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Ortho_cat
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« on: August 10, 2009, 11:39:30 PM »

The more I study about Orthodoxy the more and more I see how deep and treacherous the pitfall of legalism can be. I've heard of many stories about people who just go to church on Sunday, light a candle, venerate an icon, half-heartedly partake of the eucharist, and then walk away thinking that their duty to God is done. I think it is fair to say that this belief is very common (and perhaps rampant) in many (if not most) parishes.   

I compare this trapping to the doctrine of "once saved always saved" within evangelical protestantism. In this case, the "assurance of salvation" that is proclaimed by this group of believers can very easily lead people to believe that they have "fire insurance", and since they are "washed in the blood", there is no further action or synergy with God required to fulfill their salvation.  This belief, if misinterpreted, can very easily lead down a path of rampant backsliding and sinfullness. (I speak from experience)

I believe that the individual who goes to Church and just "goes through the motions", or likewise the person who says they are "saved" yet follow few or none of Jesus' teachings, is no better off than a person who doesn't even believe in Jesus; In fact, I think that they may be at a greater risk of condemnation than those who have never heard the gospel. I firmly believe it is not the actions themselves, but it is the intent behind the actions; i.e. the state of the heart that matters. Am I wrong in seeing it this way? Furthermore, what is being/can be done to combat this sinful trapping that many who practice Orthodoxy fall into or find themselves in?

P.S. If the moderator feels that this might be best suited for another subforum, please feel free to move.
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« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2009, 11:50:43 PM »

I don't know that legalism is what you're talking about here. If anything it almost sounds like the opposite.
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« Reply #2 on: August 10, 2009, 11:53:52 PM »

Well, I guess what i'm referring to is someone just doing something for the sake of doing it; i.e. an empty ritual. Perhaps there is a better term than legalism?

This post seems to sum up fairly well what I am referring to.

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,478.0.html
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« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2009, 12:05:02 AM »

'Legalism' seems like the wrong concept.  Perhaps 'passiveness' or 'passivity'? Indifference?

This happens everywhere.  Worry about your own salvation, and lead those around you with love toward Christ.
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« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2009, 12:54:33 AM »

  Worry about your own salvation, and lead those around you with love toward Christ.

Amen. There's far too much judging of others going round. The fact is, we don't know the heart of another person. You say he/she is taking part in empty ritual. First off... the ritual is not empty although he might be. But more importantly, you simply do not know his heart. So you hear many stories about people who go to church, light a candle, venerate an icon, half-heartedly partake of the eucharist and then walk away thinking such and such. And who is telling you such stories? And how would they know that these folks are half-heartedly partaking? How would they know they walk away thinking they have fulfilled their obligation as it were? You say that you think these people are "going through the motions" but the bottom line is: you don't know this to be the case... period. So, tend to your own salvation and stop judging others.
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« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2009, 04:24:44 AM »

I must first say that the intentions of this post are not to judge others’ spiritual state. My actual intentions are related to my own salvation, although perhaps I initially approached it in a round-about sort of way. Indeed, I was hoping to gain insight from others so that I don’t find myself within such a spiritual dilemma as I have described. (as I previously mentioned, I already fell into the evangelical pitfall of taking my salvation for “granted”)

In the link that I provided (Originally posted by Orthodoc), it tells of a story about an individual who notices that many of his family members are merely going through the motions at church. True, he is not able to judge their heart, but by a persons outward actions and countenance, especially if you know someone intimately like a family member, you can gain an overall assessment of their spiritual health. Sometimes I think the mentality of “tending to one’s own salvation” can lead a person down a path of spiritual isolation. From what I’ve learned about the Church so far, salvation is not an individual process solely between you and God, but it is also a process of relationship with your fellow man. If we notice a spiritual brother/sister that has fallen into spiritual stagnation, is it not our responsibility to encourage these people?

Nevertheless, I think we all agree  that ritualism and legalism can and does happen in the Church. Repetitive activities, (Reciting the Divine Liturgy, Lighting candles, venerating icons, praying the same prayers) can all lead a person to having a mentality of simply “going through the motions” if close attention if not paid to prevent this from happening. It is my personal opinion that signing of the cross, venerating  icons, partaking of the Eucharist, etc. if not performed with the proper state of mind or heart, will have no benefit for ones spiritual life, and perhaps may even be detrimental to it.

Before I fully immerse myself into the Orthodox faith I want to be careful not to allow myself to fall into the trappings of legalism/ritualism. I never want to make the sign of the cross while not paying attention to why I am doing it and the significance of such an action.  However, I’m afraid that my spiritual life will develop a ritualistic nature where I simply reach a point of spiritual stagnation.  I know that the mind in general can become lazy (especially mine)  if engaged in activities that it has seen/come across before.

In light of all this, I was hoping to obtain some advice on how to keep one’s mind “fresh” while performing activities such as reciting the Divine Liturgy or conducting personal prayers. As I mentioned, my mind tends to wander sometimes (ADD?) so any advice you could provide me with would be greatly appreciated.


P.S. I know that this started with an argument of sorts, (which I know is not appropriate for this sub forum) but I hope that I steered it on a proper course so that it can remain in the “convert issues” section.  Nevertheless, I would understand if the moderator would prefer to move it elsewhere.
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« Reply #6 on: August 11, 2009, 09:12:12 AM »

This happens everywhere.  Worry about your own salvation, and lead those around you with love toward Christ.

It's not legalism or passivity in the Church per se, it seems to me, as it is legalism or passivity or whatever in an individual person. And in any case, it's none of our business, as alveus points out. Only God knows our hearts. No matter how close or how intimate we are, we can never truly know the spiritual state of another, nor is it appropriate for us to know. As Blessed Theophan says, we should see to ourselves and our own salvation. This is not spiritual isolation, but a very important spiritual truth. See Publican and Pharisee, for example.

I have consolidated your two posts in which you corrected your initial post into one to avoid the problem of double posting- Thomas Convert Issues Moderator
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« Reply #7 on: August 11, 2009, 09:16:10 AM »

I am moving this to another forum as Ortho_cat rightly surmised when he wrotethe entry opening the topic. it does not belong in Convert Issues.

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« Reply #8 on: August 11, 2009, 10:30:00 AM »

The Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross wrote about the "Dark Night of the Soul," an experience where someone experiences an interior life of isolation and abandonment even if the outward expression of faith remains.  This "dark night" is seen as a blessing in disguise, so to speak, as one learns to do things for the love of God and not for any type of spiritual reward.  St. John Climacus, I think, discusses something similar in various chapters of "The Ladder". 

Anyone can go through a Dark Night at any given time.  It doesn't have to be as profound as some of the more famous cases (Mother Teresa is said to have gone through one for 40+ years) but it's not our lot to judge someone.  Like in most things, I'm learning that a simple, "Lord, have mercy" for someone who you think may be in a spiritual dry period is the best thing one can do, followed by a "Lord, have mercy" for oneself to keep one honest.



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« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2009, 11:45:39 AM »

Anyone can go through a Dark Night at any given time.  It doesn't have to be as profound as some of the more famous cases (Mother Teresa is said to have gone through one for 40+ years) but it's not our lot to judge someone.  Like in most things, I'm learning that a simple, "Lord, have mercy" for someone who you think may be in a spiritual dry period is the best thing one can do, followed by a "Lord, have mercy" for oneself to keep one honest.


Exactly so! I have heard from many faithful Orthodox Christians who experienced these terrible times, and they actually were "going through the motions." It was all they could do at the time, hanging on by their fingernails, as it were.
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« Reply #10 on: August 11, 2009, 11:54:27 AM »

I think at some point we all get caught "going through the motions." Glory to God for confession to help snap us out of these times!

The Christian life is a struggle. Every day we must make an effort to pray, to love as Christ loves, and to be like Him.

It's not easy, but Christ never said it would be.
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« Reply #11 on: August 11, 2009, 01:34:01 PM »

I never want to make the sign of the cross while not paying attention to why I am doing it and the significance of such an action.  However, I’m afraid that my spiritual life will develop a ritualistic nature where I simply reach a point of spiritual stagnation.  I know that the mind in general can become lazy (especially mine)  if engaged in activities that it has seen/come across before.

In light of all this, I was hoping to obtain some advice on how to keep one’s mind “fresh” while performing activities such as reciting the Divine Liturgy or conducting personal prayers. As I mentioned, my mind tends to wander sometimes (ADD?) so any advice you could provide me with would be greatly appreciated.

May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you and keep you!

You can not and should not place these demands upon yourself.  You are concerned with the wrong things.  You wish to be constantly cognitively aware of what you are doing.  That is going back down the dangerous road of exclusively cerebral faith.  You do not have to be constantly aware of the significance of every single thing that you do. 

Those times when your mind will inevitable wander or lapse during ritual activity, you still know in your heart and mind what is happening, you are just not making your realization fully present.  But that can be a good thing!  In those times, you can have heart that your worship is becoming like the very breath entering your lungs.  You do not notice your breathing as you go about your business, yet it is happening all the same, filling you with life.  So it is when you perhaps absentmindedly ask Christ for His mercy, or make the sign of the cross automatically when hearing the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity without even thinking about it.  Your reverence has become automatic!  Praise God!  This means that all of your training is paying off.  You are automatically reverent; your worship is deep-rooted.

Do not despair; take heart.  You should not feel pressured to 'keep it fresh.'  That is part of the pitfalls of emotionalism, sensationalism, and ultimately hedonism.  You do not have to constantly derive pleasure and feeling from your worship experience.  That is a carry over from your days of worship involving heart-wrenching crescendos.  "Squeeze your eyes a bit tighter!  Raise your hands a bit higher!  Feel it!!!"

If you continue to worship and be faithful even when it doesn't stir any emotional response in you, it is simply a testament of your unwavering resolve.  Despite how you feel, despite your feeble and wandering mind, you come into the temple of the Lord and offer your struggle toward Him.  Everything about the worship is geared toward ascetic worship, not feelings.  Stand for hours until your legs hurt.  Make deep bows until your back hurts.  Sing until your throat hurts.  Prostrate until your forehead hurts.  "Feel" yourself reaching out to God in the physical pain; in your very physical effort.

This is the difference in the 'feeling' emphasized on both sides.  Modern worship paradigms tell you to feel Him through your goosebumps; Orthodoxy tells you to feel Him through your pain.
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« Reply #12 on: August 11, 2009, 04:04:49 PM »

I used to attend a small ethnic parish and got the idea in my head that most of the people around me were nominal Christians at best.  I was fresh from a long Evangelical past and I was used to a lot of outward displays of personal piety.  These quiet Orthodox people seemed very luke-warm to me.  However, as I got to know them and was invited into their homes and had conversations with them, I was proven to be very very wrong. These people were  strong Christians and I was very ashamed of myself for thinking otherwise.
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« Reply #13 on: August 11, 2009, 07:24:26 PM »

I used to attend a small ethnic parish and got the idea in my head that most of the people around me were nominal Christians at best.  I was fresh from a long Evangelical past and I was used to a lot of outward displays of personal piety.  These quiet Orthodox people seemed very luke-warm to me.  However, as I got to know them and was invited into their homes and had conversations with them, I was proven to be very very wrong. These people were  strong Christians and I was very ashamed of myself for thinking otherwise.

Xenia, I totally agree.  I have so often seen cradle Orthodox put down as being nominal and that you can't learn from them.  But I have learned a lot from the cradle Orthodox that I've known.  They just seem to quietly do it and don't talk about it.  Also, I think our own attitudes play a lot in this too.  If I don't think they have anything to teach me, then I won't learn anything from them.  But if I realize that I have a lot to learn and let them teach me by what they say and do, then I can learn. 
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« Reply #14 on: August 11, 2009, 10:35:29 PM »

Can anyone recommend any techniques or tips to keep one's mind attentive during personal prayer or while reciting the Divine Liturgy? It's not that i'm looking for a "spiritual experience" every time I engage in these activities, I am just looking for ways to actively engage my mind and remain receptive while participating. Is it best to focus on the words themselves?

I must admit, the concept of "passive understanding" is very foreign to me.  I would also appreciate any additional insight or experience into this phenomenon.
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« Reply #15 on: August 12, 2009, 08:06:31 AM »

Can anyone recommend any techniques or tips to keep one's mind attentive during personal prayer or while reciting the Divine Liturgy? It's not that i'm looking for a "spiritual experience" every time I engage in these activities, I am just looking for ways to actively engage my mind and remain receptive while participating. Is it best to focus on the words themselves?

I find that putting all of my five senses to work as much as possible keeps me focused. Yes, sometimes I pay special attention to the words only. Trying to absorb everything at once seems to me to be humanly impossible. So I look at the icons (not the congregation! - that can be a downer sometimes Wink ), watch the priest to see what he is doing to focus on why; I try to smell the incense; during Liturgy touch might be paying special attention to how I bow or cross myself; I anticipate the receiving of the Eucharist and the blessed bread. Certainly not all of this happens every Sunday, but there are various ways to keep myself engaged. And yes, sometimes through simple fatigue or a heavy mind, I find myself just going through the motions until everything is over. I don't let that bother me. I'll be praying again later at home, and again next Sunday at church.

Jim
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« Reply #16 on: August 12, 2009, 08:26:00 AM »

I've heard of many stories
When I was a child, I too heard many stories. Goblins, monsters, witches, trolls, faries. They're just stories.

people who just go to church on Sunday, light a candle, venerate an icon, half-heartedly partake of the eucharist, and then walk away thinking that their duty to God is done.
How does one enter into a complete stranger's heart to examine their motives, their beliefs, their hopes, and what makes them tick in such detail?

I think it is fair to say that this belief is very common (and perhaps rampant) in many (if not most) parishes.   
There is nothing fair about judging the hearts of others. We simply don't have enough data to be able to form a fair opinion.
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« Reply #17 on: August 12, 2009, 09:18:49 AM »

I must admit, the concept of "passive understanding" is very foreign to me.  I would also appreciate any additional insight or experience into this phenomenon.

"Passive understanding" comes through submission, experience, suffering -- and allowing those agencies to act upon the human consciousness/heart. (That's actually the original meaning of the word "passive", btw, from the Latin.)

Experiential learning takes time, by definition. You just have to do it, and do it for many years. ("It" being the ascetic struggle...and, btw, asceticism isn't necessarily saying all the of Canons before Holy Communion or keeping the fast. It's MORE of an ascetic struggle for academic Westerners to stand through an entire Divine Liturgy in the midst of uneducated lay people who don't seem to understand or "properly participate" in the Liturgy and STILL be so totally humbled by their spirituality that we not only DON'T think ill of them for a second, we are totally edified by them.)

I'll give you example. My wife's godmother is a more-or-less illiterate Greek grandma. She could barely sign her name on the ecclesiastical documents when my wife entered the Church. She couldn't tell you the first thing about Palamite distinctions between essence and energy, or what happened during the Iconoclastic controversies. She's never read the Apophthegmata and probably doesn't even know what "Arianism" is or Nicene orthodox responses to it. But, as an 11 year old girl, she watched as her father was hung in front of the village church by Communists. Her mother suffered worse. And she was left to earn a living without any supporting adult family by sewing clothes 14 hours a day, so she could cook for, feed, bathe and raise her younger siblings and cousins. I, on the other hand, have read a few books.
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« Reply #18 on: August 12, 2009, 10:06:24 AM »

It's MORE of an ascetic struggle for academic Westerners to stand through an entire Divine Liturgy in the midst of uneducated lay people who don't seem to understand or "properly participate" in the Liturgy and STILL be so totally humbled by their spirituality that we not only DON'T think ill of them for a second, we are totally edified by them.)

I'll give you example. My wife's godmother is a more-or-less illiterate Greek grandma. She could barely sign her name on the ecclesiastical documents when my wife entered the Church. She couldn't tell you the first thing about Palamite distinctions between essence and energy, or what happened during the Iconoclastic controversies. She's never read the Apophthegmata and probably doesn't even know what "Arianism" is or Nicene orthodox responses to it. But, as an 11 year old girl, she watched as her father was hung in front of the village church by Communists. Her mother suffered worse. And she was left to earn a living without any supporting adult family by sewing clothes 14 hours a day, so she could cook for, feed, bathe and raise her younger siblings and cousins. I, on the other hand, have read a few books.

What a beautiful post! I too am constantly humbled by the faith and devotion of the wonderful yiayias I have the privilege of knowing!
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« Reply #19 on: August 12, 2009, 05:14:15 PM »

Thank you all for your advice, input, and admonitions.  I agree, no one should judge the hearts of others and I'm truly sorry if I have offended anyone. I think all of this will be of much use to me along my journey.
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« Reply #20 on: December 18, 2011, 03:53:34 PM »

I agree this is passivness rather than legalism.. Legalism happens at churchy people... those who do all the things of the Church...
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« Reply #21 on: December 18, 2011, 06:34:08 PM »

It's not Pascha yet, but since this thread has been raised from the dead...

I never want to make the sign of the cross while not paying attention to why I am doing it and the significance of such an action

Once I learn the "technical" aspects of any particular motion (what it means, etc), I hope to reach a day when that expression of faith becomes so natural that I don't think about it but just do it when appropriate.
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« Reply #22 on: December 18, 2011, 06:49:11 PM »

It's not Pascha yet, but since this thread has been raised from the dead...

I never want to make the sign of the cross while not paying attention to why I am doing it and the significance of such an action

Once I learn the "technical" aspects of any particular motion (what it means, etc), I hope to reach a day when that expression of faith becomes so natural that I don't think about it but just do it when appropriate.

lol that was a long time ago... Embarrassed
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« Reply #23 on: December 18, 2011, 09:04:47 PM »

I agree this is passivness rather than legalism.. Legalism happens at churchy people... those who do all the things of the Church...

The tendency is certainly higher.  However, I know a lot of "churchy" people who are far from legalistic.
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« Reply #24 on: December 19, 2011, 12:19:42 AM »

I agree this is passivness rather than legalism.. Legalism happens at churchy people... those who do all the things of the Church...

The tendency is certainly higher.  However, I know a lot of "churchy" people who are far from legalistic.

after looking back, i'm pretty sure i meant "nominalism" instead of legalism
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« Reply #25 on: December 19, 2011, 05:13:31 AM »

It's clear exactly what you're getting at in your OP Ortho_cat and you weren't judging, it's really obvious when you come across people who aren't serious about their faith or who are "lukewarm" (Rev 3:15-16) as the bible describes it, who do nothing more than give a nod to the weekly rituals. I think it's brave of you to tackle the topic. That passage continues with "Behold, i stand at the door and knock" and it's written to believers.

There is a huge difference between people who are hanging in there and can only manage very little through difficult times, which is often evident when in relationships within a church, and others whose general attitude is to try and justify their often anti-Christian behaviour the rest of the week.

Speaking from personal experience, jumping-bean reactions and cries of "judgement" often happen when consciences are pricked and nerves are hit.

I don't find either position helpful or true. Either feeling that my deeds are so important that they would be the deciding factor regarding my place in heaven or the idea that it's all about what Jesus has done and i can live how i please.

It is all about what Christ has done in the sense that our worthiness doesn't come into it because he was and is worthy on our behalf. His sacrifice was accepted as pure on our behalf and i am thankful that this is the passport upon which we can enter heaven. However, the evidence that we are thankful and we are disciples of Christ, will be born in our deeds. So in that way, deeds are crucial in showing our devotion and the seriousness of our commitment. You can't have one without the other -- faith without works are dead.

Legalism would be works without faith. A lack of trust in the loving mercy of what Christ did on the cross for us, so much that it would keep us from the church and communion because we might feel unworthy. "...the strength of sin is the law" (1 Corinthians 15:56) and Christ also tells us in James, that mercy triumphs over judgement. God is merciful.

A great thread!

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« Reply #26 on: December 19, 2011, 12:44:44 PM »

...it's really obvious when you come across people who aren't serious about their faith or who are "lukewarm" (Rev 3:15-16) as the bible describes it, who do nothing more than give a nod to the weekly rituals.

I disagree, but perhaps you are more discerning. I still maintain that it is pretty much impossible to know what is in peoples' hearts and souls. It's often fatally easy to look down my nose at people who seem to me to be lukewarn or going through the motions. But how do I know for sure?

And even if I do know for sure, why would I think that meant I was any better than them?
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« Reply #27 on: December 19, 2011, 12:48:16 PM »

...it's really obvious when you come across people who aren't serious about their faith or who are "lukewarm" (Rev 3:15-16) as the bible describes it, who do nothing more than give a nod to the weekly rituals.

I disagree, but perhaps you are more discerning. I still maintain that it is pretty much impossible to know what is in peoples' hearts and souls. It's often fatally easy to look down my nose at people who seem to me to be lukewarn or going through the motions. But how do I know for sure?

And even if I do know for sure, why would I think that meant I was any better than them?


Why does it have to mean one person is better or worse than another?
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« Reply #28 on: December 19, 2011, 12:55:25 PM »

Re-read your post.
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« Reply #29 on: December 19, 2011, 12:57:55 PM »

Re-read your post.

Hmmmokay i just did. Same question?
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« Reply #30 on: December 19, 2011, 01:01:53 PM »

Re-read your post.

Hmmmokay i just did. Same question?

Well, for starters, how about the description of
Quote
"others whose general attitude is to try and justify their often anti-Christian behaviour the rest of the week."

Certainly sounds like you were not including yourself in that group, but perhaps I am mistaken.



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« Reply #31 on: December 19, 2011, 01:25:10 PM »

Re-read your post.

Hmmmokay i just did. Same question?

Well, for starters, how about the description of
Quote
"others whose general attitude is to try and justify their often anti-Christian behaviour the rest of the week."

Certainly sounds like you were not including yourself in that group, but perhaps I am mistaken.





From time to time i try to justify sinful actions but as far as my general attitude is concerned, no, that wouldn't be a description of me.

I still don't see how it would make one person any better than another.

Maybe i'm missing something.
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« Reply #32 on: December 19, 2011, 01:30:22 PM »

Two sides of the same coin. We do have lukewarm, nominal Christians. OTH, it would be extremely hard, if not impossible, to identify them--only they themselves can do so and only as they are coming out of that state. I think that if we perceive lukewarm behavior in the Church, the only thing to do would be to talk about it in general terms. As for lukewarm behavior that I perceive in myself, I would not be at all hesitant in labeling it as such and doing something about it. Actually, if we self-audit frequently, we will be able to perceive which of the eight deadly thoughts we have experienced and then we can take the appropriate response. 
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« Reply #33 on: December 07, 2012, 01:05:07 PM »

Can anyone recommend any techniques or tips to keep one's mind attentive during personal prayer or while reciting the Divine Liturgy? It's not that i'm looking for a "spiritual experience" every time I engage in these activities, I am just looking for ways to actively engage my mind and remain receptive while participating. Is it best to focus on the words themselves?

I must admit, the concept of "passive understanding" is very foreign to me.  I would also appreciate any additional insight or experience into this phenomenon.

how about do it when you are concentrated instead of forcing yourself to concentrate? even if your concentration is only for a minute or two. Pray the lords prayer. In my opinion, a single honest prayer is more powerful, than a prayer you feel nothing about.
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« Reply #34 on: December 07, 2012, 01:10:41 PM »

I agree this is passivness rather than legalism.. Legalism happens at churchy people... those who do all the things of the Church...

indeed.
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« Reply #35 on: December 07, 2012, 01:12:34 PM »

I agree this is passivness rather than legalism.. Legalism happens at churchy people... those who do all the things of the Church...

The tendency is certainly higher.  However, I know a lot of "churchy" people who are far from legalistic.

me too. Unfortunately though I personally know only about 5 who are not legalistic.
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« Reply #36 on: December 07, 2012, 01:21:36 PM »

Re-read your post.

Hmmmokay i just did. Same question?

Well, for starters, how about the description of
Quote
"others whose general attitude is to try and justify their often anti-Christian behaviour the rest of the week."

Certainly sounds like you were not including yourself in that group, but perhaps I am mistaken.





From time to time i try to justify sinful actions but as far as my general attitude is concerned, no, that wouldn't be a description of me.

I still don't see how it would make one person any better than another.

Maybe i'm missing something.



sometimes I do the same. But what is the reason that you justify your sins? is it because you like them? or is it because you want to shut some people's mouths, so they don't stick their nose in your life? If it's the former. we are in trouble. If it's the latter, I don't blame you. Too many people's who are afraid to live their own lives, are trying to get people to live for them,. This isn't fair. foanyone.
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