Entries with tag relationships .

How Lent Can Guide the Rest of the Year

Whether or not we were ready for it, Great Lent is here! The Church gave us three weeks to prepare, and now we’re well on our way towards Pascha. Like many of the great figures in Scripture, we are given forty days to guide us closer to God. The forty days from Clean Monday through Lazarus Saturday are meant to be a period of change and transformation. What we learn about ourselves, the growth that we make during this period, and the passions that we gain victory over during Lent shouldn’t stop at Pascha. In other words, we shouldn’t be the same people after Pascha as we were before Lent began.

 

But how can we hold on to the growth we make during Lent? How do hold on to that spiritual high that comes at Pascha? Great Lent is a training period for the whole year as it guides us to support each other, to have an increased tolerance for spiritual practices, and to rely on God’s strength.

 

1. Supporting each other

 

Great Lent teaches us to rely on each other and to support one another in our common effort. This was one of the things that most appealed to me when I was first becoming Orthodox as a teen; our spiritual effort is a team effort. The entire Orthodox Church fasts together. We pray the same services throughout Lent and we have the same Holy Week services all over the world. We have one fasting rule, though each person’s personal fasting rule can be adjusted with the help of their Spiritual Father. We share in the one Lord through our one faith and share in one chalice at Holy Communion.

 

We have a shared fasting discipline; each person doesn’t give up something different during Lent. If I were giving up coffee, whereas you were giving up social media, and our mutual friend was giving up chocolate, it’d be hard for us to support each other in our unshared disciplines. So when I get together with my Orthodox friends during Lent, there’s already a mutual understanding of what sort of places we might go to or what food we’ll have at each other’s homes. We don’t have to explain ourselves or worry if we’ll have anything to eat. When we fast together, we can better support each other.

 

This principle of supporting our brothers and sisters in a common effort ought to inform the rest of our year. We all have days where we can barely stand spiritually, and though we know we need to rely on God’s strength, it helps to know we have church friends to help us, too. If I’m sensitive to my friend’s fasting needs during Lent, am I sensitive to what might be going on in their lives? Am I open to my friend’s helping me when they see that I need help? My friends are the hands and feet of Christ; they are reminders that God is just as present with me as they are.

 

2. Increased tolerance in spiritual things

 

The more we accustom ourselves to spiritual practices, the more they become a part of our lives. What we did last year during Lent might not be sufficient for the spiritual growth that has taken place in our lives over the last year. And once I’m used to fasting during Lent, it will feel more natural to keep the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year.

 

This is the principle of tolerance, usually spoken about in the context of addiction. The more a person does something, it takes more of the habit or substance to get the same effect that it once took. In a spiritual context, we can see how Lent can guide us to have an increased tolerance for fasting, prayer, worship, and service. If before Lent, I only prayed once a day but prayed twice a day during Lent, I will be inclined to desire more prayer after Pascha has come and gone.

 

But it doesn’t always happen that way, does it? During Lent, it can feel natural to go to church, to pray more, to fast. And then Pascha comes and so does the temptation to let prayer slip a bit until we’re right back where we were before Lent. What we need is to be more aware of ourselves.

 

Lent helps us to be more watchful of our thoughts so that we can follow the Lord’s command to stay alert (Mark 13:37). St. John Cassian writes, “We are told to fast not only to mortify our body, but also to keep our intellect watchful, so that it will not be obscured because of the amount of food we have eaten and thus be unable to guard its thoughts” (“On the Eight Vices,” The Philokalia, Vol. 1, p. 75). The more I’m attentive to my thoughts, the more I spend time reading Scripture and less time on social media during Lent, the more this will begin to feel normal. But in order for this to happen, I have to be watchful during Lent so that I can see when I start to slip back to the way things once were.

 

When we’re watchful, the spiritual progress we make during Great Lent can guide us to a new normal for life after Pascha.

 

3. Relying on God’s strength

 

One of the paradoxes of Great Lent is that by learning self-control, we learn to rely not on our own strength but on God’s. The more I learn to say no to meat, the more I can say no to my passions. The more I can say yes to reading Scripture, the more I can say yes to letting Jesus guide my life. What I always have to remind myself of though is that Lent isn’t about being perfect. We do not fast so that we can prove to ourselves, to God, or to anyone else that we’re good at self-mastery.

 

We fast so that we can remember that God is the Lord and Master of our lives; we fast to remember that we are not God.

 

St. John Cassian, when writing on the passion of lust, speaks about the ascetic work one takes and the importance of relying on God instead of on one’s own power. He writes,

 

We should not trust in our own strength and ascetic practice, but in the help of our Master, God. No one ceases to be attacked by this demon until he truly believes that he will be healed and reach the heights of purity not through his own effort and labour, but through the aid and protection of God. For such a victory is beyond man’s natural powers. (“On the Eight Vices,” The Philokalia, Vol. 1, p. 75)

 

No spiritual task we undertake during Lent – fasting, prayer, reading Scripture, serving the poor – is done of our own strength nor should it be for our own glory.

 

During the year, we can easily fall back into the habit of relying on our tried and true friend “me, myself, and I”. We can forget that our labor doesn’t put food on our table; God puts food on our table. Anxiety and stress cannot solve a problem; God is the solution to every problem. During Lent, I find it easier to remember God because I’m keeping Him in mind each time I choose my meal and each time I go to church throughout the week. So once I hit the spiritual highs of Holy Week and Pascha, I have to hold on to the good practices I learned during Lent. At the start of each day, I can choose to keep God at the forefront of my mind, and throughout the day, I can remember that I can do nothing apart from Christ (John 15:5).

 

Then, Lent stops being just a period of days every Spring and becomes a way of life. Lent is a guide to rely on God instead of relying on ourselves.

 

*****

 

Lent is not meant to be a practice disconnected from the rest of our spiritual lives during the year. It is meant to inform our daily practice by teaching us to be ever more attentive to our thoughts and actions. As we fast together and support one another during Lent, we learn to continue to support each other spiritually throughout the year. As we increase our spiritual efforts during Lent, we should raise the bar for ourselves afterwards too. And as we rely on God during Lent to strengthen us in our fast, we should remember to always rely on God.

 

How can you let Lent guide you even after Pascha has come? How have you made spiritual progress since last Lent?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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When People Hurt Us

Relationships involve risk. Whether two people relate as strangers, neighbors, friends, or family, entering into a relationship always has the possibility of either leading to connection or to pain. Choosing to be friends with someone requires us to accept the risk of getting hurt in favor of the greater hope for connection. Relating to others requires courage.

 

If we’ve experienced a lot of loss and pain in our relationships, it can make us inclined towards isolation as we fear more of the same. If we aren’t watchful, this can lead us to resent whole groups of people. And then we use our resentments and past pain to justify our un-Christian behavior.

 

We don’t have to think in the abstract when it comes to people harming us. We have all been there before, and most of us can probably think of several people in our lives right now with whom we’re still not on good terms.

 

So what are Orthodox Christians to do in moments like this? How do we react in the moment, and how do we move on? Is it as simple as forgive and forget?

 

1. In the moment

 

A friend becomes selfish or ignores us. The person we’re in a relationship with says something so hurtful it makes us want to walk away. A stranger on the street robs us or is rude to us.

 

Nature inclines us towards self-preservation: fight or flight. Either we want to argue or we want to shut down and move on. In the moment, fear motivates us to take care of ourselves because we don’t want to get hurt any worse.

 

Instead of fear, God is constantly calling us to peace. He brings us peace, casts out fear, and restores our hope. So in these moments of conflict, do we retreat inward to instinct or do we reach out to God to be our strength?

 

How we respond in moments of conflict will be determined by how we are living our lives the rest of the time. If we are turning towards God and asking Him for His guidance, if we are humble and aware of our own shortcomings, we will be more inclined towards patience with others. But invariably, conflict happens and we have to do something about it after it has.

 

2. Positive confrontation

 

In moments of conflict, we may need to step back from this situation before we respond. Otherwise, we are just acting out of fear and instinct. This may mean simply stepping back for a moment before speaking or reacting at all. Have we prayed about the situation yet? We should never act on something without first turning to prayer.

 

Christ calls us to bless and not to curse, to actually bless those who wish us harm (Romans 12:14; Matthew 5:44). When was the last time you made the sign of the cross over that driver who cut you off on the road? Our prayer in the moment of our frustration helps us by giving blessing to others and releasing us from our anger.

 

With someone with whom we have a long-standing relationship like a friend, partner, or family member, offering a blessing may require something more. When we are hurt, we can either focus on the harm itself and seek punishment (ie. shame: “you always…” “you never…”) or we can seek to heal the wounded relationship. This requires a positive confrontation: an opportunity to heal a rift or solve a conflict rather than to argue.

 

It is best that we be as sober-minded as possible – that we aren’t speaking out of anger or frustration – but sometimes our anger is justified. If a woman is assaulted, a child is abused, or a person is robbed, an injustice has taken place. And even Jesus was angry at injustice (Matthew 21:12, John 2:15).

 

Some people like to sweep conflict under the rug and never address it. But Jesus gives us another view of confrontation. He repeatedly confronted the religious leaders, He confronted St. Peter after he denied Him (“Do you love me?” John 21:15-17), and He confronts us in our moments of lukewarm faith (Revelation 3:16).

 

When someone has hurt us, a relationship has been damaged. This deserves to be spoken about, it deserves to be addressed. What do we need to do in order to mend the relationship? Can it be mended? And afterwards, we have to move on.

 

3. Moving forward

 

After we have addressed our hurt, we have to move forward somehow. We aren’t moving forward if we continue to live in resentment – continually judging our offender in the courts of our mind.

 

Our ability to move on with those who have hurt us is related to our ability to receive God’s forgiveness as well. We ask Him to “forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us,” to forgive us to the same degree that we forgive others. God has given us chance after chance to turn back to Him. Do we extend this same grace to others?

 

Prayer is vital to our recovery from harms done to us. And I don’t mean prayer for their repentance or prayer for them to find justice. We must pray that the person who injured us will have all the good things we desire for ourselves. We must pray that they are blessed and that God will be present with them too. It helps to have a list of names of people to pray for: of our loved ones, those who are sick, and those we struggle to love because they have hurt us. As we pray for these people on a day-by-day basis, we will find that the pain lessens over time.

 

But it’s neither healthy nor necessary to stay in a relationship that is one-sided or where we’re continually being hurt. Sometimes we do have to end a relationship. This will be painful too, so we’ll need to remember that it’s natural to mourn the loss of relationships. We don’t need to be friends with everyone, nor do we need everyone to like us, but we do need to be willing to pray for everyone.

 

We may not be strong enough to embrace them in our arms, but we have a God whose loving embrace is large enough for the both of us.

 

*****

 

We are stubborn people, but God loves us anyway. We repeatedly turn from God, but He never turns from us. It’s important that we always frame our relationships with others in this context. All of our relationships should seek to model the love and forgiveness that God has shown us. We are called to respond to being hurt with a sober mind and not from a place of fear. After we have prayed for strength, we should address the situation with the other person. Finally, moving on means we continue to pray about the situation and commend that person to the care of God.

 

Do you struggle with resentment towards those who have hurt you? How is God calling you to mend your broken relationships?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Why Long Distance Relationships Fail

Nearly all of my friends are or have been in long distance relationships, especially my Orthodox friends. But even besides romance, my generation knows well the pain of seeing friends move across the country or even abroad. We have all sorts of technology to keep us connected, but it can still be hard to keep our relationships as strong as they were before.

We might look back at the days when we could just spend hours together: talking, hanging out, going through the routine of life together. But now, we’re so far apart that we have to schedule small windows of time to even catch up. And once we get time together, we wish we never had to part again.

Isn’t this how we feel with God, too? When we go through a period where we aren’t as prayerful as we’d like, we feel relief and comfort when we return to regular prayer. After all, our relationship with Christ isn’t completely different from these other relationships in our lives.

Scripture and the Tradition of the Church compare our relationship with God to a marriage. The Old Testament book Song of Songs is a love story about King Solomon and his Shulamite bride, but the Church lifts it up as a symbol of Jesus Christ and the Church (or even our own soul). When the Israelites would rebel against God and turn to other gods, He would compare it to adultery because they turned to another love. Even the word the Church Fathers use to discuss our love for God is the same word used for romantic love: eros. This shows us that our relationship with Christ is one which requires us to give of ourselves, and one which also takes sacrifice and intimacy. We can’t let our love for Christ stay a long distance relationship.

So let’s look at some reasons many long distance relationships fail, and see how we can apply the same logic to our relationship with Christ.

1. We let communication become a burden

Without the regularity of seeing one another on a daily basis, communication between two people often has to be scheduled out. Though a schedule isn’t a bad thing, it has the temptation of eventually making communication a chore or a ritual that turns a relationship into a burden.

If we aren’t spending time with Christ in church on a regular basis, eventually church will feel like a chore when we actually do go. If we aren’t praying daily, prayer will begin to feel like a burden. Saint Porphyrios reminds us of the real aim of the Christian life even when prayer begins to feel like this. “The point is not to observe all the outward forms. The essence of the matter is for us to be with Christ; for our soul to wake up and love Christ and become holy. To abandon herself to divine eros.” (Wounded by Love, p.96) Sometimes we get stuck on the outward form of prayer, simply scheduling in time for a required conversation, and we forget that our aim is to spend time with a Person, Jesus Christ.

So how do we keep any relationship from becoming a burden? We need to seek out as many opportunities to spend time with one another face-to-face. When we are together, we need to be fully present with the other and see it as an opportunity to grow deeper in our relationship. So when we go to church, we shouldn’t see it as a thing to check off of our to do list. Church is an opportunity to experience the love of Christ. And our relationship with Christ can’t be contained only to a few hours scheduled out once a week. We need to call upon Him and thank Him throughout the day in little ways so that we can always be near to Him.

2. We don’t sacrifice for each other

Every relationship requires mutual sacrifice. This might mean a sacrifice of time or comfort in order to spend time with each other. Or, we sacrifice our “right” to always be right and to admit that we’re (even if only sometimes) wrong. And it’s the same with our relationship with Christ.

The beauty of the Gospel is that God has always been sacrificing Himself to be closer to us. He was never content with a long distance relationship with you or with me. He took on humanity and died on the cross and rose from the dead just so He could be with us, forever. He doesn’t need an equal sacrifice from us – this is the gift of grace – but there are things we can do to offer ourselves back to Him.

Sleep on Sunday morning might be a sacrifice. We all need sleep, and most of us don’t get enough of it. Sunday might be your only day to sleep in, so maybe your sacrifice in this relationship is waking up early to go to Liturgy. When we make sacrifices for the One we love, however small, we aren’t just giving up something, we are gaining the gift of the Other, we are sharing our life with the Other.

3. We turn the person into an idea

The longer I’m apart from people, the more I can’t quite remember what they look like. I mean sure, I would know them if I saw them, but I can’t say I could actually describe them. And then there’s the problem where we either remember only the good times or only the bad times. We begin to paint the other as either an ideal human being, or we turn them into a person we can justify stepping away from.

If I’m not spending time with God in prayer, if I’m not spending time with Christ in the Liturgy, I’m going to come up with my own ideas of Him. If I’m not getting to know God as He is, I’m going to create Him after my own ego, after my own image. So I’ll either paint a god who condemns my enemies and justifies my sins, or I’ll make a god whose image I can justify defacing in favor of the knowledge of the world.

The problem with turning a person into an idea is that it’s just not reality. I cannot be known in hypotheticals or by someone remembering me as I was in the past. I have to be encountered as I am today. So if I want to know and encounter God, I have to meet Him where He is; I have to meet Him in the chalice.

*****

No one is saying a long distance relationship cannot work. We just know it will take determination and the confidence that the relationship at hand actually matters. And it’s the same with our relationship with God. Either we put the time into the relationship, or we don’t. Either we spend time with God in prayer and in the Liturgy, or we don’t. May we be watchful that prayer does not become a burden, aware of the need to offer ourselves to God, and mindful of the temptation to turn God into just another idea. So reach out to Christ! Don’t let your relationship with Him stay long distance.

Have you found yourself being distant from God recently? How can you grow closer to Christ today?

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Cruise-Control Marriages Invite Disconnection

Marriages cannot be sustained in a healthy way, let alone grow, if—as couples—we set them on ‘cruise control.’ All marriages need to be nurtured from the first day to the last of our lives.

In all relationships we seek to know and understand the other—just as the other mutually comes to know and understand us. This takes time, attention, and a vested interest. When we experience someone taking the time to know us by asking questions, listening, and sharing their own thoughts and feelings, we feel connected.

Engaging the other in dialogue while being fully present requires putting aside “all the cares of this life.” This attentiveness demonstrates care, concern, and interest. We all want to feel that our spouse will respond and be there when we call out to them. Ultimately it is about trust; as if to say, ‘Will you be there and can I count on you?’ If the answer is ‘Yes,’ each person will experience two extremely important components to a healthy marriage: safety and security.

When a marriage is put in ‘cruise control,’ there is the belief that the relationship is good and has no pressing issues. This point of view looks at marriage from a ‘problem-free’ perspective. If there aren’t any real concerns to address, then all time and attention can be directed toward other things such as children, work, friends, and fun.

However, the danger of this is that it opens the door to disconnection between the spouses. This disconnect may not be felt immediately—just as a plant won’t show it’s in distress without water for a couple of days. In time, though, the lack of water will manifest itself in the leaves and flowers. In the same manner, a marriage relationship without regular ‘watering’ will, over time, begin to show signs of distress in one or both spouses in ways such as:

  • Irritability
  • Sarcasm
  • Complaining
  • Withdrawing
  • Nagging

Our typical reactions may come out in abrupt questions and statements such as:

  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Why are you so rude and mean?”
  • “Stop already! All you do is complain.”
  • “You’re never around anymore. Everything else in life is more important to you.”
  • “Give me a break! Stop hounding me about everything.”

These comments come out of our own frustration, pain, and fear of being neglected, abandoned, and isolated. A better way to respond would be to engage our spouses in a way that invites them to kinder dialogue.

  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been a little irritable lately. Please tell me what’s going on.”
  • “That comment was hurtful. Is everything okay?”
  • “You seem like you have a lot on your mind. Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • “I feel like we’ve been drifting apart. Can we take some time to talk about this?”

Marriage is like a dance where we work together, learning to synchronize our steps with our spouse. This can’t happen if we don’t nurture our relationship daily.

Here are a few suggestions to nurture our marriages:

  • Dialogue with Christ every day in prayer.
  • Learn the “love language” of your spouse. (For more details, see Gary D. Chapman’s The Five Love Languages)
  • Offer encouraging and supportive statements to one another daily.
  • Listen carefully to understand each other and don’t assume.
  • Cultivate a spirit of gratitude for the blessings in your life.
  • Spend quiet time together—just the two of you.
  • Take an interest in activities your spouse enjoys.

God is the source of love and, through Him, there is no limit to the love that we can experience with our spouse. If we intentionally nurture our marriage daily, there is no limit to the intimacy we can feel for each other.

 

Fr. Timothy Pavlatos is the director of the Family Wellness Ministry of the Metropolis of San Francisco. He is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Fr. Timothy has been married since 1995 to Presvytera Vicki and they have nine children ranging from ages three to nineteen.

 

Is Your Marriage Struggling?

Sometime the challenges we face in marriage need someone from the outside to help us sort them out. Deciding to go to marriage counseling does not indicate that you have failed in marriage or as persons, but rather that you are seeking assistance to strengthen your relationship. For assistance in finding help speak with your parish priest or visit www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com or www.aapc.org (American Association of Pastoral Counselors).

The Trench- Protecting Our Relationships

It’s a dilemma that has followed most of us for as long as we can remember: you can’t go and play with friends until you complete your duties around the house. And while we may not have appreciated it then, this ordering of responsibilities is actually foundational to the proper functioning of our relationships.


Each of us has a limited amount of time and resources that we can expend, and it is through our time and resources that we demonstrate what we care about the most. Often, what we think we value and how we demonstrate that value does not line up. 

 

Sometimes we hesitate to say “no” to people so that we can say “yes” to those towards whom we have responsibility. We are afraid of being unkind, of being un-Christian. But prioritizing relationships is actually scriptural! In the Ten Commandments of the Book of Exodus, God tells us “Honor your father and mother,” and in the Gospel accounts, Jesus says “…a man shall leave his father and mother, and join to his wife. And they two shall be one flesh: so then they are no more two, but one flesh.”

 

Join Christian in this week’s Trench as he considers how we should go about prioritizing our relationships and how proper prioritization is key in our relationship with God. 

 

- Anthony

 

Anthony Ladas is a student at Fordham University and currently an intern for Y2AM.

 

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