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Truly, God is God July 31, 2008

Posted by Justin Farr in The Journey.
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Be still and know that I am God.

The beauty of the sunset strikes me. Regardless of any alienation I feel from God, He always draws me to His bosom lovingly with His glorious sunsets. I decide to pull down and sit on my Papal’s truck’s tailgate and watch the sun as it retreats beyond the horizon and grants the gift of dawn to God’s children across the world.

The sun descends, spraying the clouds and the heavens with a brilliant array of golds and pinks. The sun lays itself down before the Almighty God. The bats of the evening perform an aerial show for the Lord. The katydids hymn an ongoing, glorious song before their Lord. Lightning bugs flicker in the darkness, rising up in their dance of praise. The wind acknowledges the Lord. It caresses my cheeks and rubs its fingers through my hair affectionately. It assures me of God and dances before Him, reveling in His love and beauty. The trees rustle and the grasses sway, bowing down to their Creator. The whole of creation emits a beautiful aroma, the sweet incense of nature, well-pleasing to God.

It knows that He is God.

I close my eyes, having witnessed with my sight the praises of creation to its Creator. I bow my head and listen as the praise continues. Then all at once I descend into myself and ascend into God. I am alone with God. I am still. Just He and I. And truly, I know that He is God.

My Heart Cries Unto Thee July 30, 2008

Posted by Justin Farr in The Journey.
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I cry now to you, Lord, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

But perhaps God is crying to me, “My child, My child, why have you forsaken Me?”

Rain July 29, 2008

Posted by Justin Farr in The Journey.
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I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my tribulations. Come unto Him, and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed.

I was still on the ground after the fall from the spiritual heights of the mission trip. It’s always easier to lay down and accept it than to fight the pain and stand back up. It was a downpour last night with thunder and lightning as I headed to Wal-Mart. The entire sky was black from the clouds, but it was still evening out. As I drove through the beating of the rain, under the dark depths of the clouds above, I remembered my situation and my sinfulness. The weather perfectly complimented my mood and my abysmal spiritual state.

But as I drove along, lo and behold, the clouds parted, and the sun brilliantly shone forth, decorating the surrounding sky and clouds in dazzling arrays of golds and oranges. I looked all around. Black clouds. Darkness. But if I looked in that one direction, there the sun shone, gracing everything around it with its glorious presence. I stared in awe.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. It rather hurt.

Though we (I) may be in darkness, being rained upon, surrounded by the terrors of the thunder and the lightning, the sun is always there. If we look just right, the clouds will part ways to make room for the brilliance of the sun, and the sun will brightly illumine its surroundings in spectacular arrays of color. God is the sun. We may be in darkness, being rained upon, but it is all according only to the Lord’s will. (Not even a mere leaf falls to the ground without being in accordance with God’ will.) What death there would be without rain! The rain spurs growth. Thus, too, does our suffering spur spiritual growth if we always keep our focus on Christ Jesus. I must always look toward and for the sun, despite any rain, any suffering, and rejoice and give thanks to the Lord our God for all things!

I fell down. Again. Now I am getting back up. Again. Lord, have mercy.

Renewal of Faith and Love July 26, 2008

Posted by Justin Farr in The Journey.
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And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to go on a mission trip this past week with my family’s Baptist church. When I visit my grandparents, I go to their church, and thus I was able to attend the youth group’s mission trip this summer. We are in Tennessee and went to Carthage, Texas. An 11 hour drive. In all honesty, just about everything we did could have been done here without driving 11 hours and somewhere around 700 miles.

We worked at a place called Kid’s Club for the first two days. It is in its first year, and previously many very young children were staying home alone while their parents worked. Kids Club offered many, many local kids an opportunity for safe, summer fun and a daily message about Jesus. These kids were surrounded by the love of Christ. The project is such a wonderful and blessed project! While working here, I was involved with the crafts and sometimes played games with the kids. It was a great experience for me, and the time I spent here helped me to break out of my shell as I worked with strangers and kids (and I generally dislike kids). The second day we visited the elderly for a couple of hours in a local nursing home before heading to Kid’s Club. The folks there seemed very happy to have visitors. I really like older folk, and it was a nice experience.

The third and fourth days we painted. The third day we painted the vast majority of the outside of a Baptist Christian Academy which was in need of a new paint job. I got quite a tan, and I never sweated so much in my life. The work out in the killer Texas heat was something new for me! Such laborious work, however, was good for my soul. The fourth day we painted the entire kitchen of the same nursing home we visited the second day of the trip. The nursing home has little funding. Previous groups this summer have painted the entire nursing home inside. The kitchen had many moldy areas. The staff was very grateful for the painting, even if it involved just a new coat of paint covering up the mold. It’s really a nursing home for those who cannot afford anything nicer, and we had the opportunity to share the love of Christ and make the nursing home, which is truly their only home, look nice and feel more like an actual home.

Every day was hard work physically. But it was very enriching. I am an extremely shy person, and tend to hole up inside of myself and not spread God’s love. Here, God has blessed me with change. I have opened up immensely and have broke free from my shell! I met wonderful people on this mission trip, opened up, shared God’s love, was not afraid of difficult labor, and I had an amazing, blessed time! Each night we had contemporary Protestant worship songs, but the nightly worship was something phenomenal that my soul desperately thirsted for. We had stories and Scripture reading every night that benefited me and aided me in my salvation. Each morning we had forced devotionals where I went off by myself for 20 minutes and prayed the Jesus Prayer. How enriching that was! Such structure and constant focus on our Lord Jesus Christ was nothing other than invigorating, inspiring and moving.

Something I so deeply dreaded and abhorred on the first day turned into an absolutely blessed experience where I bonded, became closer to God, and broke out of my shell. Breaking free from the darkness and stepping out into the light was refreshing and enlightening! Glory to God in the highest!

At the trip there were several denominations. We had some Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists (my group), and Catholics. It was truly the work of God to have us all there at once. To see so many different groups and to see the many people with different beliefs united to work and love in the name of Jesus Christ was astounding. All of us were united under Christ and laid aside our differences to spread His love to the community. Glory to God! My Uncle Will and I had some theological debates during the trip (he being Baptist and I being Orthodox). But at the end, we agreed to disagree and we reinforced our love for one another.

We had a footwashing service on the last night of the trip where the adult leaders (which were my Uncle Will and Aunt Kristy) washed our feet, and the Youth Works (our site) Leaders washed our adult leaders’ feet. It was a blessed experience and full of many tears. The Scripture read before, and the actual service, was a stark reminder of the humility of God. God Himself came down and became human. Not only that, which is very humbling in and of itself, but He was the lowest of the low while here with us. Truly, God is with us! Glory to Emmanuel!

The last day was emotional. I bought a water bottle and a t-shirt to help spread God’s word on everyday items. I was determined to stay out of the shell that I had broken free from. The shackles were no longer on me. (Side story. We had a talent show. Some people from my group did movements to a song where there was a guy who was being tugged at and trampled upon by demons. But then, with the help of Christ our God, he was the one pulling them, and he broke free from their grasp. It was very moving.) I had had my faith renewed, and my love for God that had dwindled was now renewed and back in full swing. I had met great people, found God again, and I was sad to leave. I knew that I was going to go back home and be obviously head over heels for Christ our God and spread His Word!

Reality crushed me.

I was warned.

Within an hour of my arrival home I was watching filth and sinning and thinking nothing of God. I didn’t pray that night (last night). I didn’t pray this morning. Up until the past few hours I have thought naught of God. What happened to the love I had just yesterday? What happened to the faith? What happened to the work? To the stillness? Where did the light go? Why am I back in my shell? Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!

To go on something my youth pastor, my Uncle Will, said while on the mission trip… He had initially wondered why Youth Works, our mission site, provided only the basics. We were not allowed phones, computers, iPods, TVs, etc. Our meals were very simple. We had but water to drink all the time there except juice and milk in the mornings. This simplicity of life, and the structure of life while on the trip, truly leads one to God. It allows us to focus on Him and to realize our need for Him and to be reminded of how little we need the things we think we do.

So how am I to live in the world? The demons were easier kept at bay on the mission trip. But now they flog me, unafraid. How do I do it? How do I survive among the world, and the demons, and the vanity, and all the distractions? I must cling to the renewal of my faith and to the reinvigoration of my love for God. With every ounce of strength in my being I must desperately cling to the garments of our Lord Jesus Christ and never let go. I must be strong, with God as my help, and keep to the structure that I received at Youth Works. I must continue to pray daily. It is necessary for me to continue living in simplicity. Even out in the world once more, it is critical that I keep my focus on God at all times throughout the day.

I must especially love my neighbor as myself. This can only be done out of my shell. I see the broken bits on the ground, and I am determined not to glue them back together and retreat back into a pit of blackness. Of all that occurred during the trip, one thing really stood out. Ashley, one of the wonderfully nice girls from the Catholic church, gave me a hug on the last night. We had worked together at Kid’s Club. She came up to me and just embraced me richly with the love of Christ. She said, “It was great meeting you. May God bless you, Justin.” She then tightened her hug, which was full of warmth and joy and God’s love, and said, “May He keep your spirits high. I love you, Justin.” She withdrew and smiled. She truly had Christ in her. At that moment I felt loved and comforted and knew that I had just been embraced with all of God’s incomprehensible love. The love of God truly abounds everywhere. This is the attitude I must keep with me always. I must show the love of Christ to all I meet and truly love them as Ashley loved me and showed Christ’s love to me.

During this trip, where my entire self was renewed, I also learned that I know nothing. I’m a filthy sinner and I know nothing. I do not know God. I trust in Christ’s Church, and I am Orthodox because of this. I do not know all of its teachings, and I do not know God. I just trust Christ and His Church. Now I must strive to truly learn about God and His Church and to truly know my Savior. Now I must cling to what God has given me during the trip by His grace alone. I must cling to it with all my being, and I can only do this with God helping me. I must hold steadfastly to my Savior. Thank you, O God, for blessing me on this trip, renewing my faith and love for You, and shedding your mercy upon me. Thank you, my God, for pulling me out of Hell, where the pernicious Serpent had dragged me to. Allow me to be Your hands and Your feet and Your smiles here on Earth, and help me to spread Your Word. Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!

This is why I can’t be a Christian! July 14, 2008

Posted by Justin Farr in Uncategorized.
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Every now and then I think we need to take a good look at ourselves. Who am I? What am I doing? This isn’t the road I should be traveling, is it? What kind of a Christian am I? I remember a youth pastor once told me this story (true, by the way).

He had this friend who was an atheist. They were in the car together. He had tried to witness to her and to bring her to Christ many times. As they were driving on the road and, being in the South, they came upon a slow tractor. After patiently following behind the tractor for several minutes, he drove faster and passed the tractor up. His friend exclaimed, “Aha! I knew you weren’t so good and perfect! See? THIS is why I can’t be a Christian!”

This story has always resonated within me. Sure, she had probably never heard of the Fullness of the Truth, the Church. We are not perfect. We can not be perfect. We are sinners.

I was just sitting here today thinking about it as I procrastinated reading A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain. How good of a Christian am I? Not so good. Do I model Christ to the best of my abilities. Not even close. Have people permanently abandoned the idea of following Christ because of me and my abundant sin? Probably. Woe is me on the Judgment Day! I am concerned in externals and regretfully neglect the inward being. I am harsh to my family, lax about the Faith around my friends, ashamed of Christ in front of the public. In the past few days alone I have examples of each. I have spoken crudely to my mother, and I have not appreciated her enough. I joked about Christianity half-heartedly with my friends. Yesterday a neighbor came by and seen my icon corner. She fell in love with it (and asked if I was Wiccan). She really admired its beauty. What an opportune time to explain the Church and to show a love for Christ! How miserably I failed!

Do not let others fall because of failings! Where I have led them to Hell, O God, turn them around towards you! Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner! I suppose I will go read and pray now instead of wasting time on the internet and putting off my duties. How little I care for eternity and for my Savior! Lord, have mercy!

(icon is Coptic and of the Resurrection)

First Monastery Visit July 8, 2008

Posted by Justin Farr in The Journey.
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Icon of the Temptations of the Monastic Life

Monasticism itself is a perpetual labor of conquering passions and uprooting them in order that, being in a pure and immaculate state, one may preserve oneself before the face of God. This, then, is your task! Give your attention to it, and direct all your powers towards it.

St. John Chrysostom

After 3/4 a tank of gas, a six hour round trip, getting lost for about 20 minutes and panicking, and my first visit to Georgia, I managed to sneak and pay a visit to my first monastery! It was the Monastery of the Most Glorious Ascension in Resaca, GA. Today was proof that God works in miraculous ways. Last Sunday, due to my listening of the demons, I did not go to Divine Liturgy. These same temptations plagued me about sneaking off to the monastery. God is so grand! He prepared me for these temptations by allowing me to fail and see the lies spewing forth from the demons’ mouths. Today I was able to go forth to the monastery in as much humility as my swelled up pride would allow, trying to accept anything that happened as God’s will.

And the trip went wonderfully! When I initially arrived, the eyes of my soul, so accustomed to the deep, dank darkness, shirked from the light that the monastery illumined my heart with. The demons attacked. I felt bored, nervous, and I felt as if all the gas and time was an entire waste. But after talking with monks, and as they go about their daily routines, there is nothing left for me to do but sit in the quiet stillness where my sin creeps into the forefront of my mind. I was able to sit and pray the Jesus Prayer, and read several articles from Orthodox magazines. Slowly the eyes of my soul grew faintly accustomed to the light; eventually, they were fully opened and eagerly received such wondrous illumination!

The monastery was so peaceful and serene. For the monks, however, I know that it is a spiritual battleground. I, a wretched sinner and a mere layman (if that! I am still outside the Church!), however, found a spiritual oasis in the midst of a treacherous and dry desert where vultures fly over me, eagerly awaiting my demise. I spent a great deal of time walking the monastery grounds and admiring the chapel and venerating the numerous icons (something still foreign to me that I do rather awkwardly). I especially loved the aroma of incense that pervaded the air and constantly lingered about in the chapel.

My soul was thirsty, and it eagerly drank from the blessed water. Glory to God for allowing this in His infinite wisdom!

Besides the nourishment I also learned an important lesson. When I tell priests or monks of my sincere desire, and what I feel is a calling, to the monastic life, they do not seem to take me seriously. Not that I blame them. I am 17 years old and not yet even a member of the Church! I have, admittedly, fantasized the monastic life. Several months ago, God taught me a lesson – the hard way; priests are people, too. Thankfully, God managed to show me (or I managed to actually listen) in a less harsh manner that, hey! Monks are people, too. They were all different. One thing that struck me was when one of the monks made a bowl of Ramen Noodles for lunch! That is what seemed, as silly as it sounds, to “drive it all home” so to speak. They are real people who fall and must get back up, who eat real food, who struggle… They’re real.

I’ve managed to idealize monks, fantasize about monasteries, romanticize monasticism… and this trip, this pilgrimage, to my first visitation of a monastery really shattered all that. At first it rather hurt. It seemed to dispel thoughts of a monastic life. Quickly, thanks be to God, I realized what a blessing it is to have learned this. In fact, it enforced the idea of my calling to become a monk, God willing and God helping me. Realizing all of these truths, I yearned moreso for such a life! Glory to God! He has used this trip as a spiritual refreshment and as a center of learning.

I pray that I continue to gain such wonderful knowledge as I read the book I bought while at the monastery at the recommendation of a monk, “A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain” by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos. I have a little under ten months before I turn 18 and graduate high school. If anything, I’ve regressed spiritually and physically from last year. This cannot continue. I must progress. I must fall and get back up, always wiping myself off and not looking back, but always looking ahead to our Lord Jesus. This is still my accountability blog. Perhaps I will stay standing a bit longer than last time. Lord Jesus, have mercy!

In closing I will post one of my favorite stories in regards to the monastic life. I only read it the past couple of weeks, but it has really struck an everlasting chord within me.

One of the old men of the Thebaid used to tell the following story: “I was the son of a pagan priest. When I was small I would sit and watch my father who often went to sacrifice to the idol. Once, going in behind him in secret, I saw Satan and all his army standing beside him; and behold one of the chief devils came to bow before him. Satan said, ‘Where have you come from?’ He answered, ‘I was in a certain place and made much blood flow, and I have come to tell you about it.’ Satan asked, ‘How long did it take you to do this?’ He replied, ‘Thirty days.’ Then Satan commanded him to be flogged, saying, ‘In so long a time have you done only that?’

And behold, another demon came to bow before him. Satan asked him, ‘And you, where have you come from?’ The demon replied, ‘I was on the sea, and I made the waves rise, and small craft foundered, and I have killed many people, and I have come to inform you of it.’ He said to him, ‘How long did it take you to do this?’ and the demon said, ‘Twenty days.’ Satan commanded that he also should be flogged, saying, ‘That is because in such a long time you have only done this.’

Now, a third demon came to bow before him. he asked, ‘And where have you come from?’ The demon replied, ‘There was a marriage in a certain village, and I stirred up a riot, and I have made much blood flow, killing the4 bride and bridegroom, and I have come to inform you.’ He asked him, ‘How long have you taken to do this?’ and he replied, ‘Ten days.’ Satan commanded that he also should be flogged because he had taken too long.

After this, another demon came to bow before him. He asked, ‘And where have you come from?’ He said, ‘I was in the desert forty years fighting against a monk, and this night I made him fall into fornication.’ When he heard this, Satan arose, embraced him, and put the crown he was wearing on his head and made him sit on his throne, saying, ‘You have been able to do a very great deed!’

The old man said, ‘Seeing this, I said to myself, “Truly it is a great contest, this contest of the monks,” and with God assisting me for my salvation, I went away and became a monk.'”

by an unknown monk
“The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers,” by Benedicta Ward,
(Oxford: SLG Press, 1986)

(the icon is the “Icon of the Temptations of the Monastic Life”)

Rejoice in Suffering July 6, 2008

Posted by Justin Farr in The Journey.
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Blessed Father Seraphim Rose

Don’t worry too much about how spiritually poor you are—God sees that, but for you it is expected to trust in God and pray to Him as best you can, never to fall into despair, and to struggle according to your strength. If you ever begin to think you are spiritually “well off”—then you can know for sure that you aren’t! True spiritual life, even on the most elementary level, is always accompanied by suffering and difficulties. Therefore you should rejoice in all your difficulties and sorrows. – Bl. Fr. Seraphim Rose

It’s rather ironic that I can be so close to God riding the 4-wheeler (I think Northerners call it an ATV 😉 ). I rather disdain technology (regardless of how inconceivably lost I would be without it). But there’s just something about it that has always brought me so close to our Creator… the cool air caressing my body, the smell of the forest, the breathtaking sunsets. It’s all so amazing. Sometimes when I come here to Crossville to visit Dad and family and ride the 4-wheeler here I feel closer to God than during Divine Liturgy.

I remember last summer, the time when I was so in love with God and the world (Dear Lord, what happened between then and now?!), I ran over a butterfly. It had minor holes in its delicate blue and black wings. It was a gentle creature. I preoccupied myself over the butterfly all day, taking pictures of it and holding it in my hands near all day. I constantly prayed over it, and felt miserable that I had ran over it. I laid it on the porch at night before bed, and it was gone in the morning. I hope to God it was fine and flew off. As I was thinking about this as I rode the 4-wheeler this evening, a lightning bug collided with my stomach. Its wings were in disarray. I stopped almost immediately. I forgot to pray this time. But it straightened itself up, crawled a bit, flew off, fell to the ground in it attempt, sat there a minute, and flew off again fine. I thanked God, crossed myself, and continued feeling near him on the 4-wheeler.

It’s so loud. Such a stark contrast to the other day when I managed to go to the state park and spend five hours boating and hiking. It’s such a weird feeling when one is hiking. I’m out there, so alone. Everything is so still and silent. A sniffle has the power to shatter the very fabric of the quiet stillness. I feel so alone it is frightening, no human beings within screaming distance. Yet all at once, amidst the loneliness and the quiet, a chorus of Creation hymns to the Creator, and I am accompanied by the saints and angels, and I know that God is always with me. What an amazing feeling.

A squirrel and I shared a deep connection. I was very close to it, and it cared not. It ate its little acorn, nibbling away, both of us staring at one another for about ten minutes in mutual appreciation. This is all assumption. I’m not a squirrel. But it was a nice time out in nature that I needed a few days ago. The city where I live with mom can consume me and greedily suck the joy from my soul. I can’t handle all the metal and concrete and asphalt surrounding me with the occasional green oddity. I much prefer it here. I can meditate at the pond, or go out on the 4-wheeler and feel close to God.

I need to keep Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose’s quotation in my mind constantly. I continuously fail, and more often than not I fall and then decide that I would prefer to lay there, enjoying my relaxation from the struggle, instead of getting up and ascending to true joy.

Satan deceives. I spent an hour at my family’s church today listening to politics. I could have woke up early, spent $20 in gas, a 2 hour roundtrip, and I could have snuck to church. It keeps telling me that “sneaked” is the word, and that snuck is not a word. Snuck sounds better. But I didn’t go. I woke up and debated for 15 minutes on the dangers of going. The Devil and the demons have a way of keeping us from God by using plausible reasoning and cunning arguments. Now I realize how, in all actuality, ridiculous the reasons for me not going are. And I lament at the fact that I missed a Divine Liturgy. My soul excruciatingly thirsts for that blessed nourishment.

Again I have nailed Christ to the Cross. Again I shout to Him, “No! I prefer my darkness. Leave me to my death! I do no want light. I do not want life.”

Why can’t I learn?

So here I sit, typing, not expecting anyone to read this but myself and my spiritual father, really, instead of praying, or reading the Word of God.

I am in constant sorrow, I fall into despondency, I despair in all things, my pride is easily riled up, my lust burns my soul. I think a major problem of mine is that I expect the world to be perfect. I expect things to be right, and I seem to have it ingrained in my mind that what’s not right, we as humans can fix. I seem to have this notion that the Church is perfect in all ways.  But this world can never be perfect, and the Church is full of struggling sinners, of whom I am the worst. By far.

O Lord, please let me see that all suffering leads to salvation, and by Your grace allow me to truly love You. Lord, have mercy.

(the picture is of Blessed Father Seraphim Rose)