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55 Maxims for Christian Living – Day 11

For everyone unaware of that on which I am working, I’m taking The 55 Maxims for Christian Living, as posed by Fr. Thomas Hopko, and I’m focusing on one a day. It should be noted that this is a holistic process–I’m not completely ignoring the other 54, nor do I intend on forgetting that which I discovered about Maxim #11 tomorrow, when I hit Maxim #12. Merely, I am taking every day to be a little more focused, direct, and purposeful in my exploration of these maxims.

And today is the 11th–that’s 1/5th of the way, people! How time flies…

Go to liturgical services regularly.

Well, this one minces not a word–and is, obviously, spiritual in nature. But, following in the theme of the previous maxims, I want to take my experience of attempted adherence and use it to expound upon a general principle by which I think we could all live our lives. As I’ve explained previously, these maxims, while inherently Christian, are not exclusively so. You and I can both learn from these in totally different ways–that’s what makes them awesome.

And today’s maxim speaks to me about growth. Growth in a very unfamiliar, interesting, and exciting sense.

Liturgical services are exactly the same, week to week. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but every Saturday evening we have Vespers: a preparatory service that settles our mind, puts to rest our worldly concerns, and readies us for Holy Communion coming on Sunday morning.

And indeed, on Sunday morning, the Orthodox celebrate the Divine Liturgy, a service that, at its pinnacle, holds the Eucharist and Communion with God. It is an extraordinary experience.

Now, those services never change in structure–only the Scriptural readings vary from week to week. However, those readings are on a yearly rotation–the reading heard on the fifth Sunday after Easter this year will be the same reading heard on the fifth Sunday after Easter next year. So while there is variance, there is also consistency.

Feast days call for extra services, surely–many Orthodox parishes are also lucky enough to have daily services throughout the week, that the faithful may attend. But for my purposes, regular attendance consists of Saturday Vespers, Sunday Liturgy, Saturday Vespers, Sunday Liturgy…

Regular attendance to liturgical services has been invariable in my life. My father is a priest in the Orthodox church, and as such, it was not only tacitly understood, that church was to be attended regularly, but it was a blessing, that I be able to attend church more often than a peer, who perhaps, due to occupational constraints of their childhood chauffeurs, could not worship as consistently as I.

So this maxim, to attend regularly the liturgical services, was not a particular effort for me…but it did cause me to look back, upon eighteen years of attendance.

And I realized something. I realized that, every Sunday morning, when I attend Divine Liturgy and partake in Holy Communion…it is, as I said before, an extraordinary experience. It is transcendent and incomprehensible. It is the greatest of all conceivable gifts. It is my hope and my salvation.

And every Sunday, I partake in Holy Communion. And every Sunday, it is an extraordinary experience.

Easily, we are fooled into believing repetition implies devaluing. To do something over and over and over again robs it of its novelty, and in that robbery, some worth is accidentally stolen as well. This holds occasionally, but true value? Deep-seated and undeniable worth? These cannot be pilfered so easily.

So what instead occurs, when something of great value is repeated so consistently?

As steel is tempered by constant hammering and sharpened by constant whetting; as plants are grown by regular watering and defended by regular weeding, so is the soul tempered and sharpened by that constant intake of that which is wholesome, true, and just. Every time I go to church, my experience is different–be it a struggle or a joy, it varies and it…affects me. My regular participation allows for regular evaluation, re-evaluation, and metacognition.

When steel is hammered, its disconformities are straightened; when it is sharpened, its nicks are smoothed over. When plants are watered, they receive sustenance; when weeds are pulled, the plant finds sunlight. Regular attendance to the liturgical services weeds out the worldly nonsense that weekly, inevitably invades our soul; hammers out the preconceived notions we project on the teachings of the church.

A regular intake of that which is good…well, it engenders and promotes goodness. It sounds obvious, but sometimes we forget that too easily. I mean, did you eat perfectly healthy today? Well, why not? Because a regular intake of that which is good will promote goodness in your life, yet you elected to consume something…less than that.

So regularly attend the salad bar. Regularly attend conversations with your loved ones–not just endure, but attend. Regularly attend liturgical services. Regularly attend eight hours of sleep. Consume that which is good, that you may be made good through it, by it, in behalf of it, and for it.


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55 Maxims for Christian Living — Day 10

For everyone unaware of that on which I am working, I’m taking The 55 Maxims for Christian Living, as posed by Fr. Thomas Hopko, and I’m focusing on one a day. It should be noted that this is a holistic process–I’m not completely ignoring the other 54, nor do I intend on forgetting that which I discovered about Maxim #8 tomorrow, when I hit Maxim #9. Merely, I am taking every day to be a little more focused, direct, and purposeful in my exploration of these maxims.

And we’re in the double digits, baby! Maxim #10!

Do acts of mercy in secret.

I don’t think I’m allowed to tell you guys about this one–it kinda defeats the purpose.

And it actually did impact my practice of the maxim, significantly. Whenever I noticed an opportunity to do an act of mercy, I was motivated by the realization that I would, in a small way, be sharing that experience…which inherently debunks the basic concept of ‘in secret.’

And that’s what I want to stress today–who you are, in secret.

Because it’s no secret to me (see what I did there?)–I love recognition. For heaven’s sake, I just demonstrated that need: the parenthetical insertion was unnecessary, but cheeky, and hopefully got a little brow-raise out of you. I did it instinctively, without second thought, because I wanted to flex my glib muscles for you. I wanted you to recognize how I can remain light-hearted while discussing items of magnitude.

Recognition is a gigantic and inevitable motivator in our lives. We don’t exist isolated, independent–we are interconnected, interwoven with one another, and as such, when you budge, I feel it. When the man next to us succeeds, we react within a wide range: judgment, praise, jealousy, intentional disregard, honest happiness. It’s a congenital truth: humans, as social creatures, react to one another.

And why wouldn’t you want to make those reactions positive?

Why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you gear your actions in a manner that others will deem ‘good’? If other people are going to judge you–and they are–it would be irrational–senseless, even–to disregard that judgment as useless, baseless, worthless, and ignore it at every turn.

Other people are going to see what you do, so you might as well do that which they will see in a positive light…right?

The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is looking.

– Mia Hamm

I must have said that a thousand times, and I’ll say it a thousand times more, because it is a criminally underrated quote in that everybody and their grandmother should know it.

…bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion…WHEN NO ONE ELSE IS LOOKING.

It’s so easy to live for recognition–that is to say, reactively. To live, not as an impetus, but as a response; not as a cause, but an effect. Look at the word! The word says re-cognition, re-thinking, revisiting an idea previously expressed and understood! When you’re motivated by recognition, as I was when I acted mercifully ‘in secret’, you exist according to a standard and a value system already in place, synthesized by someone who is different than you! You’re acting out the script written yesterday, the day before, and the day before that one, as well.

Look at the top of the page.

Look at the top of the webpage, what does it say?! It say ‘The Next Level’! Not ‘The Same Level’ or ‘Somebody Else’s Level’ or ‘The Level You Made Up Based Off What You Think Other People Think Of You’, it says ‘The Next Level’!

Do you understand the power you have?! You get to define, you get to write your own script, follow it when you like, and break off and improvise when you need to! The champion who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion WHEN NO ONE ELSE IS LOOKING, is the man who has gained dominion over himself, in that solitude–the man who lords over his passions, his temptations, his need for recognition, lords over them in secret.

For the past couple days, we’ve stressed silence. Here, we added a level–solitude. So I ask you, quiet the world a bit, push it away for a moment. Let your thoughts, your struggles, your needs pierce the din of everyday life–after all, you can’t address a problem you can’t see; a problem you don’t recognize. Searching for external recognition handicaps your ability to inwardly recognize yourself.



55 Maxims for Christian Living — Day 9

For everyone unaware of that on which I am working, I’m taking The 55 Maxims for Christian Living, as posed by Fr. Thomas Hopko, and I’m focusing on one a day. It should be noted that this is a holistic process–I’m not completely ignoring the other 54, nor do I intend on forgetting that which I discovered about Maxim #8 tomorrow, when I hit Maxim #9. Merely, I am taking every day to be a little more focused, direct, and purposeful in my exploration of these maxims.

And this is Day 9, and Day 9 was so awesome, it lasted a whole 5 days–sorry ’bout that…

Sit in silence 15-30 minutes each day.

You want me to sit in silence for half of an hour every day?! Do you have any idea what my life is?! I’m supposed to stay physically fit and eat healthily and engage in wholesome relationships and go to class and complete the homework and attend religious services and join student organizations and serve my community and–somewhere in the middle of all of that–SLEEP, and you want me to spend half of an hour every day…sitting around and doing nothing at all?

I spoke a lot about silence in the last maxim–with which this one goes oh-so-snugly hand-in-hand. As such, I’m going to take this maxim to discuss perspective.

Ah, perspective–the lens through which the world is viewed. A quick moment to plug: if you’d like a much more in-depth look into perspective and its effect on our everyday lives, I beseech you, check out Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That’s a game-changer right there, folks.

But for our purposes, perspective holds a very simple role in our lives–and, as most simple things are, it’s rather pivotal, too. Perspective polarizes the world–like a filter over a photograph does our perspective alter our consumption of stimuli–be that change slight or drastic.

Our perspective is rooted in our values, our principles–the very ideas we hold dear. Should we grasp onto values of frugality, of efficiency, and of measurable success, we may become cynical and austere, though we will also accomplish much, and rarely waste. Should we grasp onto values of selflessness, of altruism, and of humility, we may become self-deprecating and unable to sustain ourselves, though we will also enrich others and improve lives.

Many examples could stem from such an exercise. In short, every value, its consequential perspectives, consequential decisions, and consequential sacrifices carry with it both positive and negative ramifications. With your internal moral compass, unique to you, you must determine the principles which you value most dearly, and thus determine which positive ramifications you will champion; which negative ramifications you will shoulder.

And this maxim teaches us the great magnitude of perspective, and its careful election. Because 30 minutes a day is rather uncomfortable, if you ask me, my value of consistency, and my rather rigid, inflexible schedule.

But 3.5 hours a week isn’t too bad.

14 hours a month? That doesn’t sound bad at all.

168 hours a year?! That’s it?!

Seriously, 168 hours a year.

You have to understand something, I love football almost as much as I love just about anything, and a game usually runs about 3, maybe 3.5 hours, and if I could honestly tell you I only watch 3-3.5 hours of football a Sunday, I would.

Let’s say 6 hours of football a Sunday…and another hour of highlights/recaps on Monday…another hour of fantasy football throughout the week…oh, at least an hour of pregame on Sunday, I forgot that…lookin’ at 9 hours a week.

Football season begins in August, lasts for all of September, October, November, December, January, and trickles in February. Call it an even 6 months.

That’s 234 hours of football a year.

Perspective, man.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with loving football, but those decisions, those sacrifices I made in order to give that 234? They reveal something about my perspective! How much more I value football over silence–a game over a discipline, a visual stimulus over internal peace.

So the principles have to shift, the value has to be displaced, that I may achieve a more desirable action through a more proper perspective. You see, if I attempt to jam the square peg into the round hole, and force myself to sit in silence for 30 minutes every day, then I’ll fail. Instead, I must mold the peg, shape the peg to my liking, fundamentally change the peg at its very core, that I can reach a desired goal.

168 hours…234 hours…that’s unreal…



Things I’m Afraid To Say

Ari Eastman of Thought Catalog posted this challenge a few days ago, and it intrigued me, so I decided to give it a shot. This is my take on the prompt, “Things I’m Afraid To Say.”

I’m afraid to say that I’ve been wasting my time—yours, too. I hate to admit it, but I haven’t given nearly enough. I just haven’t.

The idea was first promoted by Marianne Williamson, but those of you who appreciate Coach Carter, or love to put words in Nelson Mandela’s mouth, will recognize the claim as well:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

That’s what I’m afraid to say. I shy, most shamefully, from admitting to myself and to those around me, the undeniable truth of that revelation.

Essentially, I’m afraid to say ‘I’m responsible.’ I’m afraid to say to my family, who raised me; to my peers, who support me; to my future family, who relies upon me; to my God, who gave me all of my talents, that I am responsible. I am responsible for their confidence in me and dependence upon me.

You see, I’m not different than you—and I don’t even know you! I’m not different than you, because I was born with both talents and flaws, my circumstances have both given me wings and clipped them. I’m not different than you because I’m human, and so are you, and that means at some points it’s been really freaking awesome, and at some points it’s been…not that.

I’m human, and so are you, and that means that our species, our brethren? They have started wars and slaughtered millions, wasted this resource and poisoned that one, spread sickness and created weapons that cause it—they have enslaved and segregated and discriminated and hated for years, and years, and years.

I’m human, and so are you, and that means that our species, our brethren? They have withstood disasters both natural and synthetic, filtered water and cleaned air, flown in gigantic metal contraptions from here to there to stitch the wounds and cure the diseases of the man they never met—they have undergone enslavement and segregation and discrimination and hatred for years, and years, and years, and they have endured!

And I’m afraid to say that I wield that extraordinary power.

Because if I wield that power, then how dare wasted one second by holstering it, by living a day of my life as average? If I am man, than I can topple kings and move mountains, dam rivers and touch the moon, start a man’s heart and give him a new one too, so how dare I watch Netflix?! How dare I lean back on my chair and revile the state of politics, when within my mind is the discernment to identify the candidate who can galvanize my country, and within my heart is the passion to rally my cohort and support that cause?! How dare I demand that the poor be saved, when I give neither out of my pocket nor off my plate; how dare I insist that the environment be resurrected and education be improved and troops returned home when I have not actively devoted my congenital, radical, inexhaustible humanity to those pursuits?!

My immeasurable power terrifies me. My light, not my darkness, frightens me. But what really scares the living daylights out of me is how much I’ve wasted it—how often I’ve fallen asleep, bubbling over with an immeasurable amount of unused power.

I told you that I’m afraid to say ‘I’m responsible.’ Well, I’m much more afraid to tell you ‘I’m irresponsible.’ I’ve wasted time, squandered energy, and left my half-used power out on the kitchen counter like a gallon of milk—and it has expired.

I’m afraid to say that I’m irresponsible, but I’m pretty gosh darn pumped to inform you that, while I’m irresponsible…I won’t be for long.


55 Maxims for Christian Living — Day 8


For everyone unaware of that on which I am working, I’m taking The 55 Maxims for Christian Living, as posed by Fr. Thomas Hopko, and I’m focusing on one a day. It should be noted that this is a holistic process–I’m not completely ignoring the other 54, nor do I intend on forgetting that which I discovered about Maxim #8 tomorrow, when I hit Maxim #9. Merely, I am taking every day to be a little more focused, direct, and purposeful in my exploration of these maxims.

Okay, so I know this isn’t really days anymore, but I’m still chugging along at the best pace I can! Of course, as Maxim #2 taught us, post as you can, not as you think you must.

Maxim #8!

Practice silence, inner and outer.

Oh, what a maxim–this is exactly that about which I was talking, when I shared my hope that the 55 Maxims for Christian Living could still impact those who do not lead a Christian life. At their core, the maxims seek to bring people closer to God–that’s undeniable. However, the pursuit of a more Christian life has lead to me to revelations concerning discipline, repetition, and forgiveness, and everyone needs to work on those–Christian, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, everyone.

I think everyone could work on some silence, too.

The first thing I noticed when I began searching for silence was, curiously, how much silence was already in my life. I’m a real social guy, love to talk, but I’ve always been very comfortable with silence–I’d go so far to say that I prefer it, though I think my friends and family would disagree vehemently.

But I’m not one of those kids who walks around with headphones in constantly–I’m listening to music right now, but I just discovered a really cool song, and posting is one of the times I allot for mindless-Spotify-radio-adventures, so forgive me, please–I like to have my meals alone, and I’ve spent most of the day in my room.

It was difficult to delineate the search for silence from the flight from all things that could potentially be noisy, but I think I did okay. I was definitely more of a hermit today than I typically am, but I enjoyed it greatly.

But all of these observations concern outer silence–predictably the easier of the two. Also understandably, but not predicted, was the effect of outer silence on inner silence: the quieter I made the outside, the louder the inside became. In the quiet of my little dorm, my mind started screaming. Some whining, nagging voices: reminders of obligations, shopping lists, timers on eventualities–just daily stresses. This is the inner voice that we so often attempt to silence.

But some voices were…beautiful. I thought more clearly, in the outer silence and inner conversation. Ideas flowed more freely and fluidly, inception was organic, and internal discussion–my parents have always made fun of how much I talk to myself–was vibrant and wholesome.

I think, perhaps, the function of outer silence was fulfilled therein. It’s as if we have an aural capacity–a limit to that which we can hear. When both the outer and the inner run rampant, those whining, nagging voices take up all of the room left by the outer uproar, and our mind’s incredible ability to speak and sing and laugh and cry is, to an extent, drowned.

Likewise–and curiously, as I so often enjoy the personal more than the communal–so did inner silence serve outer.

When I calmed my mind and emptied my slate, attempting to slow my mind and think of not a darn thing…I could hear better.

I could simply hear better.

Firstly, it was just really cool. Just as devoting the attention to beautiful artwork, so did the natural and oh-so-easily overlooked sounds of everyday life just blossom forth into vibrant existence. It was what I have to imagine musicians and composers hear, during their usual day–somehow, the cacophony that was always cars and sirens and birds and voices and music became a melody; the jumble, a jubilation. It was, truly, incredible to hear.

But secondly, I could hear better. When someone spoke to me, I understood them more personally, and could, in turn, respond to them more directly, selflessly, equally. With my internal dialogue–which, whining and nagging, was essentially my own agenda–turned off, I could so…peacefully, humbly, meekly, kindly, wonderfully turn to another human being and say to them, “What concerns you? What can I do for you? How can I devote my attention to you?”

I helped a very nice young lady carry a few chairs to her dorm today. I think I still would have done it if my life was loud, in that moment, because that’s what I was raised to do and that’s what I think I should do, when I see a young lady struggling with more chairs than anyone should be carrying on their lonesome. But, in my silence, the entire experience was just…heightened. It was so much more about her than it was me.

My silence today gave me the most potent taste of pure altruism, pure selflessness, pure humility I have ever had. I’m gonna chase that feeling.

And that’s not a Christian ideal, folks. That’s just a good feeling.