessary for
life, and the darkness is also present in life. Our Lord Jesus Christ
is always striving to separate the light from the darkness within
mankind. While both light and darkness have their proper pace in our
lives, they are also used symbolically. In the light, we can see
clearly, while in the darkness we can only grope our way along, we
cannot see the realities of life, and there is always a certain danger
in the darkness. Within each one of us our hearts have to be recreated
by the Presence of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Our Lord stands
without, desiring to enter into our hearts to separate light from
darkness within each one of us. We must see both the light and the
darkness so that we can make a clear choice. Much later we will hear
that men desired darkness rather than light because their deeds were
evil, but that the light was in the world and the world could neither
comprehend nor overpower it. That light was present, calling upon
everyone to let it shine it in their hearts, to separate the light from
the darkness within them and having separated it, to make it clear what
is darkness and what is light. The more filled with the Divine Light
that our heart becomes, the more it becomes the Kingdom of God
(Paradise) within us, as Christ promised. When Our Lord Jesus Christ
was crucified, two thieves were on crosses together with Him. The two
trees in the Garden of Eden are in fact a prophecy and type about the
Cross, because one thief looked upon Christ on the Cross and saw in Him
"the good" and then recognized for the first time his own wickedness.
So the Cross of Jesus Christ became, at that moment, the Tree of the
Knowledge of Good and Evil for this brigand. When the man said, “Lord,
remember me when You come into Your Kingdom,” the Cross of Jesus Christ
became the Tree of Life for him, because Jesus Christ is the fruit of
the Tree of Life, the One Who can bestow upon us everlasting life. On
the other side of Christ’s Cross was a man of equal guilt as the first
thief; but he does not repent, in fact he reviles Christ. In this we
see that the Cross of Jesus Christ becomes a dividing line between
light and darkness, between the heart that has become illumined through
repentance and the heart that remains in darkness because it will not
repent and open itself to the grace of the Holy Sprit. Here on the
Cross, Christ separates light and darkness visibly before us, and the
two thieves are a type of the light and the darkness that constitutes
the inner struggle of everyone
We see this
struggle flowing throughout human history and throughout our own
personal history, because the Cross of Christ still stands within and
before each one of us as the dividing line between light and darkness.
This dividing line was present when Christ created the earth and made
it habitable. The grace of the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters
bringing forth life, and there was light of God's grace shone in the
Garden of Eden. St John Damascene tells us that the Garden was Paradise
because it was filled with light, the Uncreated Light of God’s Glory.
Unfortunately, mankind chose darkness rather than that light and
departed into the outer darkness, away from the light of God's love and
glory. Jesus Christ will use that formula sometimes in His parables,
“Cast them forth into the outer darkness, where there be wailing and
gnashing of teeth.” We see this in the prophecies, we see this
reflected in the New Testament, and we see above all that there stands
before each of us the choice between light and darkness, life and
spiritual death. We see the Ark as a dividing line also, between those
who laughed at Noah and those who were on board the ark with him.
We are all called upon daily to open ourselves to the light and try to
root out the darkness that is within us. Our Lord Jesus Christ and the
grace of the Holy Spirit are there to help us, because the light of
Christ’s love and glory shines into the heart that opens itself toward
Him and the Grace of the Holy Spirit fills the heart with the
illumination of that glory the more we struggle to acquire the Grace of
the Holy Spirit and to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ and to live a
life in Christ.
A person can be very religious
and still be filled with darkness, because being religious does not
necessarily mean that you have faith. We can be religious to such a
degree that we become cruel, destructive, full of hatred for others,
full of malice and convinced that we are absolutely right and the rest
of the world is absolutely wrong. Yet it is never us that are right; it
is the Church that is right, not us. We have to choose even within the
life of the Church our position – whether in light or in darkness,
whether to be simply religious or whether to have a living and vital
faith and struggle for a life in Jesus Christ. The light and the
darkness both stand together until the end. This is the Mystery of
Paradise in the end, that the light fills everything, all in all. That
it illumines and gives life to the faithful and to those who rejected
Christ and those who are brutal toward their fellow human beings or are
indifferent toward their fellow human beings, that light of Christ’s
love and glory will burn them like an everlasting fire. Therefore, let
us, as we proceed through the Old Testament, consider its meaning and
consider the meaning of the separation of light from darkness,
and of the meaning of the knowledge of good and evil. Let our lives be
consecrated to the struggle to acquire light and cast out the darkness
from our own hearts and our own minds. This means not only our egoism
and self-centredness but those things that are created because of
them: all of our prejudices, our ill will, our evil feelings
toward others and all of those things that constitute the kind of
darkness. This is what the creation narrative begins with: the
separation of light from darkness and the begetting of life, and this
is how our lives have also to begin anew in order to become authentic
lives; the separation of light from darkness within us, the choosing of
light, the struggle to drive out the darkness by increasing the light
of the grace of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s Presence within us. We
cannot do this just through religion; we can do it through a living and
vital faith in Our Lord God and Saviour Christ.
THE "GARDEN OF EDEN" NARRATIVE
The ego as the root of evil
Fall into an unauthentic life
As we understand the creation narrative, God created humanity from
perfect love. This means that He also created us with freedom. Love
demanded without freedom is a psychosis, it is not love. Love given
without freedom is an obsession, it is not love.
With authentic love, there is also trust. God demonstrated His
authentic love, with its freedom of will and trust, by placing before
mankind a choice. Why? Because without choice, there is no freedom.
Even in marriage and friendships, love unfeigned require freedom and
trust, as any successful marriage demonstrates.
The "two trees" in the garden are certainly a metaphor and prophecy,
not something to be taken literally, as if one could eat an apple and
suddenly know the mysteries of good and evil, or a pomegranate and live
forever. Are the trees not rather a fore-image of the Cross, upon which
God-the-Word would once more separate light from darkness? Had not God
already planned for our redemption even before we fell?
In Eden, humans lived in an atmosphere of unselfish love. God had
created them in His own likeness and image, so they had freedom of
will, unselfish love and virtue, and humility.
The "tree" that Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from is a metaphor,
a symbol, and also a prophecy about the Cross of Christ, so we will not
discuss it here. The important thing is what the temptation was about
and what its results are.
tempted the humans by offering them a counterfeit of something that
they already had. "Don't trust God, He's just being selfish and does
not want you to have knowledge. If you have this knowledge you will be
The humans forgot that they were
already "in the image and likeness" of God. Satan painted a false image
of God as being vain and egoistic so he created a counterfeit; a false
image of God and of what it meant to be "like God."
Satan had set the fire of egoism, self-love and self-centredness in the
heart of mankind. Once Adam and Eve had accepted this temptation, they
fell into this egoism and self focus -- they accepted the counterfeit
instead of the Grace which God had given them.
This is the root and base of all human tragedies, murders, robberies
and deception. It does not matter whether you take the entire "Eden
narrative" literally, as allegory or as a mixture of both. The story is
about each one of us both as individuals and collectively.
The temptations we fall to are almost always counterfeits for what is
real, and we yield to them because of our own ego and self focus. This
is the greatest spiritual struggle for each one of us, and this is the
ultimate meaning of the story. As with Adam and Eve, so often what we
accept is a counterfeit of something that God has already given us. We
choose the counterfeit and lose the gift of Grace. The "Garden of Eden"
narrative is about you.
Cain and Abel
The story of Cain and Abel amplifies what we are taught about the fall
of mankind, and our own condition. Egoism and self-focus are at the
root of the violence in our world. Every war, every murder, every act
of violence begins in the heart of man. Those who lead in creating such
violence and wars, pogroms, attempts to destroy those who are “not like
us” are people without empathy, people who cannot or will not identify
with the sufferings and struggle of others. Murders arise from greed
from envy and pride.
This narrative portrays the
first such crime amongst humans, and a crime made worse because it the
murder of one’s own family member.
We are told
that the two brothers brought their thanksgiving offerings in due
season, to offer to God. Abel, who offered from the heart, had his
offering accepted. Cain’s offering was not accepted because it was not
offered from the heart, from love, but rather because of a law, a rule,
a regulation, and he offered it, not in heartfelt thanksgiving, but
from obligation. The difference in the “first fruits” being offered was
not the issue. God tells Cain, “If you had rightly offered, your
sacrifice would have been acceptable.” He did not say “If you had
offered the right thing...”
Cain lost nothing
from the fact that his offering was not accepted this time. God will
later remind him that he, as the firstborn, has the leader and head of
the tribe, that because of this he had dominion over his brother. This
was not enough. Cain’s ego and pride were offended. Moreover, the
righteousness of Abel was a censure to his conscience.
The solution to the situation should have been repentance and a striving to correct himself.
his pride and ego overcome him and he does the unthinkable: he murders
his brother. Remember that the Ten Commandments begins with a reference
to murder and ends with forbidding us to be envious. Envy is born of
ego and self-focus, and it unleashes great fires and great tragedies.
We are all subject to is deception, and none of us should think that we
are immune to its excesses.
This story is about
us; about us a individuals and as societies, and perhaps this is why we
are told that Cain built the first society, the first village (hardly a
city by today’s standards, but a complex human society).
This is also a story of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Notice that after
murder has been committed, God does not come down in a fury of
vengeance and outrage. Rather, He comes to Cain with love and attempts
to lead him to repentance. In the Garden, although God certainly knows
where Adam and Eve are, He nevertheless calls to them to come into the
open and repent. Now, He asks Cain, “Where is your brother....” Did God
not know all that has taken place? Certainly He does, but He is call
upon Cain to confess his horrible deed and repent. Indeed, following
the narrative, one can almost hear God speaking with tears of sorrow
and compassion as He makes every effort to lead Cain to “turn from his
sinfulness and live.” God even goes so far as to prevent Cain from
being killed by others, because so long as he is alive, he can repent
and return to God.
Cain, the story tells us, went
yet farther away from God, just as we ourselves do when we do not
repent of our sins and falls. The story is about us, and it is also
about God’s infinite love and mercy.
Commentary on Cain and Abel
We should not think that anyone of us are completely exempt from such a
possibility. We are all human beings, we are all capable of great
wickedness; and we are all capable, with God’s grace and our struggle,
to also become people of genuine holiness and sanctity.
Think about how this applies to you in your daily life and even in the
practice of religion. Remember that religion is not what the Orthodox
faith is about, it is about a living faith in God, not a "system."
Faith does not consist in coming into accord with a system of facts;
faith is an orientation of the soul toward the will of God.
This is how the second story of Cain and Abel plays out in our own
personal lives. God’s heart is always open to us. as it was to Cain.
Note that God’s heart was open to him even if though he did not repent,
but this is not going to do Cain any good, because he himself will not
return to God’s heart. In fact he departs further from God. The
designation "he land of Nod" evidently comes from a Chaldean word that
signifies “to wander.” So he wanders farther away from God, and now he
has greater alienation, greater separation, and this alienation is
going to be the great story of the Hebrew Scripture, our "Old
Testament.". Alienation and the great struggle
against idolatry and above all, the idolatry of ourselves and the
idolatry of religion; because religion can become a very destructive
idolatry. One can be intensely religious and worship his religion
without ever having genuine faith and without ever having a real
relationship with our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, with the
community of the faithful. This is one of our great tragedies. It comes
about from that venom of Eden, the fall into egotism, self-centredness
and self-love. The real result of the fall then, and what we call sin,
is an inclination to habitually misuse our energies, a proclivity for
the misuse of our energies. Religion without a living, transforming
faith, is a form of idolatry. This misuse of our energies is what sin
really consists of.
My teacher, Father John
Romanides, once said that “religion is a neurobiological illness,” he
said that “Orthodoxy is its cure” (I did hear him say once that “faith
is its cure”). This is a very telling statement, because here we have
two brothers who were obviously religious. They offered the
thanksgiving sacrifices that, according to religion, they were supposed
to offer. That was the religious thing to do, a religious act. One of
them, however, had love and faith and the other one did not. They both
believed of course, but belief is not the same as having faith. Faith
in God means to have love and trust in God, to desire a relationship of
love with Him, to express that love in ways that we, in our weakness,
are able to; knowing that despite the insignificance of the offerings
that we make, God receives them lovingly when we offer them from the
heart in love.
Here we have then this problem of
religion without faith, and we will see it again in Christ’s parable
about the publican and the Pharisee, and the one about the prodigal son.
Let us pause now and look at ourselves. How often are we fulfilling
things in externally because we are "supposed to," because it is
expected, because it is the Law? Even in our religious life, we can be
observant of rules and codes, but still not have faith. We can be quite
diligent in the external practice of our religion, and never have a
relationship with God. This is a great tragedy for us, and this is what
the story of Cain and Abel is telling us first of all. Do you see what
your ego can bring you to: your ego and self-love can so corrupt you
that you can murder your brother, and then try to hide from it and
cover it up. You may not actually murder your brother in the strict
sense, but you may try to destroy him with gossip and slander, or in
some other way, but all the same, you are guilty. Ah, foul envy, foul
jealousy, and all are a product of our ego and our self-focus, which is
sometimes self-love and sometimes self-hatred.
FROM CAIN TO LAMECH
has introduced murder into the life of mankind. That is what egoism,
self-centredness and self-love can lead us to. When we add
self-righteousness, which is a form of narcissism, the results can be even worse.
Do not think that anyone of us is completely exempt from the
possibility of committing such a crime. We sometimes perpetrate evil deeds in our
minds, even if we do not carry them out literally. We are all human beings, we
are all capable of great wickedness; and we are all capable, with God’s
grace and our struggle, to also become people of genuine holiness and
sanctity. People tend to think that one become "holy" by means of
externally correct behaviour, some even realise that there must be some
sort of inner change also. However, the greater part of becoming
sanctified is to rid ourselves of our self-delusions about ourselves.
Think about how this applies to each one of us in our daily lives and
even in the practice of religion. Remember that religion is not what
the Orthodox faith is about; it is about a living faith in Christ Jesus
and His Gospel, not a system of law or a moral code. Faith does not
consist in coming into accord with a system of facts or doctrines;
faith is an orientation of the soul toward the will of God. Think about
how the story of Cain and Abel plays out in our own personal lives. We
may not commit actual murder, but the egoism, envy, self-justification
that we say already with Adam and Eve, frequently recurs in our own
lives. Moreover, in our idolatry, we see God as a harsh, brutal
dictator who creates earthquakes, tornado, floods and other disasters
which destroy the faithful and the good together with the unbeliever
and the evil. Yet, after Cain killed Abel, the amazing thing is
that we do not hear of God thundering down for juridical justice.
going to punish Cain, I am going to make him pay! I am going to give
him a death penalty, I am going to kill him with anger and fury!” No!
God comes down with great gentleness. “Cain, where is your brother?”
“Ah! I should know? I mean, am I my brother’s keeper?” And then you can
almost see the tears in the eyes of God: “Oh Cain, what is it that you
have done? You were the eldest, the inheritance was yours. Why have you
done such a thing?” In all of this, God is hoping that Cain will open
his heart, hoping that Cain will repent, and God’s heart is open to him
should he repent. God’s heart is open to him even if he does not
repent, but it is not going to do Cain any good, because he will not
return to God’s heart. And in fact he does not; he goes away further
this does not even mean that Cain went away to a different geographical
location, but only that he alienated himself further from God. In any
case, he wanders away from God, and now he has greater alienation,
greater separation, and this alienation is going to be the great story
of the Old Testament. Alienation and the great struggle against
idolatry and above all, the idolatry of ourselves and the idolatry of
religion because religion can become a very destructive
idolatry. One can be intensely religious and worship his religion
without ever having genuine faith and without ever having a real
relationship with our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ and with the
community of the faithful. This is one of our great tragedies. But it
comes about from that venom of Eden, the fall into egoism,
self-centredness and self-love. The real result of the fall then and
what we call sin is an inclination to habitually misuse our energies, a
proclivity for the misuse of our energies. This is what sin really
We can reflect on the great Canon of
St Andrew of Crete; he does not go into a great deal of detail, but he
certainly calls upon us to liken ourselves to the sinners and the
disobedient and unbelieving people of the Old Testament. So that having
examined ourselves, it gives us an opportunity to cleanse the idolatry
out of our hearts and to follow God in truth and in spirit, knowing
that we can only know God through Jesus Christ; because in the Old
Testament we often see God through the lens of the passions of a
humanity which, in its idolatry, so often transfers its own passions
onto God, because Satan is tempting them to recreate God in their own
image, or at least to recreate their concept of God. This idolatry is
also part of the great story in the "Old Testament," this is part of
the great struggle.
We spoke about Cain and
Abel and we see that Cain became the first murderer and that this
murderer rose from his own ego. The next such crime we will see is not
explained to us: Lamech, who was the seventh after Adam, had
killed both a man and a youth. In the Hebrew Scripture it tells us
beat the young man to death and that he just killed the other man. He
has committed two murders, and he is evidently lamenting that
he had done it. We are not sure if he repented, but he is lamenting to
two wives, both of whom appear to have been barren in the beginning.
Now we come to this rather confusing part of the Scripture, which we
are not going to be discussing at this point, but we are told that
mankind has somehow become more and more wicked. This is not
surprising, because mankind’s history starts with falling into ego,
then with murder, then with the murder of two people and then with
whatever kind of wickedness they had fallen into which was so
destructive. History informs us of the cruelty and savage massacres of
this ancient era, and little is left to the imagination when we read of
it in secular history.
Lamech said to his wives Ada and Zila, "Listen to me, O wives of
Lamech, and pay attention to my words. I have killed a man, wounding
myself, and a youth, harming myself. If Cain was to suffer sevenfold
then I, Lamek, seventy and sevenfold."
piles upon another, and we become imitators of the sins and crimes of
our fathers. Cain has initiated mankind into murder, and as seeds sown
in a filed produce an increase, so the seeds of murder begin to bring
forth their crops.
After the Flood, God warns the
children of Noah, "Whoever sheds a man's blood will have his own blood
shed by man: For [I have} made man in the image of God." (9:6) And
again, in the incarnation, He says, "whoever lives by the sword will
die by the sword."
It is the image of God in man
that Satan hates; and it is because of this image that he incites us to
commit murder. His target is really the image and likeness of God that
is within us — a murder of God by proxy. It is for this reason, also,
that Satan strives to corrupt mankind. He desires to replace the image
of God within us with his own image, to re-make man in the image of the
PREFACE TO THE STORY OF
NOAH AND THE ARK
There are many aspects to the stories in the Hebrew Scripture, the “Old
Testament.” For the sake of our discussions here, there are two
things that the Old Testament continuously reminds us of and these are
things about ourselves. One of them is why we human beings have an
inner conflict between good, bad, holiness and wickedness; why we so
often fall and the source of our the inner contradictions that torment
us so often. The other is the tendency of humankind toward an
idolatry. These facts have much to say about corruption in our
societies and the strife and bloodshed in our world.
Reading about these things will reveal to us why our Lord Jesus Christ
instructed us to pray, “...and deliver us from the evil-one” rather
than “deliver us from evil.” God has created mankind in His own
“likeness and image,” that is, with freedom, intellect and a will
toward virtue. Satan, trying to become more glorious than God, fell and
came into an enmity toward God. Now he lures mankind into the idolatry
of trying to recreate God after his own image.
One aspect of the Old Testament is that it tells us about how mankind
transfers his own passions, his own cruelties and his own
aggressiveness onto his understanding of God. This idea flows
throughout the Old Testament. Gnostic teachers such as Marcion and Mani
carried this so far that they actually thought there were two Gods: an
evil one in the Old Testament and a good one in the New Testament. What
is really happening here is that Satan is trying to distort the
understanding of God. Satan promised mankind that he could become like
God, but instead, lead man to think that God is like man. Mankind’s
concept of God becomes an idolatry, a kind of self-worship, because he
thinks of God as being just a “giant human” or a projection of fallen
humanity. If people are cruel and murderous, then they re-image God as
being cruel and murderous; if mankind is aggressive and vulgar then
they recreate (in their own minds) God as being aggressive and vulgar.
So what Satan has done now is to trick people or lead them into a
counterfeit of God Himself. God has revealed Himself as being perfect,
unselfish love, and being trusting of mankind, so Satan wants to offer
a counterfeit. And that counterfeit is a god who is mentally created by
man, in man’s own image and likeness, with man’s own passions.
We should keep this in mind as we continue to look at the way each one
of us finds himself in the Old Testament, and we find a picture of
mankind itself in the stories we read.
THE STORY OF NOAH
Betrayal and Loyalty
We could refer to Noah as an “apostle.” He preached the truth of God
and salvation by obeying God even though people thought that he was
foolish for doing so.
We are told in the story of
Noah that the path of wickedness which began with Cain's murder of
Abel, followed by Lamech's murder of two men, continued to expand. This
is the next narrative that we will look at in order to try to find
ourselves within it and to try to discover within our own hearts
whether we would have been on board that ark or not. There was choice
to be made then, just as there is a daily choice for us in our
relationship with God and our neighbour.
beginning of the creation, we see that God is constantly blessing all
of His creation. When mankind began to defile the earth and rob the
earth of its blessing, disregarding both God and fellow humans as well
the living things and the world around them, we are told the story of
In the story, Noah is told to build a
large ship called an "ark" and to bring on board it
representatives of every known species of animal, along with several
plants. Noah was told that a great flood would occur that would destroy
mankind, except for those who were repentant and became faithful to
God. The building of the ark took a very long time, and Noah used
the process as a way of warning people and calling them to repentance.
Orthodox Christians understand that the Ark is type of the Church. The
holy apostles called people into the Church, and away from the sinful
and destructive attitudes of the world around them. This is just what
Noah was doing in his own time. The flood took place just as Noah had
warned, and the earth was cleansed.
becomes an apostle of the Living God because he is preaching to these
people as he builds the ark. Hearing Noah's words and seeing his
actions, the people had to make a free choice. The choice is between
God and the corruption of the world, between life and death. Noah is
calling them to something else also. He is calling them to struggle for
have self-control and self-discipline in order to lead decent lives.
In the same way, we are called upon to make such choices. We do not
have to have forty days and forty nights of rain in order to sweep us
away. We can be swept away from an authentic life and from a life of
contentment and a life of inner joy by the passions and corruption of
the world around us. We can, on the other hand, pay attention to the
actual meaning of the story of Noah and choose the kind of struggle
that Noah calls us to, and have an authentic life, a life filled with
meaning, hope and love.
THE STORY OF NOAH TEACHES US
OUR ROLE IN CREATION
God has bound man together with the created universe; man was intended
to be a point of unity for all creation. Mankind is material,
intellectual, spiritual – made up of everything that the universe is
made up of, a combination of all the things that occur within creation.
By accepting the counterfeits of Satan we began to be more a point of
disunity, and all of these wounds and divisions that occur in our human
nature developed amongst us.
We must often make a
choice between spiritual life and spiritual death. Let us look at the
story of Noah’s ark from this point of view, because the ark is a type
of the Church, and true spiritual life is to be found within the Church
because it is there that the Tree of Life still grows. The altar of the
Church is a type of Paradise, we receive from the chalice the fruit of
the Tree of Life, which is Jesus Christ Himself. In the description of
the building of the Ark, and the command about what to bring into the
Ark, we see that all of creation was symbolically represented and
encompassed in the ark. A type of everything that exists was there, for
God did not just command various clean animals, but clean and unclean
animals alike, and plants, particularly those that could be used for
food, and birds and creeping things – all of creation was encompassed
in the ark and they were all redeemed together with mankind,
represented by Noah and his family.
similar to what Apostle Paul says: “All creation is being
redeemed together with mankind, because all creation will be set free
into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Rm. Xx )
There is a very close bond between us and the created universe and the
ecosystem in which we live. We suggest that this story tells us that we
are encompassed together with the rest of creation. We have a role to
play as the centre of unity in creation and we have a responsibility to
the ecosystem in which we live; a responsibility to humanity and to all
life on earth, to preserve our biosphere.
EGOISM: THE SON BETRAYS THE FATHER
When the ark landed, we find a rather disturbing story of a son’s
betrayal of his father. One of Noah’s sons, Ham, found his father
passed out drunk and naked. He humiliated and degraded his father. When
he mockingly told his brothers about their father’s condition, the
other sons of Noah showed their love and respectful for their father by
entering the room holding blanket. The entered backward, with their
faces away from their father, and covered him with the blanket in order
not to shame their father.
No matter what family we have, when we
begin to raise children, not all of them really follow our teachings
and follow our path. Some are led into disrespect, and not just
disrespect, but even into a kind of revilement of everything that their
parents have stood for. Sometimes a child is right not to accept
everything that the parents teach, because they come to realize that
some of these teachings are just prejudices or they come to realize
that some of us are just too Pharisaical or too full of judgment or
condemnation, lacking in compassion and that sort of thing. But there
is this rejection of the whole concept, the whole idea, the whole
system of values that the previous generation had, the complete
disrespect for the parent, and therefore the disrespect for the values
and the things that were passed on to the children. This always leads
to some kind of sorrow and grief, because we do not realize that human
experience has formed many of these basic values – thousands of years
of human experience. Sometimes when a child comes to this point of
being completely rebellious against the parents and against what they
have taught and passed on – particularly when the parents are believing
people – they are not just rejecting what the parents have taught them,
but rejecting also thousands of years of human experience which has
taught us that certain things are necessary for survival; for the
survival of societies, for the survival of communities.
How does this story apply to us? We also have to make choices.
Each one of us has to make a choice about how to deal with the values
and the teachings, the instruction that have been given to us by our
parents, our grandparents. To totally reject everything and all the
standards that have been taught by the parents leads to a degeneracy in
society. From the beginning of the story of Noah’s ark we see the
majority of the people rejecting the revelation and the proper
relationship with God and neighbours. It was not just the flood that
caused them to be swept away, rather they allowed themselves to be
swept away and spiritually drowned by their own
passions.Meanwhile, those who were listening and heeding their
consciences, the voice of God, were lifted up in the ark which is a
type of the Church carried above this flood. They had the self-control
and self-discipline necessary in order to reject what was wrong and
struggle for what is good.
When we read in this
story about Ham’s betrayal of his father Noah, and the great
respect and reverence with which the other brothers approached their
father, we also see something about self-control and self-discipline.
The other brothers might have been tempted to look upon their father’s
nakedness just out of curiosity, but they had self-control and they
held self-discipline and they did not. This is the problem with Ham; he
had no self-discipline, no self-control and therefore no respect and no
reverence. Because without self-control and self-discipline, we also
cannot have self-respect or respect for others.
There is something yet more pointed about this story, however, and that
is our relationship with our neighbours, with other people in our own
lives. Rather than expose our brother of sister’s sins, we ought rather
to cover them. We are here to help lift each other up, not to push
others down; to help our brother heal, not to cut his wounds deeper.
We, as followers of Christ, must learn to respect our neighbours, our
brothers and sister in the faith and others in the same way that the
righteous sons of Noah love him and covered his nakedness. Too often we
behave like the unrighteous Ham and mock and revile our neighbours for
their weaknesses and failings rather than entering backward to cover
the sins of others. Even when our own weaknesses, failings and sins
stand glaring before us, we find opportunity to uncover our brother or
sister’s sins, mocking them and trying to put them to shame, as if we
ourselves were sinless and perfect. Such actions separate us from God,
from the love of Christ and from the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is,
perhaps, the central lesson for us in the story of Noah, this is where
we find ourselves in the story and the point at which the story becomes
about us; each one of us personally.
This is the story of Ham and his brothers and the choices made by them,
and a story about each one of us and the choices made by us. The ones
who had self-discipline and self-control and some reverence and
respect. We respect things that we do not necessarily agree with; we
should respect elders because they have survived so long, and because
at least within the pool of older citizens – not everyone is wise but
there is wisdom and experience among them.
happens to Ham when he has to face the reality of what he has done? He
becomes an outcast. But why is it that he has to serve his brethren?
What kind of bondage or slavery does he fall into? Does God make him
the slave to his brethren as punishment? Or is there rather something
else being said to us? People without self-discipline and without
self-control inevitably fall into bondage. Ineed, they fall into many
different kinds of bondage. We are not supposed to have a weak will, we
are supposed to have a strong will, but a will directed toward the will
of God and submissive to the will of God. We have to have enough
self-discipline and self-control to resist peer pressure, to resist the
desire to find an artificial way to have some kind of temporary
happiness, which could include drugs or alcohol, or to do evil because
of our egotism and self love. The Church has given us the path and the
means toward proper and effective self-discipline and self-control. We
need to have a certain amount of proper self-esteem also, and this
self-esteem comes primarily from the knowledge that Christ loved us
enough to die for each one of us and to rise again for the sake of our
salvation. He took our sins and burdens upon himself and carried them
to the Cross for each one of us, and this is the proper self-esteem.
This means that we have self-respect which is manifested in respect for
others. Having no respect for others, Ham clearly also had no
self-respect, but in a kind of self-loathing, he tried to make himself
look better by shaming his father and darkening his own heart.