Posted by: oldbelieving | January 19, 2012

Orthodox Spirituality: A Six-part series on teachings of the Orthodox Church by Fr. Alexey Young

Over Christmas break I found in the library of my home parish a 6-part VHS series of talks on Orthodox spirituality given by Fr. Alexey Young, who was a spiritual child of Fr. Seraphim Rose. I think he does a wonderful job of synthesizing the Patristic Tradition and communicating some deep subjects in easy to understand language. Since he was rocking my face so much I decided to take some notes, which I’d like to present here. I know my notes are not very well organized, but perhaps someone can get some benefit from the wisdom of Fr. Alexey (now Hieroschemamonk Ambrose) Young. There will be 6 blog entries in all. Enjoy!

Lesson 1: What is Holiness?

– to talk about holiness must talk about Saints who are best examples of holiness

-for this purpose a Saint doesn’t exist outside Orthodoxy – good ppl outside Church (Mother Theresa), but precise Orthodox understanding limits it to Orthodox Church

-requirement for holiness is to have Orthodox faith- false doctrine inhibit movement towards God – slow us down, stop us from going whole way; authentic doctrine illuminates the path

St. Theophan the Recluse: false doctrine can result in profound inner unhappiness, emotional distress

-Saint not simply one who cultivated virtues or controls oneself through asceticism, but rather one who has Christ Himself living in Him – completely organic relationship with Christ, Saint not separated from Him in any way – gone through stages of repentance and purity to remarkable state of union with Christ – theosis

-to become one with Christ is purpose of life

-self-help and self-improvement groups prove ultimately meaningless when you consider that you will die

– all things pass away except for Jesus Christ – Fr. Seraphim to Fr. Alexey

-when we confront this reality and reality of death then many things we thought were important take a back seat

-but death has been transcended, transfigured

-“Holy things are for the holy!” – we feel unholy when we hear this, but Church understands this and replies: “One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen” – it is because of this Holy One that we have hope, from Him all holiness comes forth

-baptism and chrismation enter us into communion of Saints, new way of living, thinking, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching – join ranks of those who sought and found Christ, heard “I Am He”

-Saints debase themselves with startling humility- had no pretensions about themselves, but WE who aren’t Saints sometimes pretend to be holy, righteous – thereby debase others; whereas true Saint makes us, the insignificant, feel loved

-always sense of stillness, peacefulness about Fr. Seraphim – problems resolve themselves in his presence

Fr. Seraphim accepted you as are, but smacked you down when you were a fake

-struggle, repent, seek mercy, try to learn patience, try to have more love, humility, etc – in doing this something begins to happen within us – begin to realize we have a quietness within us that didn’t originate within us – this is the beginning of theosis; John 7 He Who believes in Me, out of his heart show flow rivers of living water – begins as trickle and then flows out to whole being

-when approach Saint we feel he loves us – doesn’t exploit us; Saints are little christs

-if enter into relationship with Saint through asking his intercessions we find there is beginning of warmth, sense of presence that Saint is there and listening

St. Greg. P: God and His Saints have same glory and splendor bc God shares, Saint reminds us that God loves us, reminds that he too was weak but we all have strength of being loved by Christ–you can return and find God, but if we abandon God we become slave of self-love which destroys us and those around us – Saint reproaches us

-man dominated by self-love will soon be dominated by all passions, sins, temptations – one-by-one find home in him – solution is modeled by Saints – living for Christ, not ourselves – only then do we become real ppl

-learn real theology from being in presence of Saint- clear icon of Christ before us

St. John of D: Saints are full of grace, doesn’t depart at death – relics, icons, etc; God rests in His Saints

-understand Who God and we are through Saints aflame with love of God- reminds us of something that never ceases or passes away- God cannot hate, get angry, God is only loving- unless we reach a state of only loving  then God will be Hell for us

Met. Hierotheos: contact with Saints reveal hurt child within us

-how to experience Saints? Not enough just to ask their intercessions- to have relationship with Saint must already imitate him in some way- have contrition and feeling of disillusionment of own ability to do things

-humility is beginning of sense of reality- we have long way to go to reach God

-6 kinds of Saints, 6 types of holiness:

1. Apostles- teaching is foundation of Church

2. Martyrs, Confessors – example for rest of us for supreme sacrifice

3. Prophets – foretold coming of Christ

4. Hierarchs, Teacher Saints – preserve unity among faithful, Teachers like St. John of D, St. Nikodemos

5. Monastics – die in peace praying for world

6. the Righteous – attain holiness in the world, Abraham and Sarah, Job, Joachim and Anna, St. Joseph, etc

— listed in relative importance for Church

-the Righteous achieve holiness by keeping commandments, participating in liturgical life, etc

St. Kosmas Aeitolos: martyrs in Paradise with their blood, monastics with their ascetic life, how shall we who beget children attain Paradise? – hospitality; relieving poor, blind, lame (like Joachim); almsgiving; love; fasting – become enriched in body and soul

– the Righteous includes Fools for Christ- hide virtues, endure contempt to achieve humility, patience

-all paths have common basis of asceticism/spiritual work- athleticism of the spirit

-Orthodox Saint is already a citizen of Heaven and help us achieve that goal

-in Paradise before Fall Adam had constant remembrance of God- his sin deeply darkened this, passed this onto humanity – bear signs of corruption and decay and spiritual nature that is darkened by forgetfulness of God

-Saints are those who have remembered God and are anxious to teach us to do the same

Q: elaboration on statement that there aren’t Saints outside Orthodoxy:

A: Francis of Assissi: striking difference between him and Orthodox Saints

-Francis identified himself with Christ many times- stigmata; we don’t identify with Christ but are saved by Him, focus more on Resurrected Christ

-Francis saw himself as especially singled out by Christ- Orthodox Saint would see himself as the least

-one time when sick his doctor had him eat meat which was against the rule of Franciscans- felt so guilty that he went into market, dumped ashes on himself, proclaimed his sin to all, loudly talked about how much a wretch he was – our Saints never draw such attention to themselves

Q: elaboration on God not getting angry:

A: must remember that OT isn’t full revelation of God

-only see Christ angry once: drives money changers out- righteous anger bc angry for honor of Father

-OT is more about how Jews perceived God – they were in very imperfect relationship with Him

-its not for us to judge those outside the Church, but we know that Orthodoxy is fullness of truth

Q: if we’re new to Orthodoxy how do we discern what our distortions are?

A: so important to read Lives of Saints- have to start at pre-school level before reading Philokalia

Fr. Seraphim recommended people read Dickens to show ppl normal life – to overcome hardness of heart- very self-indulgent but not at all with other ppl – these writings show living theology

-watch and learn from others- don’t need to know WHY everything is done, but just do it

-holiness needs to be studied in action – read less theology and more lives of Saints

Q: compare and contrast Western asceticism and worldview with Orthodoxy:

A: generally in West asceticism came to be seen as ends in themselves, in Orthodoxy only means to end

Q: do Saints continue to grow in holiness after death when united to Christ

A: yes, although we don’t know too much about this

-we know our prayers our beneficial in some way – they are unable to pray, give alms for themselves so we can do it for them – this implies continuing growth, change

-person isn’t Saint until they die, they can always fall


  1. would you consider asking Fr. Ambrose’s blessing to transfer the VHS to DVD for distribution / sale and then undertaking this?

    • well the VHS’s belong to the parish that I attend when I am visiting my parents, so I do not have regular access to them.

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