North Carolina Mission Holds Retreat on “Guarding the Thoughts and Soul in Perilous Times”
Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke Ukrainian Catholic Mission, located at St. Barnabas Catholic Church in Arden, North Carolina, held its eighth annual East Meets West Retreat September 24-25.
A total of 40 Eastern and Western Catholic clergy and laity participated in the two-day retreat to pray a Moleben to the Mother of God, Searcher for the Lost (a special Slavic prayer service) and from the Horologian (book of hours) to pray the Little Hours, Vespers, and Compline.
Prayer was led by Fr. Kevin Bezner of Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, with the assistance of Fr. Deacon Matthew Hanes of St. Basil the Great Ukrainian Catholic parish in Charlotte, North Carolina, and deacon candidate Michael Sudik of St. Sophia Ukrainian Catholic parish in Garner, North Carolina.
Participants also heard three conferences that focused on the spiritual counsels of Dorotheos of Gaza, Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, philosopher Jean-Claude Larchet, and others.
Fr. Kevin gave the first conference on the spiritual discourses of Dorotheos and covered his counsels on conscience, the fear of God, falsehood, and vigilance and sobriety.
Fr. Kevin noted that Dorotheos, born into a wealthy family in 506, is an especially important spiritual father whose conferences have been used by monastic orders such as the Studites, Mount Athos monks, and Benedictines to instruct novices.
He noted that Dorotheos’s short discourse on conscience covers basic matters for us to consider. The conscience, Dorotheos says, helps us to understand the difference between right and wrong, the essential meaning of the purpose of the conscience since the time of the Jewish Patriarchs before the written law.
Our Lord, however, gave us a new understanding of the commandments, so we now have the task of either following the promptings of our conscience in relation to Our Lord’s commandments or ignoring them.
Dorotheos emphasizes that it is important for us to listen to our conscience so that we do not ignore the little things, since small bad habits are like a malignant tumor and grow into immense evil habits.
Father Deacon Matthew gave the second conference, Remembering the Bridegroom through Cultivating Divine Thoughts, which was inspired partly by Gregory the Theologian’s comment that Adam in Paradise was a “cultivator of immortal plants, that is perhaps, divine thoughts.”
Fr. Deacon Matthew referenced saints from both the East and West across the centuries to show the consistent and timeless call to guard our thoughts, senses and imagination, and to ceaselessly remember the Bridegroom of our souls, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
He focused on the teachings of Diadochus of Photike (400-486), Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain (1749-1809), and John of the Cross (1542-1591), who all wrote clearly about the necessity of clinging to the memory of God and meditating on the Mysteries of our salvation, so that only God will be imprinted on our souls and thoughts.
He spoke of how in his book Ascent of Mt. Carmel John of the Cross reminded Christians that the Mother of God is our model: “She never had the form of any creature impressed in her soul, nor was she moved by any, for she was always moved by the Holy Spirit.”
Father Deacon Matthew also connected the cultivation of divine thoughts to the three stages of the spiritual life: purification, illumination and theosis or deification (union with God in the West). He also offered advice from the Holy Fathers on how to better practice or begin practicing the remembrance of God.
To conclude, Father Deacon Matthew offered this advice from Nicodemos’s Handbook of Spiritual Counsel as inspiration: “Have Jesus as the sweet contemplation of your heart; let Jesus be the preoccupation of your tongue; let Jesus be the honorable shape and idea in your mind….let Jesus be your breath and never grow tired of calling upon Jesus.”
The third conference, delivered by Fr. Kevin, was based on two recent books: The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul by French Orthodox philosopher and patristics scholar Jean-Claude Larchet and The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols by Polish philosopher Ryzard Legutko.
Fr. Kevin framed the conference with comments by Legutko on how liberal societies use social engineering and “intensive educational programs” to transform society. In particular, liberal social engineers emphasize changing language and use the Internet and new media to impose their new standards.
Larchet, he said, focuses on how digital media have colonized every aspect of our life, including the mind, and in doing so have altered our sense of time and distance, given us the illusion of freedom, weakened personal and familial relationships, created a false idea of community, and given many the belief that they are omnipotent.
In particular, Larchet states that new media have established a new false religion and impoverished true religion and faith by undermining ethics and morals, reinforcing pride and vanity, and destroying our ability to appreciate silence and stillness. The more one spends time using new media, he notes, the less one is capable of living a Christian life of watchfulness, vigilance, and sobriety.
Fr. Kevin closed his conference by noting that because the Internet and new media are so much a part of our life now, Larchet recommends using new media only for necessary tasks.
With few exceptions, Christians need to limit their use of the Internet and consider eliminating the use of Facebook, Twitter, and similar new or social media. Fr. Kevin noted that this is especially important now that these new media outlets have become authoritarian in their efforts to impose a liberal, anti-Christian agenda on all and censor those who disagree.
Plans for the ninth annual East Meets West retreat are underway. Fr. Kevin expects to announce details early in the New Year.