God’s Providence

Today I received an email with these words of encouragement from a good friend:

“[Discipline in a Long-Distance Race]Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” Hebrews 12:1MSG

Grad school really is a race of endurance.  This weekend I had the privilege of attending a workshop geared towards students considering an academic career.  God’s hand was in this the whole way through.  This program is part of a social-science experiment, and out of the 300 late-stage PhD students that applied, I was one of 60 randomly selected to participate in the program.  I was assigned an awesome mentor, again randomly, who is a leader in my field.  Our coaching group, again random, was filled with great people, including other Christian scientists who are strong in their faith.  Over the “47 hours” of the workshop we laughed together, cried together, and started forming a cohesive group.  I am looking forward to interacting with my group over the rest of the year and beyond as we all move towards an academic career in science.

Grad school is such a struggle.  One thing I learned this weekend is that I am not alone.  Everyone I met was having or had similar and worse struggles than I have had getting through grad school.  Surely it was God’s Providence and Grace that brought me back to grad school, in an awesome lab and as a valued and accepted member of the scientific community, and I certainly felt God’s Grace this weekend.  I am more encouraged, uplifted, and supported on this awesome journey my husband and I are on to become scientists. Glory be to God!

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Glory to God for All Things

Today is the patronal feast of my parish, St. Anne. St. Anne (Anna) was the wife of St. Joachim. Joachim and Anna were the parents of the Virgin Mary, according to the early tradition of the Church. In Orthodox commemorations they are referred to as the “ancestors of God.” It is a shocking title, perhaps even more shocking than Mary’s “Mother of God.” Christmas devotion has accustomed many Christians to think about Christ as a child and thus as a child with parents. But the popular imagination generally stops there. We forget the fullness of what it means to be human (perhaps because we ourselves live in a world in which our own humanity is severely truncated).

St. Joachim was a priest who served in the temple. His wife, St. Anne, was unable to have children and elderly (a very familiar story in the pages of Scripture). The child Mary…

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Salt of the Earth

“And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly on [Stephen], saw his face as it had been an angel.” (Acts 6:15)

O rare thing: it was in the midst of dispute, in the heat of an argument, that Stephen’s face was transfigured and became angelic, even to the eyes of his opponents. Alas! How many times does argument produce an opposite effect even on those who believe they are defending a good cause! Whether it is in a council, an assembly of theologians or a simple private discussion, it happens that he who is ‘right’ and who perhaps believes he is serving God, loses all love? From that moment on, he is only fighting for himself. His words conceal a subtle dishonesty of which he is not aware. My child, when you contradict the opinion of another man, think of God’s servant Stephen’s face, shining like that of an…

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“Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” – the veneration of Mary.

As I have become more immersed in the Orthodox Church, the more I have come to realize what a great role women play in the life of the church.  Women are honored for what they are – not for being like men, or trying to be like men, but for the grace that God gives them.  At the height of this honor is the honor the Church gives to Mary – the mother of God.  I remember a conversation my husband and I had with my dad on our first visit home after our wedding.  He asked what the word “Theotokos” was that we repeated in the wedding service.  We explained that “Theotokos” means Mother of God.  This thought left him speechless. So often the role of women in the church is either down-played or made equivalent to the role of men.  The thought that God truly had a mother, and all the maternal bonds and human-ness that thought implies can take your breath away sometimes.  I have had conversations with both my mom and dad about icons and the veneration of Mary, and they are hard conversations, because the veneration of the Saints and the veneration of Mary are so completely different than anything in Protestant tradition.

This essay presents the veneration of Mary in a complete, but simple way.

I particularly like the comment about asking the Saints (including Mary) to pray for us.  We ask other (living) Christians to pray for us all the time.  How much more should we ask those saints that are living in God’s presence and departed this life to pray for us here on earth! I know I certainly ask the for the prayers of my grandmothers all the time. I miss them here on earth, but they, and their prayers, are never far from me. 🙂

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Distractions During Prayer

As work gets busier this has been one of the things I have been struggling with.  While praying my mind wanders.  I think about what I need to do, have done, or will do.  All these thoughts are sinful thoughts that take me away from a relationship with my Saviour. This is a really good article:

The Battle With Distractions In Prayer

One of my struggles in prayer has been distractions due to thoughts that interrupt my efforts to establish a relationship with God. After many years of struggle I was awakened the other day by an article on prayer by Heiromonk Peter Seregin.  The Orthodox Word published an article on him and included his article Thoughts on Prayer (pdf).

He writes,

Sometimes it happens that a person stands at the time of his prayer rule and goes through the words memorized prayers, while at the same time various extraneous thoughts about life’s affairs and plans dig into his mind and recollections, and cares attract his heart (feelings), and instead of prayer, he turns out to be engaged in something not only empty but sinful. Of course this is not prayer, but hypocritical idle talk before God.

This got my attention.  Before I was taking this issue rather lightly thinking this was normal and I simply needed to recognize the distraction and return to my prayer.  But I now realize how sinful this distraction is and that it is me who lets it continue. It is only my laziness that limits my prayer life. As I reflect on it, how could anyone not think that allowing such distraction to enter into one’s mind during prayer is none other than “hypocritical and idle talk before God”? In prayer I am seeking a personal relationship with my God, my Creator, my Lord and Savior, and while doing this I let my mind wander to mundane worldly issues.  How disrespectful can I be to let this happen when at the same time I am uttering words addressed to God!!

I now know it is a grave sin I am committing.  I now have the necessary motivation to make some changes, to become a stronger fighter in this spiritual war we are all engaged in. I need to better prepare myself for my prayer.

 
Read more here.

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lessons from a monastery

It was almost time for the noonday meal when Sr. Seraphima came in from working in the garden. She was washing her hands while I was drying the dishes.

“Were you able to finish the work you had in the garden?”

Di’evhon… [Through the prayers…]” she answered.

I was perplexed by her response. A “Glory to God,” I could understand. A “With God’s help,” I could understand. But “Through the prayers,” I couldn’t quite understand.

She dried her hands and went off to help with something the sisters were doing.

I continued drying the utensils and tried to figure out why she would have said, “Through the prayers.”

I knew the prayer: “Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us,” which is said at the end of every Orthodox service.  But I didn’t understand it in…

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Orthocath

By Thomas Seraphim Hamilton

Some time ago, an organization called “The Gospel Coalition” did two interviews. One of them was with a man born into an Orthodox family who then converted to evangelicalism. The other one was with a man born into an Evangelical family who had gone the other way. We have decided to critique the interviewee who left the Orthodox Church, not because he makes arguments that are particularly new or troubling, but because he serves as an excellent case study of common Evangelical objections to Orthodoxy. By answering his arguments, we cover much of the ground that Evangelicals seek to cover with Orthodox.

CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS

John is a Romanian man in his late fifties who is no stranger to the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was born into a family of Orthodox Christians, in a society where church and state often mix in unhealthy ways.

While we…

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