General Q&As to an Orthodox Priest

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We always welcome new people, and enjoy having a conversation with you. Interested in our content? Have a question that concerns you or does not let you sleep at night? Want to find out more about the doctrine, teachings or practices of the Church, and how they are different from the other churches? Wish to hear the Christian Orthodox perspective on an ethical or social question? We will be happy to take your questions, share our views and hear back from you. Use the form on this page to ask your question to Father Andrey Lemeshonok, prior of Saint Elisabeth Convent.Please allow two to four weeks to receive your answer. A copy will be sent to your e-mail. Prepare to wait longer during the Lenten weeks and peak times. Please indicate your gender and country (they will not be published on the site) to help Father Andrey personalise his answer.

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Question

Hi father! I am a young lady and a member of a Native American tribe in California. A lot of tribal members that I know like to “smudge” (burn sage) as a method of cleansing. I obviously believe in so such thing, but I personally love the smell of sage. Would it be alright for me to burn it in my house, in the same way that I would burn a candle, simply for the smell of it? I believe in no way, shape, or form that it has any power; I just believe it is a creation of God with a very pleasant aroma (just like how roses do). Thank you and God Bless!

Answer
I also enjoy the smell of frankincense, but liking the fragrance is one thing, and burning frankincense as a spiritual practice is quite another. Frankincense - in and of itself - has a nice smell, it is a fact. And it is normal to enjoy it - understanding that there is nothing mystical about it - just the fragrance. You would not want to be around something foul-smelling, would you? Probably not. We all want to smell nice. However, at church, we burn incense as a religious practice, and it has a spiritual meaning. We bless the censer, and as the deacon or priest incenses the icons he spreads around the church the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Metropolitan Philaret, of blessed memory, always said, "Blessing of the Holy Spirit" as he walked around the church with the censer. The moment we give spiritual meaning to the burning of incense, the smell, the fragrance that it emits supplements our prayer and worship, which is a very different thing. North American Indians loved nature and cared for the environment.

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

Question

There are popular videos on YouTube propagating "special mindfulness methods", which you need to listen to for several days in a row, twice a day. If you do so, they promise that you can get something you want, or be lucky and enjoy various benefits in life. I tried listening to the mantras several times, and then I wondered if I was allowed to listen to them at all. I tried to find out if meditation and Orthodox prayer could coexist, but I found different answers. Could you please clarify this question?

Answer
I don't think you should ever watch that video channel again. It's all a devilish mix of temptations, such as promises of wealth, good luck, and fulfilment of desires: just engage with the devil, and you are going to have everything. It resembles the temptation of Christ in the wilderness: All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me (Matthew 4:9; cf. Matthew 4:8). Of course, this is quackery and deception. Meditation is when a person attempts to climb into Heaven using his own power and pride. Where is he going to climb, who will meet him there? Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) once wrote that going to the astral plane without repentance is fatal for a proud soul. Meanwhile, prayer is all about trust in God. The Lord does not promise us any blessings on this earth. By contrast, He says, "Great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:12). We are here on earth to fight for prayer, among other things. Above all, prayer must be humble and contrite. We are conscious that we do not deserve charity, but we ask God for mercy and love – and God hears us. We do not pray for prosperity, for worldly blessings. We pray for the Lord to have mercy on our souls, to heal them, and not to leave us without love in eternity.

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

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