Pearl Orthodox Christian Publishing

Drawing Closer to the Mother of God During the Advent Fast,

Part 1 of a 3-Part Series on the Orthodox Christian Network

recorded by Veronica Hughes

During Advent, Veronica will examine the mysteries surrounding the life of the Mother of God to help us prepare for the Nativity of Christ. In this episode Veronica will draw on the wisdom of St. Gregory Palamas and the life of Mary, even before her conception, to help us prepare for the Advent Fast. Join Veronica Hughes, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Dionysios the Areopagite, and The Mother of God to explore the right approach to Advent and fasting. Veronica in particular stresses that those who, by age or health, cannot observe a nutritional fast with strictness, still can engage in other types of fasting, for instance from uncharitable words, which can enrich our spiritual lives.


"What Does Conversion Mean to you?

Passage from "The Pearl of Great Price. The Spiritual Journey of a New Age Seeker to the Light of Christ and the Eastern Orthodox Church" pgs. 120-124

“What does conversion mean to you?” he then asked me.“Well, I’ve witnessed the process of conversion within my husband,”I answered. “I’ve seen the profound shift within Greg that transcends anything he’s accomplished spiritually in the past. I watched my depressed husband put his war novels and paint ball games aside and connect with God through his deepening prayer life. The results were astounding!” I continued, “Now I’m starting on my voyage as well. Even if it’s only in small increments, my spirit’s rudder is changing the direction of my life. I know that learning to trust in God will somehow bring me to safe harbor.”


My pastor encouraged me as I studied and prayed my way through
the books. “God reveals His mysteries to those who seek to know and
love Him – to ‘those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’”, he
said.


“Well, I’m certainly hungry and thirsty for the truth, now!” I
exclaimed. My studies and prayers bore fruit. I remembered my childhood
conviction, that God is the source of all that is good. After reading
Orthodox Dogmatic Theology several times, I came up with my simplified
understanding of the unique qualities of the Three Persons of God. The
Father is the Source and Creator, the Son is the Word and Manifestation
of God’s energies in the world, and the Spirit is the Life Force moving
and existing in all creation.


Before my return to church, I connected with God through the
beauty of nature. On Sunday mornings while my husband was at church,
I would go somewhere beautiful. Nature became my cathedral and my
sanctuary, a source for healing and for good. In seeking reconciliation
with God the Father through the created world, I felt this Force which
constantly sustains everything, the Source from which all of life flows.
When I watched a brilliant sunrise or rays of sunlight streaming through
clouds, I began to feel the presence of God the Father within me. This
Source did not seem inanimate to me, but alive, unique, intricate and
full of personality. I started observing the diversity of people, animals
and life on earth; I experienced the energies of God the Father through
the unique essence and expression of life in all living things. What peace
and inspiration these contemplations brought me.


I then turned my attention to discovering the presence of the third
Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. I had often referred to being
moved by the Spirit in my classes. What did that mean to me? Where is
the Spirit of God? I felt the Holy Spirit when I breathed, when I moved,
when I felt the wind on my face. The Breath of Life that God breathed
into the first human being was, and is, the Holy Spirit. When I wrote, or
felt inspiration in my work, I started to sense the Holy Spirit’s presence.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness,
goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
(Gal 5 :22-23)


My studies had taught me that these virtues, the fruits of the Spirit,
quiet the soul and attract the grace of God. With a guileless heart, one
can see God and experience being in relationship with God, thus living
in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The discipline one practices to refrain
from negative passions and thoughts, combined with an active prayer
life, deepens one’s acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Cleansing and purifying one’s soul and body in order to attain
enlightenment was a discipline I had practiced for years in my Eastern
religions. In fact, I’d been a strict vegetarian for twelve years. Yet, this
ancient Christian process didn’t set forth self-enlightenment or the
discovery of an eternal fountain of youth as its goals. The traditions of
the Church taught that it would not be through my will that I would
acquire the Holy Spirit. Instead, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit would
be achieved by God’s grace, not because I made it happen through
my own efforts. The Church encouraged me to purify my senses and
cleanse my mind and body, to prepare a space for God to dwell in me, by
practicing virtuous thoughts and actions, prayer, fasting and receiving
the Mystical Sacraments of the Church. Ultimately, however, and most
importantly, the teachings of the Church and my own destructive
tendencies had taught me that I needed the mercy and love of God or
all my spiritual efforts would be in vain.


One Orthodox writer described it this way: “The Acquisition of the
Holy Spirit is the main aim of man upon this earth, for it is through
the ascetic struggle of ‘pulling down’ the Holy Spirit into a repentant,
humble heart that a man gains justification before the face of God.
Christ is our Savior only as long as we realize we are perishing: and the
acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the actuality of being saved.”12
In Orthodoxy, our striving is to fast, to pray and to refrain from
judgments and other negative passions. These efforts are our starting
points for preparation, our part in the gradual conversion of our soul.
We withdraw from worldly attachments to indwell with God. We
prepare ourselves to receive the Holy Mysteries of the Church in order
to commune more deeply with God. I could see that this process of
continual conversion would take the whole of my life to accomplish!
I worried at times about whether I could turn my will, moment by
moment, over to God? That would be a lot of moments! “What about
me? What about what I want?” No wonder my pastor insisted that I
fully choose and be fully responsible for my re-entry into the Church.
As I bungled along the narrow path to my Father’s home, I
experienced the comfort of the Holy Spirit. There were times prior to my
baptism when I felt sorrowful, lonely or lost - so many areas of my life
were changing so quickly. Whereas before I would have turned to my
guides, now I turned to God in prayer. Spiritual warmth would envelop
my heart at key moments when I needed reassurance. I needed God and
He was becoming the source of my consolation. Christ had referred to
the Holy Spirit as the Comforter. “And I will pray the Father, and he
shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever;
even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth
him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with
you, and shall be in you.” (Jn 14: 16-17)


I had read enough Scriptures at this point to know that Christ was
the key that would open the door of my Father’s house, but I still didn’t
feel in personal relationship with God the Son, Christ. “The way to the
Father is through the Son,” said the Gospel. I saw that others felt an
intangible, undeniable relationship with and love for Christ. At least I
no longer wanted to run away from Him! Would I be able to re-enter
the Church without truly knowing Christ? Could I proceed with my
baptism? Fr. Chris and my husband reassured me, “You will find what
you’re seeking. This is one of the mysteries of Christianity that requires
a leap of faith and prayer. Your intention is clear. Don’t worry. God will
answer your prayer and heart’s desire in His time.”