St. John the Divine Orthodox Church
Canadian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America
DORMITION OF ST. ANNA

July 25 2017

Dormition of the Righteous Anna, the Mother of the Most Holy Theotokos

Saint Anna was the daughter of the priest Matthan and his wife Mary. She was of the tribe of Levi and the lineage of Aaron. According to Tradition, she died peacefully in Jerusalem at age 79, before the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos.

During the reign of Saint Justinian the Emperor (527-565), a church was built in her honor at Deutera. Emperor Justinian II (685-695; 705-711) restored her church, since Saint Anna had appeared to his pregnant wife. It was at this time that her body and maphorion (veil) were transferred to Constantinople.

Portions of Saint Anna’s holy relics may be found on Mount Athos: Stavronikita Monastery (part of her left hand), Saint Anna’s Skete (part of her incorrupt left foot), Koutloumousiou Monastery (part of her incorrupt right foot). Fragments of her relics may also be found in her Monastery at Lygaria, Lamia, and in the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian at Sourota. Part of the saint’s incorrupt flesh is in the collection of Saints’ relics of the International Catholic Crusaders. The church of Saint Paul outside the Walls in Rome has one of the saint’s wrists.

Saint Anna is also commemorated on September 9.

 

THE NATIVITY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST

June 24 2017

Nativity of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John

The Nativity of the Holy Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, John: The Gospel (Luke. 1: 5) relates that the righteous parents of Saint John the Baptist, the Priest Zachariah and Elizabeth (September 5), lived in the ancient city of Hebron. They reached old age without having children, since Elizabeth was barren. Once, Saint Zachariah was serving in the Temple at Jerusalem and saw the Archangel Gabriel, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. He predicted that Saint Zachariah would father a son, who would announce the Savior, the Messiah, awaited by the Old Testament Church. Zachariah was troubled, and fear fell upon him. He had doubts that in old age it was possible to have a son, and he asked for a sign. It was given to him, and it was also a chastisement for his unbelief. Zachariah was struck speechless until the time of the fulfillment of the archangel’s words.

Saint Elizabeth came to be with child, and fearing derision at being pregnant so late in life, she kept it secret for five months. Then her relative, the Virgin Mary, came to share with her Her own joy. Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” was the first to greet the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God. Saint John leaped in his mother’s womb at the visit of the Most Holy Virgin Mary and the Son of God incarnate within Her.

Soon Saint Elizabeth gave birth to a son, and all the relatives and acquaintances rejoiced together with her. On the eighth day, in accordance with the Law of Moses, he was circumcised and was called John. Everyone was amazed, since no one in the family had this name. When they asked Saint Zachariah about this, he motioned for a tablet and wrote on it: “His name is John.” Immediately his tongue was loosed, and Saint Zachariah glorified God. He also prophesied about the Coming into the world of the Messiah, and of his own son John, the Forerunner of the Lord (Luke. 1: 68-79).

After the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ and the worship of the shepherds and the Magi, wicked king Herod gave orders to kill all male infants. Hearing about this, Saint Elizabeth fled into the wilderness and hid in a cave. Saint Zachariah was at Jerusalem and was doing his priestly service in the Temple. Herod sent soldiers to him to find out the abode of the infant John and his mother. Zachariah answered that their whereabouts were unknown to him, and he was killed right there in the Temple. Righteous Elizabeth continued to live in the wilderness with her son and she died there. The child John, protected by an angel, dwelt in the wilderness until the time when he came preaching repentance, and was accounted worthy to baptize the Lord.

 

FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF NICEA

May 28 2017

 

 

The heresiarch Arius was a Libyan by race and a protopresbyter of the Church of Alexandria. In 315, he began to blaspheme against the Son and Word of God, saying that He is not true God, consubstantial with the Father, but is rather a work and creation, alien to the essence and glory of the Father, and that there was a time when He was not. This frightful blasphemy shook the faithful of Alexandria. Alexander, his Archbishop, after trying in vain to correct him through admonitions, cut him off from communion and finally in a local council deposed him in the year 321. Yet neither did the blasphemer wish to be corrected, nor did he cease sowing the deadly tares of his heretical teachings; but writing to the bishops of other cities, Arius and his followers requested that his doctrine be examined, and if it were unsound, that the correct teaching be declared to him. By this means, his heresy became universally known and won many supporters, so that the whole Church was soon in an uproar.

Therefore, moved by divine zeal, the first Christian Sovereign, Saint Constantine the Great, the equal to the Apostles, summoned the renowned First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, a city of Bithynia. It was there that the shepherds and teachers of the Church of Christ gathered from all regions in the year 325. All of them, with one mouth and one voice, declared that the Son and Word of God is one in essence with the Father, true God of true God, and they composed the holy Symbol of Faith up to the seventh article (since the remainder, beginning with "And in the Holy Spirit," was completed by the Second Ecumenical Council). Thus they anathematized the impious Arius of evil belief and those of like mind with him, and cut them off as rotten members from the whole body of the faithful.

Therefore, recognizing the divine Fathers as heralds of the Faith after the divine Apostles, the Church of Christ has appointed this present Sunday for their annual commemoration, in thanksgiving and unto the glory of God, unto their praise and honour, and unto the strengthening of the true Faith.

 

 

THE ASCENSION

May 25 2017

 

May 25

 

Reading

 

The Lord Jesus passed forty days on earth after His Resurrection from the dead, appearing continually in various places to His disciples, with whom He also spoke, ate, and drank, thereby further demonstrating His Resurrection. On this Thursday, the fortieth day after Pascha, He appeared again in Jerusalem. After He had first spoken to the disciples about many things, He gave them His last commandment, that is, that they go forth and proclaim His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. But He also commanded them that for the present, they were not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait there together until they receive power from on high, when the Holy Spirit would come upon them.

Saying these things, He led them to the Mount of Olives, and raising His hands, He blessed them; and saying again the words of the Father's blessing, He was parted from them and taken up. Immediately a cloud of light, a proof of His majesty, received Him. Sitting thereon as though on a royal chariot, He was taken up into Heaven, and after a short time was concealed from the sight of the disciples, who remained where they were with their eyes fixed on Him. At this point, two Angels in the form of men in white raiment appeared to them and said, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven" (Acts 1:11). These words, in a complete and concise manner, declare what is taught in the Symbol of Faith concerning the Son and Word of God. Therefore, having so fulfilled all His dispensation for us, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended in glory into Heaven, and sat at the right hand of God the Father. As for His sacred disciples, they returned from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, rejoicing because Christ had promised to send them the Holy Spirit.

It should be noted that the Mount of Olives is a Sabbath's day journey from Jerusalem, that is, the distance a Jew was permitted to walk on the day of the Sabbath. Ecumenius writes, "A Sabbath day's journey is one mile in length, as Clement says in his fifth Stromatis; it is two thousand cubits, as the Interpretation of the Acts states." They draw this conclusion from the fact that, while they were in the wilderness, the Israelites of old kept within this distance from the Holy Tabernacle, whither they walked on the Sabbath day to worship God.

 

 

 

 


May 6 2017

Righteous Job the Long-Suffering

The righteous Job (whose name means “persecuted”), God’s faithful servant, was the perfect image of every virtue. The son of Zarah and Bossorha (Job 42), Job was a fifth-generation descendent of Abraham. He was a truthful, righteous, patient and pious man who abstained from every evil thing. Job was very rich and blessed by God in all things, as was no other son of Ausis (his country, which lay between Idoumea and Arabia). However, divine condescension permitted him to be tested.

Job lost his children, his wealth, his glory, and every consolation all at once. His entire body became a terrible wound covered with boils. Yet he remained steadfast and patient in the face of his misfortune for seven years, always giving thanks to God.

Later, God restored his former prosperity, and he had twice as much as before. Job lived for 170 years after his misfortune, completing his earthly life in 1350 B.C. at the age of 240. Some authorities say that Job’s afflictions lasted only one year, and that afterwards he lived for 140 years, reaching the age of 210.

Job’s explanations are among the most poetic writings in the Old Testament book which bears his name. It is one of the most edifying portions of Holy Scripture. Job teaches us that we must endure life’s adversities patiently and with trust in God. As Saint Anthony the Great (January 17) says, without temptations, it is impossible for the faithful to be saved.

The Orthodox Church reads the book of Job, the first of the seven wisdom books of the Old Testament, during Holy Week, drawing a parallel between Job and Christ as righteous men who suffered through no fault of their own. God allowed Satan to afflict Job so that his faithfulness would be proven. Christ, the only sinless one, suffered voluntarily for our sins. The Septuagint text of Job 42:17 says that Job “will rise again with those whom the Lord raises up.” This passage is read on Great and Holy Friday, when the composite Gospel at Vespers speaks of the tombs being opened at the moment the Savior died on the Cross, and the bodies of the saints were raised, and they appeared to many after Christ’s Resurrection (Mt.27:52)

 

THE CIRCUMCISION OF OUR LORD

Jan. 1 2017

The Feast of the Circumcision:  A Blessed New Year!

Circumcision

While January 1 marks the beginning of the civil new year—and we wish every blessing of the season to our readers—it also marks the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

On the eighth day after His Nativity, our Lord Jesus Christ was circumcised in accordance with the Old Testament Law.  All male infants underwent circumcision as a sign of God’s Covenant with the holy Forefather Abraham and his descendants [Genesis 17:10-14, Leviticus 12:3].

After this ritual, the Divine Infant was given the name Jesus, as the Archangel Gabriel declared on the day of the Annunciation to the Most Holy Theotokos [Luke 1:31-33, 2:21].  The Fathers of the Church explain that the Lord, the Creator of the Law, underwent circumcision in order to give people an example of how faithfully the divine ordinances ought to be fulfilled.  The Lord was circumcised so that later no one would doubt that He had truly assumed human flesh, and that His Incarnation was not merely an illusion, as certain heretics had taught.

In the New Testament, the ritual of circumcision gave way to the Mystery of Baptism, which it prefigured [Colossians 2:11-12].  Accounts of the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord continue in the Eastern Church right up through the fourth century.  The Canon of the Feast was written by Saint Stephen of the Saint Sava Monastery.

In addition to circumcision, which the Lord accepted as a sign of God’s Covenant with mankind, He also received the Name Jesus [Savior] on the eighth day after His Nativity as an indication of His service, the work of the salvation of the world [Matthew 1:21; Mark 9:38-39, 16:17; Luke 10:17; Acts 3:6, 16; Philippians 2:9-10].  These two events—the Lord’s Circumcision and Naming—remind Christians that they have entered into a New Covenant with God and “are circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” [Colossians 2:11].  The very name “Christian” is a sign of mankind’s entrance into a New Covenant with God.

NATIVITY OF OUR LORD & SAVIOR

DEC.25 2016

 

Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh (I Tim. 3:16)

The New Adam comes forth from virgin earth. Woman, the source of the curse, bears the dew of blessing. The true Noah has appeared, Who shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed (Gen. 5:29). Melchizedek, without father, without mother, without descent (Heb. 7:3), comes to inherit the eternal Kingdom and Priesthood. The long night of fear and universal expectation finally passes, and the morning light penetrates the darkness of the Old Testament Sanctuary, opened not daily, but eternally to the East. The Heavenly Manna is poured forth from the vessel which contained it. The rod of Jesse blossoms forth in place of the fading rod of Aaron. Christ is born.

Come, meek shepherds, and kiss the Lamb and Shepherd—the Lamb, tended by the shepherd, and the Shepherd, Who is able to gather into one peaceful fold the lambs with the wolves, and the calves with the lions. Come, wise men, and bow down before the mystery of the ancient Child; learn from the unspeaking Word, taste of the angelic bread at the table of the speechless animals and see that the Lord is good. Choirs of heavenly hosts who have praised the Lord since the creation of the stars, double and triple your doxology before your Sun, Who has risen for us. Christ is born.

Christ is born in Bethlehem: is this the reason for all the present joy and all the glory to God in the highest? Glory to God: He is also born for us, unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given (Is. 9:6). Amid the celebration of His birth, the Church suffers pains of birth, until Christ be formed in us (cf. Gal. 4:19). Let us not disdain the joyful sorrow of our Mother: let us take at least a few traits from the image of the birth of Jesus and let us place them in our hearts.

Bethlehem was the ancestral home of the forefathers of Jesus: however, Joseph and Mary did not have even a poor hut, a piece of inherited land or a permanent residence. Providence, by the hand of Caesar, led them to this place from which, it was determined, would come a ruler of Israel (cf., Matt. 2:6). The foreigners in the land of the forefathers, the newcomers to their own homeland gave a homeland to the Son, of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3:15)—Christians! As long as we live in the world as satiated citizens and enjoy it as its masters, Christ cannot be formed in us. The world continually tries to stamp on our souls its passing images; satiated desires give birth to other desires which imperceptibly grow into giants and build Babylon. Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash the infants of this Babylon against the rock of faith and alienate himself from the city which exists here in order to see the one that is coming! If Abraham, at the command of God, had not departed from his land and his people, he would not have received the glorious testament, the promise, and the inheritance. If suffering Israel had not decided to endure the difficulties of a dangerous and unknown journey, Jehovah would not have strengthened it and prepared in it a dwelling-place for Himself. If the intuitive mother had not sent the innocent Jacob away from the vengeful Esau, he would not have come to the fearful place, the heavenly gates. Only the homeless strangers find Bethel and Bethlehem—the house of God and the house of the living Bread. Only the voluntary exiles of earth will be received as citizens of heaven. Whoever desires to be a dwelling place of the Son of God, must have his homeland only in God, and with all his ties to his earthly homeland, however natural and proper they may be, he must not compare it to the heavenly.

By taking nothing from this world for his birth, Jesus evidently wished to show that He had no personal possessions. The Carpenter received His name from His father; His mother, having carried Him in Her womb, could offer no other virtue for this service other than, by Her own admission, the sense of Her own unworthiness: For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden (Luke 1:48). He concealed His immeasurable eternity until the day of His birth. A manger became the throne for the King of kings, His robes—swaddling clothes, the first servants of the Kingdom—the shepherds of the flock. The power and wisdom of God were concealed in the infirmities of an infant. But who can measure the distance from the height of His Divine Essence to the depth of His belittlement? The finite mind is not able to comprehend His operations, neither His ascent higher than the heavens, nor His descent to the lowliness of fallen nature. Seeing such humility, what must a heart feel which desires to be formed after the image of Christ? Strength of mind, greatness of spirit, celebrity of deeds, privilege of rank! I am not deceived by you and do not envy those who are proud of you. There is no greater wisdom than to reject wisdom for the sake of Christ; there is no greater glory than to share dishonor with Jesus; there is no greater wealth than the poverty of Jesus. There is no other entrance to perfection and blessedness than through the infancy of Christ; there is no better adornment for the soul, in which He must dwell, than to see itself deprived of all adornment, like His manger. The current of Grace, like the flow of a river, steams into the vales; the cedars on the mountains observe the thunder and lightning. God creates out of nothing: as long as we want and think about being something, God does not begin His work in us. Humility and self-denial are the foundation of His dwelling in us: whoever delves into this more deeply is established higher and more secure.

One of the essential features of the birth of Jesus was the purity of His Mother, not violated either by sight or by thought. She had to have a betrothed, but merely in order to have someone who would be a protector and witness of Her virtue, and so that Her holy virginity would not seem to be disgraced by marriage. At the same time She was, as the Church confesses with one mind, a Virgin before birth, during birth, and after birth. Look at Her example, a soul striving for union with God, and see in the mirror of Her perfection your duty. The Lord is a jealous God. When He says to man with a voice of fatherly kindness: Son, give Me thy heart, His righteous jealousy is commanding, in a spiritual as well as a moral sense: Do not commit adultery. He Who gave us a heart is not satisfied with a larger or smaller portion of it: it must all belong to the Master of everything. He does not consider any kind of love to be worthy of Himself which is not based on love of Him. Every enjoyment which we passionately seek for ourselves, every thought directed toward creation, every distraction, is a departure from Him. Only strict vigilance over oneself can lead to blessed union with Him and maintain it: Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life (Prov. 4:23). The heavenly Bridegroom is betrothed only to wise and chaste virgins, not those sleeping near His bridal chamber. The virgin soul directed only towards God conceives the spiritual life and gives birth to the blessedness of pure contemplation. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God; and where?—in their very heart. A pure soul, just like pure water, receives the living images of the sun and sky.

We will not keep our gaze fixed on those characteristics of the image of the birth of Jesus which might frighten those who wish to imprint them on their own souls, due to their difficulty in imitating. But let us take one more glance at those characteristics in which His Divine glory shone through His humiliation and through which Grace is revealed in our spiritual birth.

At the birth of Christ the Angels proclaim glory to God and peace on earth: at our birth they proclaim the glory of Grace and the peace of man with God. Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:7). Shepherds and wise men come to Christ with piety, in spite of the poverty and obscurity which seemingly separate Him from the whole world. So also he who is united with Christ is united, in Him, with all those who believe in Him, by an indissoluble as well as incomprehensible union. That Spirit which forms from them one community, or rather one body, sometimes unexpectedly, but always in a timely manner, brings them closer to each other, in order for them to mutually edify and learn, comfort and receive comfort, and confess the mercy and glory of God. They offer gifts to Christ: gold, as to a King; incense, as to God; myrrh, as to a deceased of mortals. But did He not promise us that for those who seek the Kingdom of God, all things shall be added (Matt. 6:33)? Does He not want to make us kings and priests unto God and His Father (Rev. 1:6)? Is not our spiritual birth linked with that life-giving death, after which our life will be hidden with Him in God (cf. Col 3:3)?

O God, Who has given us Thy Son! What does Thou not give us thereby? Grant us only that we may give birth to the Spirit of Christ within ourselves and that we may live His life. Then let Herod and all Jerusalem be troubled with us as they were with Him. Let the prince of this age rage and let all the world take up arms: Thou shalt nourish us and with an Angel of Thy counsel Thou shalt lead us to Thy holy mountain. Amen.

Translated from "The Writings of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomensk" (in Russian), Vol. 1, pp. 16-20. In Orthodox Life vol. 50, no. 6, Nov-Dec 2000, pp. 2-5

 

St. Philaret of Moscow

 

 

 
 
THE HOLY ANGELS

Nov. 8 2016

Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers

The Synaxis of the Chief of the Heavenly Hosts, Archangel Michael and the Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers: Archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selaphiel, Jehudiel, Barachiel, and Jeremiel was established at the beginning of the fourth century at the Council of Laodicea, which met several years before the First Ecumenical Council. The 35th Canon of the Council of Laodicea condemned and denounced as heretical the worship of angels as gods and rulers of the world, but affirmed their proper veneration.

A Feastday was established in November, the ninth month after March (with which the year began in ancient times) since there are Nine Ranks of Angels. The eighth day of the month was chosen for the Synaxis of all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven since the Day of the Dread Last Judgment is called the Eighth Day by the holy Fathers. After the end of this age (characterized by its seven days of Creation) will come the Eighth Day, and then “the Son of Man shall come in His Glory and all the holy Angels with Him” (Mt. 25:31).

The Angelic Ranks are divided into three Hierarchies: highest, middle, and lowest.

The Highest Hierarchy includes: the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.

The six-winged SERAPHIM (Flaming, Fiery) (Is 6:12) stand closest of all to the Most Holy Trinity. They blaze with love for God and kindle such love in others.

The many-eyed CHERUBIM (outpouring of wisdom, enlightenment) (Gen 3:24) stand before the Lord after the Seraphim. They are radiant with the light of knowledge of God, and knowledge of the mysteries of God. Through them wisdom is poured forth, and people’s minds are enlightened so they may know God and behold His glory.

The THRONES (Col 1:16) stand after the Cherubim, mysteriously and incomprehensibly bearing God through the grace given them for their service. They are ministers of God’s justice, giving to tribunals, kings, etc. the capacity for righteous judgment.

 

The Middle Angelic Hierarchy consists of three Ranks: Dominions, Powers, and Authorities:

DOMINIONS (Col 1:16) hold dominion over the angels subject to them. They instruct the earthly authorities, established by God, to rule wisely, and to govern their lands well. The Dominions teach us to subdue sinful impulses, to subject the flesh to the spirit, to master our will, and to conquer temptation.

POWERS (1 Pet 3:22) fulfill the will of God without hesitation. They work great miracles and give the grace of wonderworking and clairvoyance to saints pleasing to God. The Powers assist people in fulfilling obediences. They also encourage them to be patient, and give them spiritual strength and fortitude.

AUTHORITIES (1 Pet 3:22, Col 1:16) have authority over the devil. They protect people from demonic temptations, and prevent demons from harming people as they would wish. They also uphold ascetics and guard them, helping people in the struggle with evil thoughts.

 

The Lowest Hierarchy includes the three Ranks: Principalities, Archangels, and Angels:

PRINIPALITIES (Col 1:16) have command over the lower angels, instructing them in the fulfilling of God’s commands. They watch over the world and protect lands, nations and peoples. Principalities instruct people to render proper honor to those in authority, as befits their station. They teach those in authority to use their position, not for personal glory and gain, but to honor God, and to spread word of Him, for the benefit of those under them.

ARCHANGELS (1 Thess 4:16) are messengers of great and wondrous tidings. They reveal prophecies and the mysteries of the faith. They enlighten people to know and understand the will of God, they spread faith in God among the people, illuminating their minds with the light of the Holy Gospel.

ANGELS (1 Pet 3:22) are in the lowest rank of the heavenly hierarchy, and closest to people. They reveal the lesser mysteries of God and His intentions, guiding people to virtuous and holy life. They support those who remain steadfast, and they raise up the fallen. They never abandon us and they are always prepared to help us, if we desire it.

 

All the Ranks of the Heavenly Powers are called angels, although each has its own name and position by virtue of their service. The Lord reveals His will to the highest ranks of the angels, and they in turn inform the others.

Over all the Nine Ranks, the Lord appointed the Holy Archangel Michael (his name in Hebrew means “who is like unto God”), the faithful servitor of God, as Chief Commander. He cast down from Heaven the arrogantly proud Lucifer and the other fallen spirits when they rebelled against God. Michael summoned the ranks of angels and cried out, “Let us attend! Let us stand aright before our Creator and do not consider doing what is displeasing unto God!”

According to Church Tradition, and in the church services to the Archangel Michael, he participated in many other Old Testament events.

During the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt he went before them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Through him the power of the Lord was made manifest, annihilating the Egyptians and Pharaoh who were in pursuit of the Israelites. The Archangel Michael defended Israel in all its misfortunes.

He appeared to Joshua Son of Navi and revealed the will of the Lord at the taking of Jericho (Josh 5:13-16). The power of the great Chief Commander of God was manifest in the annihilation of the 185 thousand soldiers of the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib (4/2 Kings 19:35); also in the smiting of the impious leader Heliodorus (2 Macc. 3: 24-26); and in the protection of the Three Holy Youths: Ananias, Azarias and Misail, thrown into the fiery furnace for their refusal to worship an idol (Dan 3:22-25).

Through the will of God, the Chief Commander Michael transported the Prophet Habbakuk (December 2) from Judea to Babylon, to give food to Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 14:33-37).

The Archangel Michael disputed with the devil over the body of the holy Prophet Moses (Jude 1:9).

The holy Archangel Michael showed his power when he miraculously saved a young man, cast into the sea by robbers with a stone about his neck on the shores of Mt Athos. This story is found in the Athonite Paterikon, and in the Life of St Neophytus of Docheiariou (November 9).

From ancient times the Archangel Michael was famed for his miracles in Rus. In the Volokolamsk Paterikon is a narrative of St Paphnutius of Borov with an account of Tatar tax-gatherers concerning the miraculous saving of Novgorod the Great: “Therefore Great Novgorod was never taken by the Hagarenes... when... for our sins the godless Hagarene emperor Batu devoured and set the Russian land aflame and came to Novgorod, and God and the Most Holy Theotokos shielded it with an appearance of Michael the Archangel, who forbade him to enter into it. He [Batu] was come to the Lithuanian city and came toward Kiev and saw the stone church, over the doors of which the great Archangel Michael had written and spoken to the prince his allotted fate, ‘By this we have forbidden you entry into Great Novgorod’.”

Intercession for Russian cities by the Most Holy Queen of Heaven always involved Her appearances with the Heavenly Hosts, under the leadership of the Archangel Michael. Grateful Rus acclaimed the Most Pure Mother of God and the Archangel Michael in church hymns. Many monasteries, cathedrals, court and merchant churches are dedicated to the Chief Commander Michael.

In old Kiev at the time of the accepting of Christianity, a cathedral of the Archangel was built, and a monastery also was named for him. Archangel cathedrals are found at Smolensk, Nizhni Novgorod, Staritsa, at Great Ustiug (beginning of the thirteenth century), and a cathedral at Sviyazhsk. In Rus there was not a city, where there was not a church or chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

One of the chief temples of the city of Moscow, the burial church in the Kremlin, is dedicated to him. Numerous and beautiful icons of the Chief Commander of the Heavenly Hosts are also in his Cathedral. One of these, the Icon “Blessed Soldiery,” was painted in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. The saintly soldiers, Russian princes, are depicted under the leadership of the Archangel Michael.

We invoke St Michael for protection from invasion by enemies and from civil war, and for the defeat of adversaries on the field of battle. He conquers all spiritual enemies.

 

Holy Scripture and Tradition give us the names of the Archangels:

Gabriel: strength (power) of God, herald and servitor of Divine omnipotence (Dan 8:16, Luke 1:26). He announces the mysteries of God.

Raphael: the healing of God, the curer of human infirmities (Tobit 3:16, 12:15)

Uriel: the fire or light of God, enlightener (3 Ezdras 5:20). We pray for him to enlighten those with darkened minds.

Selaphiel: the prayer of God, impelling to prayer (3 Ezdras 5:16). He prays to God for mankind.

Jehudiel: the glorifying of God, encouraging exertion for the glory of the Lord and interceding for the reward of efforts.

Barachiel: distributor of the blessings of God for good deeds, entreats the mercy of God for people.

Jeremiel: the raising up to God (3 Ezdras 4:36)

 

On icons the Archangels are depicted in according to the character of their service:

Michael tramples the devil underfoot, and in his left hand holds a green date-tree branch, and in his right hand a spear with a white banner (or sometimes a fiery sword), on which is outlined a scarlet cross.

Gabriel with a branch from Paradise, presented by him to the Most Holy Virgin, or with a shining lantern in his right hand and with a mirror made of jasper in his left.

Raphael holds a vessel with healing medications in his left hand, and with his right hand leads Tobias, carrying a fish for healing (Tobit 5-8).

Uriel in his raised right hand holds a naked sword at the level of his chest, and in his lowered left hand “a fiery flame.”

Selaphiel in a prayerful posture, gazing downwards, hands folded on the chest.

Jehudiel holds a golden crown in his right hand, in his left, a whip of three red (or black) thongs.

Barachiel is shown with a white rose on his breast.

Jeremiel holds balance-scales in his hand.

 

Each person has a guardian angel, and every nation also receives its own guardian angel from God (Dan. 10:13). When a church is consecrated, it also receives a guardian angel (Palladius, Dial. Ch. 10).

 

NATIVITY OF THE THEOTOKOS

Sept. 8 2016

Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Sermon on the Nativity of the Theotokos

Icon
September 8

The Church’s veneration of Mary has always been rooted in her obedience to God, her willing choice to accept a humanly impossible calling. The Orthodox Church has always emphasized Mary’s connection to humanity and delighted in her as the best, purest, most sublime fruition of human history and of man’s quest for God, for ultimate meaning, for ultimate content of human life.

If in Western Christianity veneration of Mary was centered upon her perpetual virginity, the heart of Orthodox Christian East’s devotion, contemplation, and joyful delight has always been her Motherhood, her flesh and blood connection to Jesus Christ. The East rejoices that the human role in the divine plan is pivotal. The Son of God comes to earth, appears in order to redeem the world, He becomes human to incorporate man into His divine vocation, but humanity takes part in this. If it is understood that Christ’s “co-nature” with us is as a human being and not some phantom or bodiless apparition, that He is one of us and forever united to us through His and forever united to us through His humanity, then devotion to Mary also becomes understandable, for she is the one who gave Him His human nature, His flesh and blood. She is the one through whom Christ can always call Himself “The Son of Man.”

Son of God, Son of Man…God descending and becoming man so that man could become divine, could become partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), or as the teachers of Church expressed it, “deified.” Precisely here, in this extraordinary revelation of man’s authentic nature and calling, is the source that gratitude and tenderness which cherishes Mary as our link to Christ and, in Him, to God. And nowhere is this reflected more clearly that in the Nativity of the Mother of God.

Nothing about this event is mentioned anywhere in the Holy Scriptures. But why should there be? Is there anything remarkable, anything especially unique about the normal birth of a child, a birth like any other? The Church began to commemorate the event with a special feast…because, on the contrary, the very fact that it is routine discloses something fresh and radiant about everything we call routine and ordinary, it gives new depth to the unremarkable details of human life…And with each birth the world is itself in some sense created anew and given as a gift to this new human being to be his life, his path, his creation.

This feast therefore is first a general celebration of Man’s birth, and we no longer remember the anguish, as the Gospel says, “for joy that a human being is born into the world” (Jn. 16:21). Secondly, we now know whose particular birth, whose coming we celebrate: Mary’s. We know the uniqueness, the beauty, the grace of precisely this child, her destiny, her meaning for us and for the whole world. And thirdly, we celebrate all who prepared the way for Mary, who contributed to her inheritance of grace and beauty…And therefore the Feast of her Nativity is also a celebration of human history, a celebration of faith in man, a celebration of man.

Sadly, the inheritance of evil is far more visible and better known. There is so much evil around us that this faith in man, in his freedom, in the possibility of handing down a radiant inheritance of goodness has almost evaporated and been replaced by cynicism and suspicion. This hostile cynicism and discouraging suspicion are precisely what seduce us to distance ourselves from the Church when it celebrates with such joy and faith this birth of a little girl in whom are concentrated all the goodness, spiritual beauty, harmony and perfection that are elements of genuine human nature. Thus, in celebrating Mary’s birth we find ourselves already on the road to Bethlehem, moving toward the joyful mystery of Mary as the Mother of God.

CHURCH'S NEW YEAR

Sept. 1 2016

Description of Beginning Of The Indiction

 

For the maintenance of their armed forces, the Roman emperors decreed that their subjects in every district should be taxed every year. This same decree was reissued every fifteen years, since the Roman soldiers were obliged to serve for fifteen years. At the end of each fifteen-year period, an assessment was made of what economic changes had taken place, and a new tax was decreed, which was to be paid over the span of the fifteen years. This imperial decree, which was issued before the season of winter, was named Indictio, that is, Definiton, or Order. This name was adopted by the emperors in Constantinople also. At other times, the latter also used the term Epinemisis, that is, Distribution (Dianome). It is commonly held that Saint Constantine the Great introduced the Indiction decrees in A.D. 312, after he beheld the sign of the Cross in heaven and vanquished Maxentius and was proclaimed Emperor in the West. Some, however (and this seems more likely), ascribe the institution of the Indiction to Augustus Caesar, three years before the birth of Christ. Those who hold this view offer as proof the papal bull issued in A.D. 781 which is dated thus: Anno IV, Indictionis LIII -that is, the fourth year of the fifty-third Indiction. From this, we can deduce the aforementioned year (3 B.C.) by multiplying the fifty-two complete Indictions by the number of years in each (15), and adding the three years of the fifty-third Indiction. There are three types of Indictions: 1) That which was introduced in the West, and which is called Imperial, or Caesarean, or Constantinian, and which begins on the 24th of September; 2) The so-called Papal Indiction, which begins on the 1st of January; and 3) The Constantinopolitan, which was adopted by the Patriarchs of that city after the fall of the Eastern Empire in 1453. This Indiction is indicated in their own hand on the decrees they issue, without the numeration of the fifteen years. This Indiction begins on the 1st of September and is observed with special ceremony in the Church. Since the completion of each year takes place, as it were, with the harvest and gathering of the crops into storehouses, and we begin anew from henceforth the sowing of seed in the earth for the production of future crops, September is considered the beginning of the New Year. The Church also keeps festival this day, beseeching God for fair weather, seasonable rains, and an abundance of the fruits of the earth. The Holy Scriptures (Lev. 23:24-5 and Num. 29:1-2) also testify that the people of Israel celebrated the feast of the Blowing of the Trumpets on this day, offering hymns of thanksgiving. In addition to all the aforesaid, on this feast we also commemorate our Saviour's entry into the synagogue in Nazareth, where He was given the book of the Prophet Esaias to read, and He opened it and found the place where it is written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for which cause He hath anointed Me..." (Luke 4:16-30).

 

It should be noted that to the present day, the Church has always celebrated the beginning of the New Year on September 1. This was the custom in Constantinople until its fall in 1453 and in Russia until the reign of Peter I. September 1 is still festively celebrated as the New Year at the Patriarchate of Constantinople; among the Jews also the New Year, although reckoned according to a moveable calendar, usually falls in September. The service of the Menaion for January 1 is for our Lord's Circumcision and for the memorial of Saint Basil the Great, without any mention of its being the beginning of a new year.

 

2016

 

 

 

PROCESSION OF THE LIFE GIVING CROSS

Aug. 1 2015
08-01

Procession of the Precious Cross
The Procession of the Venerable Wood of the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord: In the Greek Horologion of 1897 the derivation of this Feast is explained: “Because of the illnesses that occur 1-8in August, it was customary, in former times, to carry the Venerable Wood of the Cross through the streets and squares of Constantinople for the sanctification of the city, and for relief from sickness. On the eve (July 31), it was taken out of the imperial treasury, and laid upon the altar of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia (the Wisdom of God). From this Feast until the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, they carried the Cross throughout the city in procession, offering it to the people to venerate. This also is the Procession of the Venerable Cross.”

In the Russian Church this Feast is combined also with the remembrance of the Baptism of Rus, on August 1, 988. In the “Account of the Order of Services in the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Great Church of the Dormition,” compiled in 1627 by order of Patriarch Philaret of Moscow and All Rus, there is the following explanation of the Feast: “On the day of the Procession of the Venerable Cross there is a church procession for the sanctification of water and for the enlightenment of the people, throughout all the towns and places.”

Knowledge of the day of the actual Baptism of Rus was preserved in the Chronicles of the sixteenth century: “The Baptism of the Great Prince Vladimir of Kiev and all Rus was on August 1.”

In the present practice of the Russian Church, the Lesser Sanctification of Water on August 1 is done either before or after Liturgy. Because of the Blessing of Water, this first Feast of the Savior in August is sometimes called ‘Savior of the Water.” There may also be a Blessing of New Honey today, which is why the Feast is also called “Savior of the Honey.” From this day the newly gathered honey is blessed and tasted.

 

PENTECOST

June 26 2016

Feast of Holy Pentecost

     
 

Introduction

The Feast of Holy Pentecost is celebrated each year on the fiftieth day after the Great and Holy Feast of Pascha (Easter) and ten days after the Feast of the Ascension of Christ. The Feast is always celebrated on a Sunday.

The Feast commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, a feast of the Jewish tradition. It also celebrates the establishment of the Church through the preaching of the Apostles and the baptism of the thousands who on that day believed in the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ. The Feast is also seen as the culmination of the revelation of the Holy Trinity.

Biblical Story

The story of Pentecost is found in the book of The Acts of the Apostles. In Chapter two we are told that the Apostles of our Lord were gathered together in one place. Suddenly, a sound came from heaven like a rushing wind, filling the entire house where they were sitting. Then, tongues of fire appeared, and one sat upon each one of Apostles. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as directed by the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

This miraculous event occurred on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, celebrated by the Jews on the fiftieth day after the Passover as the culmination of the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10). The Feast of Weeks began on the third day after the Passover with the presentation of the first harvest sheaves to God, and it concluded on Pentecost with the offering of two loaves of unleavened bread, representing the first products of the harvest (Leviticus 23:17-20; Deuteronomy 16:9-10).

Since the Jewish Feast of Pentecost was a great pilgrimage feast, many people from throughout the Roman Empire were gathered in Jerusalem on this day. When the people in Jerusalem heard the sound, they came together and heard their own languages being spoken by the Apostles (Acts 2:5-6). The people were amazed, knowing that some of those speaking were Galileans, and not men who would normally speak many different languages. They wondered what this meant, and some even thought the Apostles were drunk (Acts 2:7-13).

Peter, hearing these remarks, stood up and addressed the crowd. He preached to the people regarding the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He spoke about Jesus Christ and His death and glorious Resurrection. Great conviction fell upon the people, and they asked the Apostles, "What shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38-39).

The Bible records that on that day about three thousand were baptized. Following, the book of Acts states that the newly baptized continued daily to hear the teaching of the Apostles, as the early Christians met together for fellowship, the breaking of bread, and for prayer. Many wonderful signs and miracles were done through the Apostles, and the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).

 

Ascension of Christ

June 9 2016

The Ascension: Our Destiny in Christ

In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed we profess, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man…. And the third day He arose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father.”

What a wonderful expression of the great mystery of the “descent” and “ascent” of the Son of God. The eternal Son of God becomes the Son of Man, descending into our world to live among us and to teach us about, and prepare us for the Kingdom of God. This is what we call the Incarnation. This movement of descent is only completed when Christ is crucified and enters the very realm of death on our behalf. There is “nowhere” further to descend (in)to. Thus, there are no limits to the love of God for His creatures, for the descent of Christ into death itself is “for our salvation.” The Son of God will search for Adam and Eve in the very realm of Sheol/Hades. He will rescue them and liberate them as representative of all humankind, languishing in “the valley of death.” Since death cannot hold the sinless—and therefore deathless—Son of God, He begins His ascent to the heavenly realm with His resurrection from the dead. And He fulfills this Paschal mystery with His glorious ascension.

As Saint Paul writes, “He Who descended is He Who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things”  (Ephesians 4:10). The One Who ascended, however, is now both God and man, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the incarnate, crucified, risen, and glorified Jesus Christ Who is now seated at “the right hand of the Father,” far above the heavens. It is the glorified flesh of the Incarnate Word of God which has entered into the very bosom of the Trinity in the Person of Christ. As Saint Leo the Great, the pope of Rome (+461) taught, “With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of Heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest Heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father.”

This is simultaneously our ascension and our glorification, since we are united to Christ through holy Baptism as members of His Body. Therefore, Saint Paul can further write, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”  (Colossians 3:3). Out of our physical sight, we now “see” the glorified Christ through the eyes of faith. Saint Leo further explains how important this spiritual insight is: “For such is the power of great minds, such the light of truly believing souls, that they put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eyes; they fix their desires on what is beyond sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what is visible.”

The Great Feast of the Ascension, which this year we celebrate on Thursday, June 9, is not a decline from the glory of Pascha. It is, rather, the fulfillment of Pascha, and a movement upward toward the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the joyful revelation of our destiny in Christ. To return to the opening theme of the marvelous acts of God moving from the incarnation to the ascension, I would like to turn to Saint Leo one more time for his understanding of that entire movement: “It is upon this ordered structure of divine acts that we have been firmly established, so that the grace of God may show itself still more marvelous when, in spite of the withdrawal from men’s sight of everything that is rightly felt to command their reverence, faith does not fail, hope is not shaken, charity does not grow cold.”

Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

Pascha 2016

The Paschal Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom

If any man be devout and loveth God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast! If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have laboured long in fasting, let him how receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first. He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour. And He showeth mercy upon the last, and careth for the first; and to the one He giveth, and upon the other He bestoweth gifts. And He both accepteth the deeds, and welcometh the intention, and honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord; receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival! You sober and you heedless, honour the day! Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.

Amen.

 

 

 

ADVENT -- Preparation for the NATIVITY

The wayfaring virgin, Word in her womb, comes walking your way - haven't you room? St. John of the Cross

 

The Nativity Fast is a period of abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern OrthodoxOriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, (December 25).[1] The corresponding Western season of preparation for Christmas, which also has been called the Nativity Fast[2] and St. Martin's Lent, has taken the name of Advent. The Eastern fast runs for 40 days instead of four (Roman rite) or six weeks (Ambrosian rite) and thematically focuses on proclamation and glorification of the Incarnation of God, whereas the Western Advent focuses on the two comings (or advents) of Jesus Christ: his birth and his Second Coming orParousia.

The Byzantine fast is observed from November 15 to December 24, inclusively. These dates apply to those Orthodox Churches which use the Revised Julian calendar, which currently matches the Gregorian calendar. For those Eastern Orthodox Churches which still follow the Julian calendar (Churches of RussiaGeorgiaSerbia,UkraineMacedoniaMount Athos and Jerusalem), the Winter Lent does not begin until November 28 (Gregorian) which coincides with November 15 on the Julian calendar. The Ancient Church of the East fasts dawn til dusk from the 1st December until the 25th of December on the Gregorian calendar.

Sometimes the fast is called Philip's Fast (or the Philippian Fast), as it traditionally begins on the day following the Feast of St. Philip the Apostle (November 14). Some churches, such as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, have abbreviated the fast to start on December 10, following the Feast of the Conception by Saint Anne of the Most HolyTheotokos.

Through the discipline of fasting, practiced with humility and repentance, it is believed that by learning to temper the body's primary desire for food, that other worldly desires can be more easily tempered as well. Through this practice one is better enabled to draw closer to God in the hope of becoming more Christ-like. While the fast influences the body, it is important to note that emphasis is placed on the spiritual facet of the fast rather than mere physical deprivation. Orthodox theology sees a synthesis between the body and the soul, so what happens to one affects the other. The church teaches that it is not enough to fast from food; one must also fast from anger, greed and covetousness. In addition to fasting, almsgiving is also emphasized.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the fast traditionally entails fasting from red meatpoultrymeat products, eggs, dairy products, fish, oil, and wine. Fish, wine and oil are allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, and oil and wine are allowed on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The fasting rules permit fish, and/or wine and oil on certain feast days that occur during the course of the fast: Evangelist Matthew (November 16), Apostle Andrew (November 30), Great-martyr Barbara (December 4), St. Nicholas (December 6), St. Spiridon and St. Herman (December 12), St. Ignatius (December 20), etc. The Nativity Fast is not as severe as Great Lent or the Dormition Fast.

As is always the case with Orthodox fasting rules, persons who are ill, the very young or elderly, and nursing mothers are exempt from fasting. Each individual is expected to confer with their confessor regarding any exemptions from the fasting rules, but should never place themselves in physical danger.

There has been some ambiguity about the restriction of fish, whether it means the allowance of invertebratefish or all fish. Often, even on days when fish is not allowed, shellfish may be consumed. More detailed guidelines vary by jurisdiction, but the rules strictly state that from the December 20 to December 24 (inclusively), no fish may be eaten.

The Eve of Nativity (December 24) is a strict fast day, called Paramony (lit. "preparation"), on which no solid food should be eaten until the first star is seen in the evening sky (or at the very least, until after the VesperalDivine Liturgy that day). If Paramony falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the day is not observed as a strict fast, but a meal with wine and oil is allowed after the Divine Liturgy, which would be celebrated in the morning.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Something you might like to try with your family to help prepare for the Nativity:   A Safety Orthodox Christian Advent Wreath

 

PREPARING TO APPROACH THE CUP

'With Faith and with Love, Draw Near'

Preparation Prior to Holy Communion

Most Orthodox people limit their preparation for receiving the awesome mystery of Holy Communion to fasting. By only fasting they are deceived into thinking that, having fasted completely and mechanically, they have followed the proper preparation and, thus, are communing worthily.

Prior to Holy Communion there is no obligatory fasting. In order to approach the Cup of Life it is not necessary for one to fast more than the fast established by the Church (Wednesdays, Fridays, Lent and other fasting periods and days). Because one is not obligated, this does not mean that one can proceed to Holy Communion casually without preparing. "O woe, if one approaches unprepared!" One ought to prepare by doing the difficult and essential spiritual preparation.

What is this preparation?

1. Longing for Holy Communion

Faith in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, faith that in the holy chalice Christ Himself is present physically, faith, more specifically, that Holy Communion is a most necessary nourishment for the spiritual life, makes the believer long for and strongly desire to come into direct contact, to become one with Christ. The first Christians were "every day keeping watch all together in the temple" (Acts 2:46). This watching, this burning longing, must exist in the believer's heart.

We long to meet close friends, beloved and related people. More importantly we should long to meet Jesus. Who is the Beloved of the beloved. And in Holy Communion not only do we simply meet, but we become one with Jesus. We become one body and one blood with Christ. We become Christ-bearers.

This longing for frequent Holy Communion grows with the thought that Holy Communion in the present life is the betrothal for the complete communion with God in the future life. Holy Communion, in other words is a basic presupposition for us to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. It should be noted that the longing for frequent Holy Communion is the result of our fervent love for Christ, of divine eros. For this reason, a little prior to the great moment of Holy Communion, we say, "You burn me with longing, O Christ, and changed me by Your divine love."

2. Self examination and testing.

In order for us to commune, we ought to examine ourselves. This is specifically commanded by the Apostle Paul: "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (I Cor. 11:28-29).

An investigation of ourselves, in a quiet time and following prayer, will show us whether we are able to approach Holy Communion. But be careful! In this self examination we must be neither supersensitive or senseless. We said elsewhere also that no one is completely worthy to commune, and that Holy Communion is not a reward for the saint, but a strengthening for sinners, who are struggling for holiness.

The self examination and self censure of a spiritual person never has an ] exonerating result. The faithful Christian always declares himself guilty. But one declaration of guilt varies from another declaration of guilt. If from this self examination one catches himself guilty of grave sins, such as: sins of the flesh, explosions of anger, a serious dispute with another person, etc., then he considers that he cannot commune without confession. lf, however, he catches himself guilty of "easily forgivable" sins, which even the greatest saint, bearing flesh and dwelling in the world, commits, then he decides, with feeling, of course, of his sinfulness, to commune. In the book "Concerning Frequent Holy Communion" of Saints Makarios and Nikodemos the Haghiorite, the opinion of Saint Anastasios of Antioch is presented, according to whom sins are separated into "easily forgivable sins'' and "grave sins."

The believer who has his or her spiritual father's blessing to commune frequently, every Sunday examines his conscience, see any "grave" sins, he proceeds to the remaining steps of preparation for Holy Communion. And this is because he will never have an absolutely clear conscience. In this case Holy Communion is received for the remission of sins. As a recent theologian says, ''the believer doesn't commune of the Eucharist because he is worthy for this -- because all people are unworthy of Holy Communion -- but he communes taking courage in the infinite mercy and grace of the Lord, who calls him to receive remission of his sins, communion of the Holy Spirit, and sanctification and strength to continue his journey in the world toward the Kingdom of Heaven."

If the self examination results in a relative unworthiness, then the believer prepares to commune, even if he didn't visit his spiritual father. While approaching Holy Communion he prays along with the People "Make me worthy to receive Your Heavenly and Immaculate Mysteries of this holy and spiritual Table with a pure conscience, for remission of sins, for forgiveness of transgressions..."

3. Confession

If, however, the self examination reveals the believer guilty of sins which prevent him from Holy Communion, then the Sacrament of confession a very basic presupposition. If, in order to participate in a common meal, you feel the need to first wash your hands, how much more must you feel the need to first wash your soul in the bath of sacred confession in order to participate in the sacred and spiritual Table of heavenly food? In the confession before a spiritual father, the Blood of Christ, "which was poured out for the life and salvation of the world," is united with fervent tears of the person who is sincerely repenting, and the cleansing and brightening of the soul comes about.

Every believer feels the need for confession before Holy Communion. Before the spiritual father he repeats the confessional words of the prodigal, "Father, I have sinned before heaven and before you, and am no longer worthy to be called your son" (Luke 15:21). With contrition of heart he confesses his sins. With tears he manifests his repentance. And he hears the consoling phrase from the spiritual father, "Child, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5). His joy after confession is great, both because his sins were forgiven, and because he will be able to commune of the Immaculate Mysteries, as long as the spiritual father allows it.

Unfortunately, most of the people approaching Holy Communion during the great feasts have not confessed. One is appalled to think that people burdened with dreadful sins, approaching the limits of unbelief and crime, approach to commune without having confessed. Pious priests, fearing God and trembling that they not impart "the holy things to the dogs" and cast "the pearls before the swine," question as to whether or not those who are approaching have confessed. This questioning is wrongly misunderstood. Doesn't a doctor before giving a strong medicine, ask the patient whether he did the necessary preparation? Why should the priest, in imparting the Body and Blood of the Lord, not ask whether the person approaching has prepared properly? "But," some people say, "the other person is insulted when the priest asks if he confessed." We answer: It is preferable that he be insulted temporally than be damned eternally.

Furthermore, the priest ought to address this question with great discernment, propriety and love, and only to those who are approaching at the great feasts that he knows are living a scandalous life in unrepentance. For those who regularly approach the Cup of Life, following the permission of their spiritual father, such a question, of course, does not apply. For the rest, however, the priest must keep what St. Basil the Great commands:

"Don't forget the Master's commandment and that of the holy Apostles. For
He says, 'Do not give the holy things to the dogs, and do not cast the pearls
before the swine.' See that you do not hand over the Son of God into the
hands of unworthy ones. Do not be afraid to stand up to the glorious of the
earth, not even him who wears the royal crown at that time. To whom the
divine Canons do not allow, do not impart."

During the days of huge crowds, with mostly unconscientious people approaching Holy Communion, the priest ought to make the fervent suggestion: "My brothers and sisters, those of you who have not confessed lately, don't commune today. Prepare yourselves spiritually, mainly through confession, and approach after the feasts. When you commune having prepared yourselves, you have a feast and celebration in your heart. You have a true Nativity and a true Pascha whenever you commune worthily. Communing unprepared, however, and furthermore unconfessed, you place fire within you, because Holy Communion is 'fire burning the unworthy.' Please prepare yourselves first, and then approach."

4. Love

Holy Communion is a work of love, out of love, out of great love, God, in the second person of the Trinity, communed with his creation, that is, He came to earth, became incarnate and "dwelt among men." Out of great love He gave Himself as a sacrifice for us. Out of great love He poured out His precious blood. And out of great love He offered His body and His blood to be consumed by the faithful in the mystery of Holy Communion. "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive with Christ" (Eph. 2:4.5). Through Holy Communion we are made alive.

Out of great love He communed with us, became one with us. And we should out of love become one with Him, to commune of His Body and His Blood. Our approach to Holy Communion depends on the love we have for Christ. Whoever strongly loves Christ, whoever above every other love has his love for Christ, he it is who longs to converse with the beloved Jesus in prayer, to diligently hear the voice of his Beloved in the study of Holy Scripture will frequently unite with his Beloved in Holy Communion. Divine eros, fervent love for Christ, urges one toward frequent Holy Communion. If the love grows cold, then the longing for Holy Communion diminishes, and the receiving of Holy Communion becomes mechanical and, thus, unto judgment and condemnation.

Now for preparation of the soul for Holy Communion, love for people is also absolutely necessary, which furthermore is the proof of one's love for God. The disciple of love, the evangelist John, in his first Epistle combines three loves: God's love for us, our love for God, and our love for others. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: "that he who loves God must love his brother also" (1 John 4:19-21).

Christ in His Sermon on the Mount stresses that reconciliation or making up with the people with whom we do not have a good relationship must precede our offering and worship in the temple. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Math. 5:23-24). For this reason, also, in the beginning of the service of Holy Communion, as a basic presupposition for approaching Holy Communion, reconciliation and making up with others is stressed:

"As thou approachest, O mortal, to receive the Body of the Master,
Draw near with awe lest thou be seared; It is fire.
And when thou drinkest the Holy Blood unto Communion,
First reconcile with those who grieve thee,
Then with courage receive the Mystic Food."

The sacred Chrysostom also protests and says that no one having enemies and hating them can approach the sacred Table.

"Do you want to take Holy Communion? Don't feel hate and antipathy for anyone; have love for everyone. Unfortunately, there are Christians who, even when they are about to commune, do not seek forgiveness of others. This is how they think: "Why should I ask for forgiveness? And what if the other one took this as my weakness and wanted to misuse me? Then I would not be at fault. He would be at fault and he ought to ask me for forgiveness"...Oh, harshness, which is the daughter of egotism!...

So a basic presupposition for Holy Communion is love for others. It is a good idea prior to Holy Communion, from the evening before, to seek forgiveness from the people in our family or in our surroundings. And let children kiss the hands of their parents and ask for their forgiveness and their blessing.

5. Prayer and contrition

In order for the believer to commune, for example, next Sunday, all week he should be careful with himself. He prepares a welcome for the Lord of glory. He adorns his soul to receive the divine Pearl. He pays attention so that nothing happens to him which might deprive him of the joy of Holy Communion. And he prays daily with contrition to be granted the great gift. More especially on Saturday evening and on Sunday morning he actually reads the Service Before Holy Communion.

Unfortunately, most of our Christians are ignorant of the Service Before Holy Communion, while many people know of it but don't read it. Spiritual fathers ought to especially stress to those who confess to them the need to prepare spiritually with the Service Before Holy Communion. This service exists in Orthodox Prayer Books and also separately in small volumes of various publications. We can say that it is divided into four parts.

1st Part: The Canon, which to Greek has the 24 letters of the alphabet as an acrostic [in other words each hymn begins with one, letter of the Greek alphabet], and which is said the night preceding Holy Communion, in the evening, as part of the service of the Small Compline.

2nd Part: The psalms and the prayers prior to Holy Communion, which are said by the believer in the morning at home or in the Church. These are Psalms 22, 13, and 115, and about ten wonderful prayers (two by Basil the Great, four by the sacred Chrysostom, two by John of Damascus, one by Symeon the New Theologian and one by Symeon Metaphrastes). In the beginning of the prayers the need for special prayer before Holy Communion is stressed: "Before participating in the sublime sacrifice of the life-giving Body of the Master, pray with trembling in this way."

3rd Part: The troparions and the verses, which are said in the Church when the solemn time of Holy Communion approaches and while the believer is walking towards the Holy Chalice. At that time the soul of the believer is at the height of sacred contrition. His soul is prepared to receive the Master of all. His lips are whispering the last words of the prayer:

"Receive me today, O Son of God, as a partaker of Thy mystical Supper; for I will not speak to Thine enemies of Thy Mystery, nor will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom."

4th Part: The thanksgiving after Holy Communion, which is said in the Church after the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. Unfortunately, very few people read the thanksgiving prayers. Most receive the divine Pearl, the highest gift, and go without thanking the giver, God. They resemble the nine lepers who were cleansed by Christ, yet did not feel the need to return to thank Him. Imagine a man who receives a gift and doesn't even whisper a "thank you," but, on the contrary; abruptly turns, his back and leaves hastily. Did you commune? You were granted an invaluable gift. So why are you leaving thus? Why do you show yourself to be ungrateful? This stance of yours shows that you did not feel what gift you received. The believer who feels how great a gift Holy Communion is stands and with rejoicing says the thanksgiving prayers, which begin with these verses:

"And after the divine Communion Of the life-giving and mystic Gifts, at once give praise and great thanksgiving, and fervently and heartily sing to God; Glory to Thee, O God Glory to Thee, O God, Glory to Thee, O God."

6. Piety and fear

A final stage of preparation for Holy Communion is fear and awe, which must exist in the believer's soul at the time he is going towards Holy Communion. The priest, holding the Holy Chalice, invites the believers: "With fear of God, faith, and love, draw near." We already spoke about faith and love as basic presuppositions for approaching Holy Communion. We need to say a few things also about the fear of God, which must exist in the believer's soul, that is, about holy fear, which comes from the feeling of sinfulness, of the sacredness of the moment and of the majesty of God, which the believer is approaching.

Unfortunately, on days of crowds many believers, approaching out of habit, not only do not have this sacred fear, but they also show an unheard of impiety. The unruliness, the noise and the impiety which are observed on the days of Christmas Eve, Holy Thursday, the Dormition of the Theotokos, et. al., cause grief and frustration to every believer. It should be noted that this was also observed in the age of Saint John Chrysostom.

We must stress the manner in which the faithful must come to the Holy Chalice: with silence; no disorder whatsoever in the line; deep attention of soul and mind to the divine Mystery. The sign of the Cross is done piously. Any lipstick first has been removed. The believer takes the holy covering with both hands and puts it beneath his chin. He opens his mouth wide; and receives the divine Pearl. He diligently wipes his mouth with the holy napkin. He again piously makes the sign of the Cross. And the faithful return to their seats, awaiting the end of the Divine Liturgy, when they read the Thanksgiving Prayers. (see note)

Taken from the Greek: "When and How to Take Holy Communion" by Archimandrite Daniel Aerakis, Translated by Fr. Nicholas Palls and edited by Irene Maginas and Fr. Andrew Harrison

 

On the Holy Spirit & Pentecost

'And my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.' My friends, consider the greatness of this solemn feast that commemorates God's coming as a guest into our hearts! If some rich and influencial friend were to come to your home, you would promptly put it all in order for fear something there might offend your friend's eyes when he came in. Let all of us then who are preparing our inner homes for God cleanse them of anything our wrongdoing has brought into them. St. Gregory Dialogos

The holy mystery of the day of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost, is to be understood in the following manner: the spirit of man must be completed and perfected by the Holy Spirit, that is, it must be sanctified, illuminated, and divinized by the Holy Spirit. This holy mystery is realized continually in the Church of Christ and because of this the Church is really a continuous Pentecost. St. Justin Popovic

One must clean the royal house of every impurity and adorn it with every beauty, then the king may enter into it. In a similar way one must first cleanse the earth of the heart and uproot the weeds of sin and the passionate deeds and soften it with sorrows and the narrow way of life, sow in it the seed of virtue, water it with lamentation and tears, and only then does the fruit of dispassion and eternal life grow. For the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a man until he has been cleansed from passions of the soul and body. St. Paisius Velichkovsky

The Saviour and the Comforter, two Persons of the Godhead: the One ever saves from sins, and the Other comforts him who is saved. Their very names are taken from their deeds, and are always actually justified. He comforts! The Holy Spirit comforts the believing soul, as a mother comforts her child. St. John of Kronstadt

Filled with love, the holy Apostles went into the world, preaching salvation to mankind and fearing nothing, for the Spirit of God was their strength. When St. Andrew was threatened with death upon the cross if he did not stay his preaching he answered: 'If I feared the cross I should not be preaching the Cross.' In this manner all the other Apostles, and after them the martyrs and holy men who wrestled against evil, went forward with joy to meet pain and suffering. For the Holy Spirit, sweet and gracious, draws the soul to love the Lord, and in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit the soul loses her fear of suffering. St. Silouan the Athonite

 

 

On Spiritual Struggle by Elder Porphyrios

What makes a person holy is love, the adoration of Christ

When Christ enters our soul, everything within us will be altered

Man is a mystery. We carry within us an age-old inheritance – all the good and precious experience of the prophets, the saints, the martyrs, the apostles and above all of our Lord Jesus Christ; but we also carry within us the inheritance of the evil that exists in the world from Adam until the present. All this is within us, instincts and everything, and all demand satisfaction. If we don’t satisfy them, they will take revenge at some time, unless, that is, we divert them elsewhere, to something higher, to God.

That is why we must die to our ancestral humanity and enrobe ourselves in the new humanity. This is what we confess in the sacrament of baptism. With baptism we enter into the joy of Christ. As many as are baptized in Christ, have put on Christ (Gal. 2:27). Confession is a second baptism in which we are purified of our passions, in which our passions are benumbed. Thus divine grace comes through the sacraments.

The Lord said to His disciples, ‘When the Holy Spirit will come, it will teach you all things’ (Cf. John 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us everything. It sanctifies us. It assimilates us to God. When we have the Spirit of God, we become incapable of all sin, incapable of sinning. When we have the Holy Spirit, we cannot do evil. We cannot be filled with anger or hate or speak evil.

We must become filled, replete with the Holy Spirit. This is where the essence of spiritual life lies. This is an art – the art of arts. Let us open our arms and throw ourselves into Christ’s embrace. When Christ comes, we will have gained everything. Christ will alter everything within us. He will bring peace, joy, humility, love, prayer and the uplifting of our soul. The grace of Christ will renew us. If we turn to Him with intense longing and desire, with devotion and love, Christ will give us everything.

Without Christ it is impossible to correct ourselves. We will not be able to detach ourselves from our passions. On our won we cannot become good. Without me, you can do nothing (John 15:5). However much we try, we will achieve nothing. There is one thing we must do, and that is turn to Him and love Him with all our soul (Mark 12:30). Love for Christ: this is the best and sole remedy for the passions.

God has placed a power in man’s soul. But it is up to him how he channels it – for good or for evil. If we imagine the good as a garden full of flowers, trees and plants and the evil as weeds and thorns and the power as water, then what can happen is as follows: when the water is directed towards the flower-garden, then all the plants grow, blossom and bear fruit; and at the same time, the weeds and thorns, because they are not being watered, wither and die. And the opposite, of course, can also happen.

It is not necessary, therefore, to concern yourselves with the weeds. Don’t occupy yourself with rooting out evil. Christ does not wish us to occupy ourselves with the passions, but with the opposite. Channel the water, that is, all the strength of your soul, to the flowers and you will enjoy their beauty, their fragrance and their freshness.

You won’t become saints by hounding after evil. Ignore evil. Look towards Christ and He will save you. Instead of standing outside the door shooing the evil one away, treat him with disdain. If evil approaches from one direction, then calmly turn in the opposite direction. If evil comes to assault you, turn all your inner strength to good, to Christ. Pray, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ He knows how and in what way to have mercy on you. And when you have filled yourself with good, don’t turn any more towards evil. In this way you become good on your own, with the grace of God. Where can evil then find a foothold? It disappears!

All things are possible with Christ. Where is the pain and effort for you to become good? Things are simple. You will invoke God and He will transform things into good. If you give your heart to Him, there will be no room for the other things. When you ‘put on’ Christ, you will not need any effort to attain virtue. He will give it to you. Are you engulfed by fear and disenchantment? Turn to Christ. Love Him simply and humbly, without any demand, and He Himself will free you. Turn to Christ and say with humility and hope like Saint Paul, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:24) Turn towards Christ, therefore, and He will come immediately. His grace will act at once.

Taken from Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios

On the Church

Christ sums up all of His teaching and work in His theanthropic person and interprets them through Him. On account of this, the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Christ sums up all of Christianity in the life-giving person of the God-man Christ: instruction, truth, justice, goodness, and life. The Person of the God-man Christ is the Church's most valuable treasure. All other treasures, the Orthodox Church receives as rays of the sun, from the unique Sun, Christ. 

We must not be mistaken: Christianity is Christianity only on account of the God-man; in this lies its extraordinary meaning, value, and power. The God-man Christ the theanthropic personality, remains with us as the Church. The Church is the Church only through the God-man and in the God-man. The New Testament can be summed up in one, this one comprehensive truth: the God-man is the essence, the purpose, the meaning, and the essential value of the Church. He is its soul, its heart, and its life. He is the Church in its entire theanthropic fullness. The Church is nothing other than the God-man Christ projected through all the centuries: "And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matth. 28: 20; cf. Eph. 1: 21-23). 

The God-man is the head of the body of the Church (Col. 1: 18; Eph. 1: 22, 5: 23). As such He is also the Savior of the body of the Church (Eph. 5: 23). It is only through Him, the unique, and undivided God-man, that the Church remains one, unique and undivided. As the God-man, He holds together the whole body of the Church in one undivided unity of grace, truth, and life. Through Him the body of the Church grows and receives all aspects of divine life. The body of the Church grows according to the measure of the stature of the theanthropic fullness of Christ, since everything has been made through Him and in Him (Eph. 4: 13, 15-16; Col. 1: 10, 16). With the power of His grace He mystically ("sacramentally") leads all of the members of the Church to the theanthropic creator since the meaning and purpose of the Church is for everyone to be led by divine-human faith to the measure of the fullness of Christ, namely to be refashioned theanthropically. 

The Church through its Apostles, martyrs, confessors, holy Fathers, and its faithful members has, more than any other thing, unhesitatingly confessed and defended the God-human Hypostatsis. The Church, while showing great mercy towards sinners, has always implacably and decisively condemned and rejected those who, in whatever way, have denied, rejected, or disfigured the divinity and humanity of Christ. The Church is forever eager to joyfully walk towards apocalyptic martyrdom in order to defend and preserve the theanthropic Person of Christ.

What is the essence of Orthodoxy? It is the God-man Christ. Everything that is Orthodox has a divine-human character: knowledge, the senses, the will, the mind, morality, dogma, philosophy, and life. Divine humanity is the only category in which all the manifestations of Orthodoxy are received and fully operate. In all of creation, God occupies the first place, man the second. God leads while man is led; God acts and man cooperates. God does not act transcendentally. He is not the abstract God of deism, but rather the God of revelation, the God who became man and lived within the categories of our human existence while appearing everywhere as absolute holiness, goodness, wisdom, justice, and truth.

As the perfect God-man, nothing within the categories of human life remain unknown (cf. John 2: 25; Heb. 2: 14, 17-18). It is precisely for this reason that He became man, although remaining God, in order to give to human nature divine power which would lead humanity to an intimate, divine-human, union with God. This divine power continuously acts within His divine-human body, that is, the Church, by uniting men with God through a holy life in grace. The Church is nothing other than that wondrous divine-human organism where, through cooperation of divine grace and the free activity of man, the entire man and everything that is human, save sin, is immortalized and refashioned in a divine-human way.

In the divine-human organism of the Church each believer constitutes a dynamic constituent cell of the organism and lives by the life-giving, divine-human power of Christ. For someone to be a member of the Church, this signifies that he is incorporated into the God-human Christ and has become united into His one body (Eph. 3: 16) as an organic member of His divine-human body (Eph. 5: 30; 1 Cor. 12: 12-13). In a word, the member of the Church becomes divinely-human in the fullness of his human personality. When he has succeeded in this, man arrives at the divine-human unity of life and experiences the living and immortal realization that he has passed from death to life (John 5: 24; 3: 36; 11: 25-26). He continuously experiences throughout his entire being that the Church, a divine-human organism, is the God-man extended into the ages. Christ, as a divine-human person, is unparalleled, but as theanthropic power and life he continuously reappears in every Christian, since every Christian is an organic member of His divine-human body, the Church.

Taken from Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ by Father Justin Popovich

On Christ

Christ, as the divine-human Person, is the most valuable of all beings and as such he is at the same time the highest criterion of all true values. In this world any being inferior to the God-man cannot become the criterion of all values because that which is of the greatest value is none other than the Person of the God-man himself. Man cannot be the criterion since his value is much less than that of the God-man. The God-man constitutes the highest criterion of anything divine or human both in this world and the next simply because he is the most valuable of all beings. History does not know a greater God than Christ, nor a greater man than Christ. The God-man has revealed both simultaneously and completely God and man. Therefore, there is no God without the God-man and there is no man without the God-man. 

"What is truth?" inquired Pilate of the incarnate Truth, wanting to hear with his own ears that which he did not perceive with his eyes, as though it was not the same soul that was hearing through his ears and seeing through his eyes. The God-man Christ is the Truth, not as word, neither as teaching nor as concrete energy, but as a most perfect and eternally living divine-human Hypostasis. It is only as a theanthropic Personality that He is the criterion of truth. It is for this reason that the God-man not only said "I am the Truth," but also that, "I am the Way" (John 14:6), that is, He is the way to Truth itself, the criterion of Truth itself, the essence of Truth itself. The criterion of Truth is the Truth itself, and the Truth is the God-man Christ. Thus, whatever does not come from Him is not from the Truth. The Truth cannot ontologically exist outside of His divine-human personality. 

In Christianity truth is not a philosophical concept, nor is it a theory, a teaching, or a system, but rather, it is the living theanthropic hypostasis--the historical Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Before Christ men could only conjecture about the Truth since they did not possess it. With Christ as the incarnate divine Logos the eternally complete divine Truth enters into the world. For this reason the Gospel says: "Truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

What is life, real true life, and what is the criterion of life? It is none other than the Person of the God-man Christ. It is the Person and not merely His teachings separated from His miraculous and life-giving Person. On account of humanity's inescapable mortality no man has ever dared to say: I am the life. The God-man however, said: "I am the Life" (John 14:6). He said this justifiably since he conquered death by His resurrection and showed Himself to be eternally alive by His Ascension and through Him being placed at the right hand of the Father. For this reason the God-man is also the Life and the criterion of Life. Whatever does not come from Him is dead. In Him life finds its rationality (logosnost) and its reasonableness because it finds its divine eternity. As the eternal divine Logos He is both life and all-life (svezivot, cf. John 1:4) since life is only life through Him. Wherever one does not find Him, there one will find life transformed into death, because it is He alone who makes life really life. Rebellion from Him who is life always ends in mortality and death. It is for this reason that only in Him, as the Logos and the Reason of life, can one find the only possible rational justification for the existance of life in the category of time and space. 

Eternal life is nourished and preserved through the eternal good, justice, truth, wisdom, and light. When the Savior proclaimed: "I am the Life," He was also proclaiming the following: I am the Good, I am the Justice, I am the Truth, I am the Wisdom, I am the Light. Since then, He is all of these simultaneously; He is also the highest criterion of all of these. By this most perfect personality, the sinless God-man constitutes for the human race the only infalliable criterion of life, goodness, justice, truth, wisdom, and light. The God-man is the highest and most perfect being, the only eternal being and therefore the highest and most perfect criterion, the only eternal criterion, of truth, life, justice, light, goodness, and wisdom. 

Taken from Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ by Father Justin Popovich

How Brave the Saints Were

What love the holy Martyrs had for Christ, what bravery! Saint Solomone with her seven children; one by one they were martyred. Saint Longinos prepared a meal for those who came to seize him and offered them hospitality. They were anxious to be shown who Longinos was so they could decapitate him, and he simply told them, "I will show him to you!" When he finally presented himself to them, they hesitated, but Saint Longinos urged them to carry out the orders they had been given, and so they decapitated him. Saint Gideon the Karakallenos -- what amazing forbearance he had! To his executioners he said, "Take my hand, take my leg, take my nose. In short, take everything!" Incredible! But for man to reach that point, he mustn't love himself, he must love God. A mother runs into a fire to save her child. She doesn't feel any pain because her love is stronger than the burning of the fire. Her love for her child masks the pain. So you can imagine how much more the love for Christ can mask the pain of martyrdom!

For the Saint approaching martyrdom, the love for Christ is stronger than the pain and neutralizes it. The Martyrs felt the executioner's sword to be sweeter than the bow of a violin. When the love for Christ really blossoms, then martyrdom becomes a festival; fire refreshes better than a bath, because the burning feeling is dispelled by the burning of divine love. A flaying becomes a caress. Divine eros takes hold of the heart, takes hold of the mind, and man goes "mad." He does not feel the pain of anything else because his mind is on Christ and his heart is overflowing with joy. So many Saints went to their martyrdom and felt such joy, one would think they were going to a festival! Saint Ignatios ran to his martyrdom shouting, "Let me go to my martyrdom; let the wild beasts devour me." The joy he felt is not even felt by the young man in love who says, "I want to marry her, and I don't care what anybody says, not even my mother or my father." The "madness" of Saint Ignatios was greater than the madness of a young man in love.

All of the Saints struggled for the Love of Christ. The holy Martyrs spilled their blood. The Saintly ascetic Fathers (Hosioi) shed sweat and tears and carried out spiritual experiments on themselves, like good herbalists, suffering themselves out of love for God and the image of God, that is man, in order to leave us their spiritual recipes. This way, we can prevent some evil or cure some spiritual sickness of ours and acquire health and, if we had the philotimo to offer ourselves to imitate them, we could even be sanctified.

Naturally, all of the struggles of the Saintly Fathers, the fasting, the vigils, and so forth, or the sufferings of all the holy Martyrs, cannot be compared with our Lord's Passion, because Christ helped them all out of His great love and sweetened their pain. But Christ did not use His divine power at all on Himself and He suffered great pain on His sensitive Body out of great love for His creation. If someone can experience this love of Christ for man, it is then that he can be also inwardly a true human being. Otherwise, he will be more insensitive than even God's inanimate creations, such as the sun, since it, too, felt Christ's Passion and darkened itself, being unable to bear the awful sight. The earth, too, shook with terror when it beheld the Passion of Christ. Even the rocks were broken into pieces. The tombs too were so shaken as to awaken many of the long dead, who came out to protest the people's ingratitude toward God, their Benefactor and Redeemer.

Taken from Spiritual Awakening: Spiritual Counsels II by Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

Elevation of the Precious & Life-Giving Cross

IT IS A DAY OF REJOICING AND GLADNESS, for the ensign of joy is present; let there be a chorus of praise and thanksgiving, for the all-holy wood is displayed. O most precious gift! O how beautiful to behold! Its appearance is not an admixture of good and evil, as withthe tree of old in Eden, but it is all comely and beautiful, both to see and to partake of. For, it is a Tree that brings life, not death, illumining, not darkening, admitting us to Eden, not banishing us thence.
 
It is that Tree which Christ mounted, as a king mounts a four-horse chariot, and then destroyed the Devil, who had dominion over death, thereby freeing the human race from bondage to the tyrant. It is that Tree whereon the Master, like a champion wounded in battle, in the hands, the feet, and the side of His Divine Body, healed our nature, wounded by the wicked serpent, of the weals of sin; and, if I may cite a hymn, it is that Tree from which the blood of the Master flowed, emitting invincible power, whereby the demons are burned and the world is enlightened. Who, henceforth, will not run to gaze upon this much-desired spectacle? Who will not desire to embrace this Divinely-woven wreath? Come, gather together, all tribes and tongues, every nation and every generation, every rank and every status, whether Priestly or royal, whether ruling or ruled. Since this Feast has been enacted by God, it seems to me that the Angels are attending the celebration with
exceeding joy, the Apostles are joining chorus with one accord, as are the assembly of Prophets, the throng of Martyrs, and the company of all the righteous. For, how could they, who are crowned with celestial glory, not make glad with us at the manifestation of that trophy by which, in imitation of Christ, they prevailed over the adverse powers?
 
It seems to me that insentient things are perhaps rejoicing with us, too: I refer to the earth, which brought forth such a fruit, like a mother from her womb; all the trees of the forest, as being honored by having the same name; the ever-shining sun, the most luminescent moon, the gleaming stars, the great and complex Heaven itself; because, through Christ’s Passion on the Cross, all change is for the better.
 
Let David, therefore, strike his spiritual harp and chant those strains most suitable for the occasion: “Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship the footstool of His feet; for He is holy.” With him let Solomon, who is unsurpassed in wisdom, chant: “Bless ye the Wood whereby salvation cometh.” For this reason, the Church is seen today as another Paradise, bringing forth the Tree of Life in her midst, wherein there is no deceitful demon leading Eve astray, but an Angel of the All-Sovereign Lord welcoming one who approaches. Today, the all-holy Cross is venerated and the glad tidings of the Resurrection of Christ are proclaimed. Today, the life-giving Tree is venerated and the whole world is revived to offer it praise. Today, the three-branched Cross is venerated and the four ends of the earth keep joyous festival.
 
“How beautiful,” Scripture says, “are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.” But blessed also, I would say, are the eyes of those who see the trophy of universal peace, and blessed are the lips that kiss this most excellent sign. Abundant is the Grace that is set forth for all, everflowing is the fountain that pours forth sanctification, in no way repelling anyone from its plenteous goodness, but rather making yet purer him who is already cleansed, freeing him who is polluted from defilement, humbling him who is overly proud, arousing him who is slow of heart, tautening him who is slack, mollifying him who is inflexible, if each one approaches after pledging to amend his life, not drawing near to the things of God with audacity and arrogance, since the Cross is wont to accept the modest, but utterly to turn away those who behave otherwise.
 
When we behold this life-giving Tree, it heals our sense of sight, which was beguiled in Paradise from looking at the enticing tree. When we touch this life-giving Tree with our lips and mouths, we are delivered from our tasting of the death-dealing tree. O the munificence that is set before us! O the thrice-blessed beatitude! Whereas of old we were slain through a tree, we have now found immortality in a Tree; before, we were deceived by a tree, but now we have repulsed the crafty serpent through a Tree. Wondrous is this exchange! Instead of death, life, instead of corruption, incorruption, instead of reproach, glory! Fittingly, therefore, did the Holy Apostle exclaim: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
 
For, that supremely wise wisdom that flowered from the Cross rendered foolish the boasting of worldly wisdom; the knowledge of every good thing that was borne as fruit on the Cross has excised the offshoots of evil. From the beginning of the world, prefigurations of this Tree have alone betokened most wondrous things. See, you who are eager to learn! Did not Noah, together with his sons and their wives, and animals of every kind, escape the destruction of the flood by Divine decree on a mere piece of wood? Did not Jacob place the rods which he had peeled in the hollows of the watering-troughs at the time when the sheep became pregnant, and lead them away to the admiration of all? What about Joseph’s staff, to the top of which the Patriarch Jacob did reverence: is it anything other than a symbol of the life-giving Wood that we now venerate? Again, what about the rod of Moses? Is it not a figure of the Cross? On the one hand, it transformed water into blood, and on the other hand, it devoured the serpents falsely so called of Pharaoh’s magicians; at one time, it divided the sea by a blow, at another time joining together the waters so that they returned to their normal state,  drowning the foe and preserving the genuine people of God. Such also was the rod of Aaron, a type of the Cross, which budded on the same day and showed who the genuine priest was. I would have to go on at great length in order to bring together all the prefigurations of the Cross. Abraham prefigured the Cross when he bound the feet of Isaac, his son, and placed him upon pieces of wood; Jacob prefigured the Cross when, as he blessed the sons of Joseph, he stretched out his hands in the form of a Cross. Come, now, pray understand Moses himself as a figure of the Cross, for he vanquished Amalek by extending his hands. Think of Elissaios casting a stick down into water and drawing up iron from the depths.
 
Many are the miracles of this figure, not only in the Old Testament, but also in the dispensation of Grace, in victories over barbarians, in putting demons to flight, in delivering from diseases, and in all the other cases too numerous to recall. Do you see what great power there is in the type of the Cross, my dear friend? If there is such great power in the type, how much must there be in the figure of the Crucified Christ. For, it is evident that the more excellent the prototypes are, the more excellent are the things derived from them. Now someone will say: “I desire to know who was shown to be a type of Christ in the foregoing examples.” Those, I respond, who prefigured the Cross. For, just as Moses’ outstretched hands were a figure of the Cross, so Moses himself prefigured the Crucified Christ, Who vanquished the invisible Amalek. The same assumption is to be made in the other examples, when the one figure is juxtaposed and shines forth with the other.
 
“But in those cases the figure is animate,” he objects; “why are you speaking about an inanimate figure?” I do so because in the case of the figure of the Cross, too, where the object of sight, upon which and around which miracles occur, is inanimate, yet the Icon fashioned after the likeness of Christ, just like the cruciform Icon that is manifested together with it, is wont to work miracles among both animate and inanimate creatures, since it contains in itself both the appearance and the form of its archetype, and is identical to the latter as much in honor and veneration as it is in name; and this is altogether obvious. And although these comments might appear to be a digression, they nonetheless serve to disprove and refute the Iconoclast heresy, which overthrows the mystery of Christ’s œconomy. For, he who removes the image also removes the prototype, since, as any sensible person knows, image and prototype are reciprocal, that is, correlative concepts.
 
We must now return to the Cross and revel, as it were, in the discourse of holy salutation. Cross, currency more valuable than any money; Cross, surest refuge of Christians; Cross, lightest burden of Christ’s Disciples; Cross, sweetest consolation of afflicted souls; Cross, unhindered guide on the path toward Heaven; Cross, length and breadth of the noetic sea monster, more comprehensive in its span; strength and might of the Cross, destruction of every adverse power; form and shape of the Cross, more elegant than all others to behold; radiance and effulgence of the Cross, more splendid than the sun; grace and glory of the Cross, gift more beautiful than all other graces; Cross, peace-bestowing conjoiner of Heaven and earth; name of the Cross, supreme sanctification when uttered by the tongue and heard in the ear. By the Cross death is put to death and Adam is restored to life. In the Cross every Apostle glories; by the Cross is every Martyr crowned and every Saint sanctified. By the Cross we put on Christ and put off the old man. By the Cross we sheep are gathered together and placed in the sheepfold on high. By the Cross we gore our enemies and exalt the horn of salvation; by the Cross we put the passions to flight and choose to live a life that transcends this world. He who carries the Cross on his shoulders becomes an imitator of Christ and is manifestly glorified with Christ. When an Angel sees the Cross, he is adorned; when the Devil sees it, he is put to shame; when the thief found the Cross, he entered into Paradise, exchanging brigandage for the Kingdom.
 
When one simply makes the sign of the Cross, he dispels fear and receives peace in return; he who has the Cross as his guardian remains inviolate and is preserved unharmed; whoever loves the Cross hates the world and becomes a lover of Christ. O Cross, much-vaunted boast of Christians; O Cross of Christ, singular proclamation of the Apostles. O Cross of Christ, royal diadem of the Martyrs; O Cross of Christ, most precious ornament of the Prophets. O Cross of Christ, all-shining adornment of the ends of the earth; O Cross of Christ—for I converse with you as with something animate—, may you shelter those who fervently extol you in hymns, save those who embrace you with faith, maintain the obedient in peace and Orthodoxy, convey to all the joyous Resurrection of Christ, guarding both Hierarchs and kings, all monastics and lay people, in Christ Jesus our Lord, unto Whom be the glory and the dominion, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
 

Saint Theodore the Studite

The Nativity of the Mother of God

Commemorated on September 8

The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary: The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born at a time when people had reached such a degree of moral decay that it seemed altogether impossible to restore them. People often said that God must come into the world to restore faith and not permit the ruin of mankind.

The Son of God chose to take on human nature for the salvation of mankind, and chose as His Mother the All-Pure Virgin Mary, who alone was worthy to give birth to the Source of purity and holiness.

The Nativity of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary is celebrated by the Church as a day of universal joy. Within the context of the Old and the New Testaments, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was born on this radiant day, having been chosen before the ages by Divine Providence to bring about the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. She is revealed as the Mother of the Savior of the World, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary was born in the small city of Galilee, Nazareth. Her parents were Righteous Joachim of the tribe of the Prophet-King David, and Anna from the tribe of the First Priest Aaron. The couple was without child, since St Anna was barren.

Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna did not lose hope in God’s mercy. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to overcome the barrenness of Anna even in her old age, as He had once overcame the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Sts Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them, to the service of God in the Temple.

Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Sts Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feastdays at the Temple in Jerusalem the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.

St Joachim in deep grief went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. St Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God’s mercy on her family.

The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling: to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World.

The Most Holy Virgin Mary surpassed in purity and virtue not only all mankind, but also the angels. She was manifest as the living Temple of God, so the Church sings in its festal hymns: “the East Gate... bringing Christ into the world for the salvation of our souls” (2nd Stikhera on “Lord, I Have Cried”, Tone 6).

The Nativity of the Theotokos marks the change of the times when the great and comforting promises of God for the salvation of the human race from slavery to the devil are about to be fulfilled. This event has brought to earth the grace of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Truth, piety, virtue and everlasting life. The Theotokos is revealed to all of us by grace as a merciful Intercessor and Mother, to Whom we have recourse with filial devotion.

Taken from: http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/09/08/102541-the-nativity-of-our-most-holy-lady-the-mother-of-god-and-ever-vi

Sermon on Ascension Day

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

So we have come to the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. Thus we have come to the last day of Christ's physical presence on Earth. This marks the fulfilment of all things, since His Conception at the Annunciation to the Holy Virgin, His Birth and all the events of His earthly life, recorded for us in the Gospels.

Christ came down from Heaven in order to destroy the power of Satan over mankind.

Christ was crucified and rose from the dead in order to destroy death.

Christ ascends into the skies in order to raise up fallen human nature to the heights of Heaven. But He ascends not as He came down. He ascends taking with Himself a human body, a human soul, a human mind, a human will, all the attributes of human nature, except of course for sin, for Christ's human nature is human nature as it was first intended to be, not fallen human nature, but human nature redeemed and made all comely.

We should note, however, that all these victories of Christ over Satan, death and sin are accomplished in humility.

At His Birth there was, as we would say now, no media. All happened in obscurity, lowliness and poverty, as the Saviour of mankind was born in a cave by the ox and the ass.

At His Crucifixion also there was no glory: on the contrary, there was shame, thieves, reviling, mockery, bodily death, a lonely death.

At His Resurrection, nobody saw anything. The women who saw the empty tomb were not even believed. Only a few dozen believers came to believe in the first few weeks after His Resurrection.

So also at His Ascension the only witnesses were His Mother and the eleven disciples amid the obscure olives groves on the Mount outside the City.

We see that all the great events, all the victories, of the life of Christ were accompanied by humility. This is because in the Church victory is humility. Every act of humility is a victory over the pride of Satan.

And in order to grant us the opportunity for humility, at the last event of His physical presence amongst us, Christ gives us two things: Firstly, He comforts us and the disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Who will guide us into all truth, into all humility.

Secondly, through His holy angels, He reminds us that as He ascends, so He will return, with angels and a cloud of glory. He reminds us that He will return in His Second and Glorious Coming to judge all the Earth.

When He ascends, He promises us the Holy Spirit.

When He descends at the Second Coming, He will come in glory as the Victor over death to judge all deathly acts, that is, all sins, for as the Apostle writes, the wages of sin are death.

Thus God is victorious in humility.

Therefore the Orthodox Church and faithful Orthodox Christians are also victorious, but only in humility.

God is the Merciful Saviour among us, granting us the Holy Spirit in order to guide us on our path to the victory of humility. As we have sung this day: 'I am with you and no-one will be against you'.

God is the Righteous Judge among us, granting us His Coming again as the Judge of the Universe, guiding us on our path to the victory of humility: 'I am with you and no-one will be against you'.

Glory to Thee, O God, Glory to Thee!

Archpriest Andrew Phillips

Taken from: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/71070.htm

Resolve to Abandon Sin and Please God Part II

Awaken the salvific feeling of sincere repentance

Having come to know your sinfulness, do not be its cold observer, but try to awaken a corresponding salvific feeling of sincere repentance. It would seem that these feelings would be born in you the moment you come to know your sin, but actually it is not always that way. Sin makes the heart become coarse. Just as a manual laborer becomes coarse from his labor, so does a sinner become coarse, having sold himself to the blackening work of sin--digging through the husks and feeding on them. Therefore work is again required on yourself, in order to instigate a feeling of repentance.

You can come to this feeling through the feeling of guilt for sins and an inability to answer for them. The feeling of guilt stands midway between knowing your sins and feelings of repentance, and itself is mediated by self-reproach.

Begin first of all to reproach yourself--and reproach. Remove everything from your attention and place yourself alone with your conscience before the face of God the Judge All-seeing. Reveal that you knew that you should not have done it, but you wanted to anyway; you could have walked away from what you wanted, but you did not use your self-authority to your own good. Your reason and conscience were against it, and there were even external obstacles, but you disdained all of this good counsel. Do this with every sin. You will see that each sin was committed according to your own desire, with the consciousness of its sinfulness, and even with effort to overcome obstacles; and your conscience will force you to undefensively admit your guilt. The deceit of a sinful heart will begin to invent excuses--either it was due to natural weakness, or to strong temperament, or to the course of events, or to the pressure of daily life--do not listen. All of this could have intensified the attraction to sin, but no one can force you to agree to sin. It is always a matter of will. You could have said: "I don't want to," and that would have been the end of all temptation! In opposition to this gainsaying of guilt for sins, reveal more completely your personal relationship: who you are, when and where you sinned, so that you might discover how precisely sinful your sin is, in your person and in circumstances. Then you will see in all of this not causes for excuses, but points that magnify your guilt. The limit to which the work of self-reproach should bring you is the feeling of inexcusable guilt, a state in which the heart is saying: "I have no justification--I am guilty."

In this act of reproach of conscience a person confirms one after another of his sins, and says: "I am guilty of this, and of that, and of a third, and in absolutely everything I am guilty." He reproaches himself for all his sins and begins to feel that they are weighing upon him with all their heaviness. In coming to know your sins one can even view them from without, but in reproaching them they can be seen inside our own selves, and they weigh upon us. They weigh even more on us because we can make no answer for them. Having reached this point, what can a sinner say but: I am wretched! This is not good, and that is bad. I am myself to blame that it is not good, and that it is within me.

As soon as the person pronounces within his heart: I am wretched, immediately one painful feeling after another of repentance for sins is born within him. He is ashamed that he has given himself to such low deeds, upset that he has pampered himself and betrayed himself to his evil will, pained that he has brought himself to such a state of moral decay, and terrified that he has offended God and placed himself in such a dangerous position, now and for eternity. These feelings go around from one to another, and the person burns in them as in a fire. He sees himself hanging over an abyss, and in his feelings he descends to the state of the outcasts. This grievous torment provides an opening to a feeling of hopelessness. This is the moment that the demon of despair sometimes grabs a man, suggesting to him that: your ancient guilt will remain with you.

Evey sinner experiences these feelings to a greater or lesser degree. We must not feel sorry that we are experiencing them, but rather we should desire that they come, and that they come more powerfully. The more a man burns in them and the hotter the burning, the more salvific it is. In the power of this burning is the foundation of his future correction. Now the heart knows how bitter the fruits of sin really are, and it finds the strength through this to turn away from its embrace.

The feeling of repentance is a bridge to a vow

The feelings of repentance obviously have a sundering effect. The Word passes unto the sundering of soul and spirit, limbs and marrow, and judges the thoughts of the heart. But the goal for which, by God's grace, this has been wrought in a man is not simply to destroy, but so that by destroying the old the new can be created. The new is conceived by a whisper of hope in the possibility of changing. There is a possibility of changing the unchangeable and retrieving the irretrievable--just take the work in hand. It would seem that the feeling of repentance is a direct bridge to a vow; "Thus, I will turn away from sin and make a vow to work for the one God by fulfilling His commandments." But the one who makes this vow must be sure that on the one hand his former incorrigibility may be forgiven, and on the other hand, that he can receive strength to help him keep his promise. This is why making a vow to work for the Lord is made possible through the good hope of receiving mercy and assistance from on high; and this good hope is produced by faith in the Lord and Saviour, by Whom the handwriting of our sins was torn up on the Cross, and after Whose Ascension all divine power for life and piety (cf. II Peter: 1:3) are given.

Without this faith and the good hope that imitates it, the torturous feelings of contrition and repentance go the way of Judas. This is when the Cross of Christ is truly an anchor for man! Tossed about as if over an abyss in painful contrition over sins, he sees it as his only salvation--all strength of faith and hope are contained in it, and from it man draws strength and enthusiasm to make a vow. Just as a drowning man grabs powerfully at a tree, so does the penitent reach for the Cross of Christ, and he feels that now he will not perish. We always knew the power of the Lord's death on the Cross, but one who has passed through this painful regret for his sins feels it, because it becomes an element of his life.

Thus, tormented by feelings of regret and repentance, the sinner reveals in church his incorrigibility and confirms a vow to correct himself. Melted wax pours down indiscriminately, but when you pour it into a mold or press it with a seal, something comes of it. We also need to press a seal into our inner man, so that he will take on a specific image. This happens to him during the Sacrament of Repentance--he is sealed with the divine grace of the Spirit.

Taken from The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation by St. Theophan the Recluse

Resolve to Abandon Sin and Please God Part I

It would seem that everything is already done once one has resolved to abandon sin, and all that is left is the action. Precisely—one can act—but what kind of activity will this be, and what kind of spirit will it contain? The person is only left with himself so far. If he begins to act, beginning from this point, then he will be acting from himself and for himself, even though it be morally right. This will be an egotistical, pagan morality. There are people who say they do good for goodness' sake—that is, they do it because human dignity requires it, or because it would be ignoble and imprudent to act any other way. All such people who act in this spirit retort that their education is internal, and the moral human being has not been completely formed—they have returned to themselves, but they have not turned from themselves to God and brought themselves as sacrifices to Him, which means they have stopped half way. The goal of human freedom is not freedom itself, nor is it in man, but in God. By giving man freedom God has yielded to man a piece of His divine authority, but with the intention that man himself would voluntarily bring it as a sacrifice to God, as a most perfect offering. Therefore, if you have mastered yourself, now give yourself to God. When you sinned, you not only lost yourself, but in losing yourself you took yourself away from God. Now, having returned from the captivity of sin, after you have mastered yourself, return yourself also to God.

 

It would also seem that turning away from yourself to God ought to be an easy and simple matter, like, for example, turning from west to east. But, after all, the sinner turning towards God is not an entity independent from Him, and he does not approach Him without anything trailing behind. No, like a runaway slave returning to his master, he appears as one guilty before the King and Judge. He needs to approach in such a way that he will be accepted. In human affairs a master accepts his slave, and the king has mercy on the guilty when each of them approaches admitting his guilt, repents of it and gives sincere promise to be henceforth completely changed.

 

It is the same for a sinner returning to God. He will be accepted by God if he a) admits his sins, b) repents of them, and c) makes a vow not to sin. These are the necessary acts for ardent unification with God, upon which depends the steadfastness of the new life, perfection of it, and good hope for faithful action according to its demands. When the Prodigal Son returned to his father, he said: I will say, I have sinned—admitting the sin; I am not worthy—repenting; make me as one of thy hired servants—the promise to work (cf. Lk. 15:18,19).

 

Know your sins

 

Thus, having returned to God, know your sins. In the inspiration of the resolve to abandon sin, you knew that you were sinful, for why else would you need to contemplate a change in your life; but this sinfulness then appeared in a confusing way. Now you must discerningly come to know that you are definitely sinful, and you must know to what degree—clearly, individually, and as if quantitatively, know your sins, with all attendant circumstances that diminished or magnified the sinfulness of the action. Critically review your entire life with a strict and impartial judgment.

 

In doing this, place on one side the Law of God, and on the other side your own life, and look at how they compare and contrast. Take your deeds and place them under the Law, so that you can see whether they are lawful or not. Or take the Law and look at whether or not it is being realized in your life. So that you do not leave anything out of this important work, follow some kind of order. Sit and recall all of your obligations in relation to God, your neighbor, and to you yourself; and then look through your life with respect to all of these relationships. Or—go through the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, one after another, with all their applications; and, look—is this your life? Or—read the chapters in the Gospel of Matthew where the Saviour sets down the law of Christian life, the Epistle of the holy Apostle James, the last chapters of the Epistles of the holy Apostle Paul, in which are briefly given the duties of a Christian. For example: in chapter twelve in the Epistle to the Romans, in chapter four in the epistle to the Ephesians, and others. The last verses are particularly important because they elucidate the spirit of Christian life. This spirit is clearly and strongly expressed in the First Epistle of St. John the Theologian. Read all of this and check your own life, whether it is like this. Or, finally, take the Prayers Before Communion and judge your own behavior according to it. Peruse your life and deeds not only as the deeds of a human being as a human being, but as the deeds of a Christian, in a certain calling or station at that.

 

The results of such a perusal of your life is that a countless multitude of deeds, words, thoughts, feelings, and iniquitous desires that should not have been done were allowed; a multitude of things that should have been done were not done. And a multitude of things that were done according to the law were actually defiled to the impurity of the motivation behind them. Once all this countless multitude is collected, perhaps the entire life was actually composed of nothing but these bad deeds. The main thing that you need to remember at this first stage of coming to know your sinfulness is that it is an exact determination of deeds. Just as a business ledger is written with mathematical accuracy, so should your mental list of each of your deeds portray them accurately—with all the circumstances of time, place, people, obstacles, etc. If our self-examination proves fruitless, it will be because we made only a general review.

 

We must not, however stop with these particulars, but we should continue further along the path of sin, or more deeply enter into the sinful heart. Beneath the deeds, words, personal thoughts, desires and feelings, lies a constant disposition of heart which composes our character traits. Some of our works fell through accidentally, others came from the heart with such power that we had not the strength to stop them; while others became ceaseless, and turn into something of a law. Such a review will allow us to determine which deeds are inspired by producers hidden within the heart which generate from there a constant urge. This is essentially sinful tendencies. By revealing them we expose the nature of our heart, and the quantity and reciprocity of its inclinations. When this has been done, the chief governing passion will have nowhere to hide. We know that the root of all sin is self-love. From self-love proceed pride, mercenariness, love of pleasure; and from these process all other passions, eight of which are considered to be chief, while the rest are without number. Every sinner has all the passions—some in deed, others in embryo—because everyone who sins conducts his affairs with self-love, the seed of all passions or sinful inclinations. But they do not reveal themselves in everyone to the same degree. One may be possessed by pride, another by love of pleasure, a third by mercenariness. The proud one is not a stranger to sensual pleasures, but is is all right if he does not have them. The mercenary may also thing highly of himself, but is all right if he sometimes has to lower himself for a profit. The lover of pleasure also loves possessions, but it is all right if he has to lose them in order to purchase pleasures. Thus everyone has his chief passion. All other passions stand in the shadows, in submission to and governed by the chief passion, not daring to act with authority at cross-purposes with it. All tendencies and habitual vices, revealed already by the person within himself, are colored and inspired by one passion. This is what predominantly comprises and embodies in his person the root of all evils—self-love. Knowing it should complete the confession of your own sinfulness.

 

Thus, finally you come to know the root of your sinfulness, its nearest offspring—inclinations—and its distant offspring—numerous deeds. You can see the entire history of your sinfulness and as it were draw a picture of it.

 

Taken from The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation by St. Theophan the Recluse

God’s Mercy and Love for Human Beings

The law of destruction was imprinted since my conception; on each newly developing member, death applied its menacing seal, saying: “This is mine.”

The links of my days are a chain of greater or lesser suffering; every new day of my life is a step that draws me closer to decay.

Sicknesses come, and my trembling heart asks them: “Are you just the forerunner of my death, or have you already been given the authority to separate my soul from my body with a dread and terrible parting?”

Sometimes my spiritual eye, distracted by the cares of life, abandons the contemplation of my sad destiny.

Yet, as soon as an unexpected sorrowful event strikes me, I quickly come back to my favorite teaching, like a baby to its mother’s breast, i.e., to a discourse on death, for in sincere grief is hidden true consolation, and the wise remembrance of death breaks the bonds of death.

Thou, Who by Thy unspeakable goodness hast created us, tell us, why didst Thou fill our lives with grief? Dost not Thy mercy make Thee pity our sufferings? Why dost Thou grant me being and later take it away through a painful death?

I do not enjoy, says God, your illnesses, O man. But, out of the seeds of your grief and sorrow, I want to bring forth for you fruits of eternal and majestic joy.

I imprinted the law of death and destruction not only in your body, but also in every object of this visible world.

I commanded the whole world, together with your body, to cry out to you that this life is not the true and real life, and there is nothing permanent here to which your heart should become attached through justifiable love.

When you do not hearken unto the threatening voice of the entire universe, then My paternal mercy, which always wishes you unlimited good, compels Me to lift the scepter of chastisement.

When I torment you with temptations, wear you out with illness, with pangs of remorse, it is that you might abandon your folly, become wise, cease seeking after shadows and return to the path of truth, and at the same time to the path of salvation.

My unutterable mercy and unlimited love for human beings compelled Me to take your flesh upon Myself; through My abasement I have revealed the greatness of God to the human race (cf. John 14:9).

By suffering on the Cross for the salvation of men, whom I desire to draw to Myself, I first afflict them with grief, and with these arrows of affliction I deaden their hearts to temporary pleasures.

The scepter of punishment is an emblem of My love for men.

Extract from a letter of St. Macarius of Optina

Are We Seeking Christ?

The holy Apostle of Christ, Andrew the First-called, was originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist who prepared the people to receive the Messiah, When the Saviour came out of the wilderness, the Forerunner told the people: "Behold, the Lamb of God" (John 1:36). Immediately Andrew followed after Him. Turning round and seeing him together with John' s other disciples, the Lord asked them: What do ye seek? They answered: Master, where dost Thou dwell? He said to them: Come and see. The disciples saw where He lived and spent the day there with Him. Soon after this the Lord called Andrew and his brother Peter to follow after Him and told them that they were to become fishers of men unto the salvation of many. From that time forth, they remained with Christ; they were faithful to Him to the end and gave their very lives out of love for Him.

Dear brothers and sisters on this day I would ask you the same question: What are you seeking? Why did you come to church today? What are we all seeking in our lives? Are we seeking Christ, as He was first sought by tile humble fishermen, among whom was the Apostle Andrew?

What is it that people seek in life: health, riches, success, acquaintances, friends, prestige, various worldly pleasures, vain knowledge... Only a few seek Christ the Saviour. Some may even think it strange to seek Christ. They say, we call ourselves Christians after Christ, we see His holy image both in our homes and at church; we pronounce His sweetest name and hear it in God's temple. It appears we have no need to seek for Christ. People seek that which they don't have, that which they need. But we seem to have Christ.

It's true, we have icons of Christ, but we do not have Christ Himself; we have His name, but only on our lips—not in our hearts; we know Him, but only in word—not in deed. Here, beloved, is a big difference; it is the same difference as between a shadow and the object which casts the shadow, It is, however, precisely with the heart that Christ is truly known, that is, in our inner man—in our soul; because Christ, as God, is Spirit, "Who is everywhere and fillest all things."

The kingdom of God is within You (Luke 17:21), says the Lord. The holy Apostle Paul earnestly desired that through faith Christ would dwell in the hearts of Christians. He wrote:

May God grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. (Eph. 3:16-17)

We have to admit that most of us do not have Christ in our hearts. Instead, our hearts are occupied with that which is opposed to Christ—our God and Saviour, that which is opposed to our own good, which hinders the salvation of our souls. And because of this we do not lead a genuine Christian life.

What is it that occupies our hearts? God alone, Who searchest out the hearts and reins (Ps. 7:9) sees what is in our hearts, its attachments. If the Lord granted us to see the full depths of our hearts, we would turn our eyes away in horror from such an overwhelming accumulation of filth. Let each of us look into his heart and say before the witness of our conscience what it is that occupies our hearts most of all. Passions, sins voluntary and involuntary—are these not our heart's constant inhabitants?

But where does Christ dwell? —in pure hearts, hearts that are humble and contrite, there where He is not grieved by doubt or unbelief, by indifference towards Him Who is God and Saviour; there where men do not prefer the temporal sweetness of sin; where the idols of the passions have been chased out; where crude materiality is not preferred to the Kingdom of God; where Christians often turn their thoughts to the heavenly, as those created for heaven, for eternity; there where they seek God's truth, where every day and every hour they are attentive to His commandments. Here is where Christ dwells. And what does He do there? If only we knew (some, of course, do know) what He does in souls worthy of His abiding presence—what rest, comfort and joy He imparts, what paradisal bliss He gives them to experience while still on this earth...

Having once embraced Christ, the holy Apostle Andrew became entirely committed to Him, and no matter what difficulties, sorrows, misfortunes and persecutions—unavoidable in preaching the Gospel—came his way, he remained faithful to Christ, enduring everything out of love for Him, even crucifixion.

It is of utmost importance that we seek after Christ—and find Him. Without Christ, who will save us from our sins which ensnare us every day and hour, and from the eternal torments? Only the Son of God has power on earth to forgive sins; He alone has the keys to hell and death, the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and life.

To find Christ is not difficult. He is everywhere, filling the world with Himself. God says to us through His prophet Jeremiah: "I am a God nigh at hand...and not a God afar off" (Jer. 23:23) .... As soon as He sees our hearts incline to receive His grace, He immediately enters, bringing with Him peace and comfort. I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me (Rev. 3:20), says the Lord. Oh, how often He converses with His faithful servants, as with true friends. Christ Himself is seeking you: if you but incline your heart toward Him, you will surely find Him.

But how are we to know if we have found Christ and are close to Him? Those close to Christ often turn to Him in prayer with faith and love; they often pronounce from their heart His sweetest name, often call upon Him for help; they often read or listen to His word with childlike simplicity and love; they seek frequent union with Him in His life-giving Mysteries; they are satisfied with whatever they have and accepting of what happens to them; they strive according to their strength to fulfill Christ's commandments... It happens that they also experience trials which are allowed by the loving Master—in order that their hearts be cleansed of every sinful impurity. Those who desire to be with Christ must not run away from trials, but even in times of joy, they must not forsake the carrying of their cross.

My dear brothers and sisters! Seek Jesus Christ with faith and love. Do not forget that He gave His life on the Cross for our sakes, to deliver us from sin and eternal torment, and to dwell in our hearts, that we might have great joy. Do not forget, we have all been bought with the price of His blood, and we should belong to Him, as to our Redeemer.

Our days are numbered. Every stroke of the clock reminds us to seek Him Who created time and Himself stands above the measure of time. He alone is able to pluck us out from the ravaging torrent of time... Every stroke of the clock tells us: Be watchful! You now have one hour less until you must cross the threshold into life after death which knows neither days nor hours. Do not be seduced by the momentary sweetness of sin which vanishes like a dream, leaving the soul empty, ailing, anguishing; it steals away precious time and ruins it forever. Do not waste time in useless occupations or idleness. Every one of you has a God-given talent to put to use. Busy yourselves in acquiring incorruptible wealth in the Kingdom of Heaven. Take the example of the thousands who have gone before you, having attained eternal rest and joy through their ceaseless labors in this temporal life, through sweat and tears. Make haste to uproot from yourselves sin in all its various manifestations, through the help of Christ the Saviour. Remember, man sows what he reaps (Gal. 6:7), according to the immutable law of God' s righteousness.

While there is still time, therefore, let us hasten to find Christ and in faith create for Him an abode in our hearts that we not fall prey to the fire of gehenna, as it is written: "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:6). Amen.

Sermon by St. John of Kronstadt on the Feast of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called

On Salvation

What must we do in order to be saved? Or, better said, what are we to do that we not lose that salvation that the Lord has granted us? How do we go about getting saved? After all, this question is the most important question of our lives. In the Holy Scriptures we read that one of the Jewish rulers turned to the Lord with this very question, asking Him: "Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And the Lord replied that this is attained by following God's commandments (Luke 18:18-20). So, too, in order to be saved you must follow God's commandments and the precepts of the Holy Orthodox Church. God's commandments and likewise the precepts of the Holy Church guard one from sin and teach one to fulfill the good and perfect will of God. Have faith, cling to it, and never allow the enemy to steal it from your heart. You are walking through the darkness of this life, and in your hands there is a lamp that you might avoid falling into an abyss, or stumbling and perishing, as it is written: Thy law is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my steps (Ps. 118:105). If your lamp of faith is extinguished, how great will be that darkness! What dread will take hold of you! What despair! If your lamp does go out or dims, call out, cry, pray to God that the angel of light rekindle your lamp and keep alive its flickering flame. Seek out God-bearing men, read spiritual books, strive harder to do good for others---do everything to regain that treasure you have lost or to protect it from thieves. Because when you have faith, you are blessed, according to the words of the Lord: Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed (John 20:29). When you lack faith, Sacred Scripture calls you "foolish" (Ps. 13:1), and, since you repudiate that which the Saviour's Sacrifice on the Cross has so evidently, so divinely accomplished for you, you will be condemned by God according to the word of our Lord and Saviour: He that believeth and is baptized will be saved, but he that believeth not will be damned (Mark 16:16). 

True faith, which inspires good deeds, is like the roots of a tree; the tree clings to those roots and through them receives its nourishment from the earth. Hope can be likened to leaves, which adorn the tree and give evidence that the tree is alive and that its roots are not damaged. Love is the fruit of the tree, the whole significance of the roots and leaves. And so, brother, if one has true faith, good works follow, works of love. 

At the same time, you must by all means avoid sin, because sin is the greatest danger in your life. Have you ever seen tall pine trees growing on cliffs? A single tiny seed falls into a small crevice, and see, it cleaves the granite and from it there grows a whole tree. Similarily, you should be aware that a sinful consent is like a little crack in the armor of your soul, and if the seed of sin gets into it---and it invariably does---it will ruin your soul's entire fortress and make it ineffective. 

God seeks from us a heartfelt disposition towards Him. If you earnestly strive towards Him, the Source of all good, your whole life will be God-pleasing. In your love for Him, you will desire to serve Him with all your strength, to make every effort to follow His commandments, to do good, to manifest your faith through your deeds, and by all means to guard yourself from everything that is hateful to God, i.e., from all sin. This is what constitutes the ascesis of Christian life. So you see, love for God leads man to asceticism. 

Finally, brother, bear your life's cross with gratitude. Your path to salvation passes through tribulations, in the words of the Apostle: ...we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). You are going to your salvation along the road of afflictions, co-suffering, and death. The way is rocky, thorny, rutted. But the very fact that you are carrying your life's cross patiently and with gratitude to God, that you are trying to do good and avoid evil---this will enable you to attain your salvation. The Apostle says that a woman shall be saved in childbearing, if [she] continues in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety (I Tim. 2:15). A woman's cross consists in childbearing, because after the Fall, and in consequence thereof, according to the word of God, woman was destined to experience the sorrows of married life: I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception, the Lord told Eve; in sorrow shall thou bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee (Gen. 3:16). But, thanks to this cross, she will be saved if, at the same time, she leads a good life. In patristic writings we find accounts of married women who still attained great sanctity through fulfilling Christ's command not to judge their neighbor. 

And what about husbands? How are they saved? If a woman is saved by carrying her cross, which God placed upon her and which He told her about, so the man will be saved by carrying his cross, which consists in a difficult way of life, in labors and troubles and cares for his children, and in responsibility before God for his family. God told Adam: Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Gen. 3:17-19).

This is the consequence of sin. But herein also lies man's salvific cross---provided he tries to avoid grave sins and, rather, tries to do good, to love God, and with thankfulness to bear the whole burden of life, knowing that God is good and all that is done is done for the salvation of man's soul. Man's salvation lies in giving himself over to God's will. 

Taken from Reflections of a Humble Heart by an unknown "elder of blessed memory"

On the World

May an angel of God, my child, follow you and show you the path of God and of your salvation. Amen; so be it. I pray that God gives you health of soul, for this is a special gift of sonship which is bestowed only upon those souls that have been completely devoted to the worship and love of God.

The world attracts the youth like a magnet; worldly things have great power over the newly enlightened soul that just started to find its bearings and see its purpose in life and the duty calling him. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God. Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” God has stored up pleasures for eternity, for both He and our soul are eternal. There is no comparison between the pleasures of the world and the pure pleasures of God.
 
The pleasures of the world are obtained with toil and expenses, and after their momentary enjoyment, they are followed by various consequences, so that they are incorrectly called pleasures. The pleasures of God, however, do not have such consequences, because spiritual pleasures down here on earth are the first fruits of an eternal series of pleasures and delights in the kingdom of God. Whereas on the contrary, one who has been corrupted by the pleasures of the world is compelled to undergo eternal damnation along with the first instigator of corruption, the devil.
 
The time of our life, my child, has been given to us as a sum of money so that each of us may trade for his salvation, and depending on the trade we deal in, we shall become either rich or poor. If we take advantage of the “money” of time by trading to increase our spiritual wealth, then we shall truly be skilled traders, and we shall hear the blessed voice: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
 
At the end of our life, an exact account will be demanded of each one of us: how and where we spent the money of time, and woe to us if we have squandered it in movie theaters, in entertainments, in debauchery [e.g. drunken or drug-induced revelry], in futile dreams, in carnal pleasures [e.g. fulfilling the desires of the passions]. Then what defense will our tied tongue be able to utter, and how will we be able to lift up our eyes and see our Christ, when He enumerates the countless benefactions which His boundless love profusely poured upon us?
 
Now that we have time, now that the money of time has not yet been spent completely and we still have it at our disposal, let us reflect sensibly on the vagrant world which seeks to rob us. Let us push it away like a putrid dead dog, and with that money let us run to buy precious works which, when tried by fire, will become very bright—gifts worthy of our Holy God, fit to be used as a decoration in the holy Jerusalem of Heaven. We should not purchase chaff, that is, punishable works of darkness, for we shall go down with them into the eternal fire of damnation, where the multitude of people who embezzled God’s gifts will reap whatever they sowed! Sow good works with tears, and then in a time of visitation you will reap the sheaves of enjoying eternal life!
 
From Counsels from the Holy Mountain, by Elder Ephraim of Philotheou
Joy in Sorrow

Suffering in its nature is nothing else but a withdrawal from God. With God it would be well even in hell. It is known that before the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ not one of the righteous had access to Paradise. Consequently, the righteous ones from the Old Testament who had died in faith were in hell where they awaited their salvation. Sorrow, however, did not touch them, because they were with God. In the Book of Solomon's Wisdom it is said: But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and sorrow will not touch them. They seemed dead to the eyes of the foolish...but they abide in peace (3:1-3). On the other hand, without God it would be terrible even in Paradise. 

This is the secret of suffering---separation and withdrawal from God. If a man is with God, he is happy and he says, like the Psalmist: For what have I in Heaven? And besides Thee, what have I desired upon earth? (Ps. 72:23). God is the Source of Joy, and the devil---the source of suffering. That is why even the sorrows which come to us according to God's will in this temporary life carry in themselves joy and lead to heavenly glory if they are endured with faith and trust in God's good providence. In contrast, the temporal sinful pleasures with which the devil tempts us carry poison in themselves, and their end is utter disappointment. Whoever follows God is happy even in suffering, as the holy Apostle Paul speaks: sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (II Cor. 6:10); but whoever follows the devil is unhappy even in his earthly joys. How many wicked ones there are who seem to be prospering in this world, but take a peek into their hearts. You will see such suffering, such an emptiness there!

It is true that the righteous, too, are not left without sorrows in life. The Saviour Himself has prophesied to His Apostles: In the world ye shall have tribulation (John 16:33). The holy Apostle Paul says directly: All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (II Tim. 3:12). But how different those sorrows, persecutions, and sufferings for Christ and in Christ are from the sorrows of the wicked! Their sorrows lead to hopelessness and despair, and the ones in Christ---to hope and joy. The sorrows of the faithless are storms which ravage everything, but the tears of the faithful are a quiet, gracious rain which helps the beautiful flowers of virtue to grow and bloom in the soul. This is one of the extraordinary things in our precious Christian faith: it brings joy even in suffering. It transforms the sorrows into bliss. 

When Jesus Christ was leaving this earthly life, He bequeathed to His beloved disciples sorrows and tears as if they were a most precious gift: Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice (John 16:20). He did this not to doom His beloved ones to inconsolable suffering, but to draw even more radiantly on that dark background of suffering a picture of the immeasurable bliss waiting for them. Your sorrow shall be turned into joy (John 16:20). He said to them, your joy no man taketh from you (John 16:22). Only Christ can give such an eternal happiness, a happiness which cannot be taken away. In His sermon He pronounced blessed those whom this sinful world considers to be the most wretched: blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the weeping, blessed are the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the persecuted for righteousness sake, etc. To all those the Saviour said: Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad (Matt. 5:12). 

How strange! To rejoice when one is unhappy, poor, helpless, persecuted, insulted, despised, hated, slandered! Before Christ, the world did not know how to rejoice over such calamities, but now everything is reversed through the power of the God-Man. All things work together for good to them that love God (Rom. 8:28). For the believer, sorrow has lost its poisonous sting. Quiet hope has taken the place of the bitter despair of suffering, and suffering is not unbearably heavy any more, because it gives birth to sweet fruit. Rejoice and be glad, because sorrows are a fiery furnace in which gold is purified. Suffering is the hammer in the hand of the sculptor which makes the statue even more beautiful. Sufferings are those thorny and frightening paths which lead to sunny peaks and paradisiacal views. Rejoice and be glad! Jesus Christ Himself sanctified the road of suffering with His feet! Rejoice and be glad! For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29). The Word of God calls suffering a favor. It is the distinction of the chosen ones of God. It is a medal of honor for the beloved of Christ. 

When the holy Apostles were imprisoned for preaching the teaching of Christ, when afterwards they were judged by the Sanhedrin, beaten, and threatened so that they would stop speaking in the name of Christ, and when they were freed at last, they went out rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name (Acts 5:41). In this way, the first Christians considered suffering for Christ to be a great honor and rejoiced in it. In the same spirit, the holy Apostles advised the faithful followers of Christ to value suffering. For example, the Apostle James writes: Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (James 1:2). As St. Dimitry of Rostov teaches, the words "divers temptations" are to be understood as "all kinds of sorrows, griefs, misfortunes, persecutions, embittering diseases and adversities, impoverishment, and suffering which occur either by God's permission or by human menace, or naturally, or by chance, or by an action of the devil." In all such cases, the holy Apostles advised the Christians to rejoice and to lay their sorrows on God. What a deep and perfect understanding the first Christians had of suffering and its beneficial influence on the soul of the person who endures it patiently! 

Taken from The Meaning of Suffering and Strife & Reconciliation by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev

The Approach of Man to God

Faith is the key to God's treasury: All things are possible to him that believeth. Faith is a spiritual mouth, and the more freely it opens, the more freely may the divine streams enter in. Let it open freely, then, as does your bodily mouth; let not your lips be closed by doubt--if they are, the treasury of God's blessing will be closed to you.

What is faith? Sureness of spiritual truth, of that which is, or of, God. To believe means to be as sure of the reality of the spiritual world as of the material world.

Nothing is impossible to those who believe: lively and unshaken faith can accomplish great miracles in the twinkling of an eye. And even without it miracles are wrought, such as those accomplished in the sacraments; for God's mystery is always accomplished, even when we are lacking in faith when it is celebrated.

Faith gives rest and joy; unbelief troubles and wounds.

How many say "I believe in God" without really believing! How many are silent when it is necessary to defend the glory of God and of His saints, which is blasphemed by the children of this world! Some are silent when it is necessary to uphold God's truth, or to put a stop to irreverence or blasphemy.

Men have fallen into unbelief because they have either completely lost the spirit of prayer, or never had it--in short because they do not pray.

Unfortunately, our faith is hindered by the short-sightedness of our reason. Faith understands directly whilst reason arrives at the truth by circuitous ways; faith is the means of communication between one spirit and another, whilst reason is the means of communication between the spiritually sensual and the simply material; the first is of the spirit, and the latter of the flesh.

If from time to time we do not stir up the fervour of faith in our heart, eventually faith may become entirely extinct in us. The enemy takes pains to attain this end, which is why we see men who are Christians only in name, while their actions are quite heathen.

The means to confirm and strengthen Christian hope are prayer, especially frequent and sincere prayer, confession of our sins, frequent reading of the Word of God, and, above all, frequent communion of the holy and life-giving sacraments of the Body and Blood of Christ.

If you indeed call God your Father, then trust in Him as in the one Father, most merciful, all-powerful, most wise, ever-loving, ever perfect. Trust in Him in respect of the blessings of this temporal life, but above all in respect of the future blessings which shall be granted you in Christ Jesus. But as through the love of the heavenly Father for you you have become the child of God; for you have come forth from Him endowed with reason and free-will; so on your part you should make every effort to reach that blessed and eternal heavenly inheritance.

Let that which calms my mind and my heart be committed to writing that I may return to constant peace of heart amidst the cares of life. What is it? It is this saying, full of trust and power: "The Lord is everything to me." This is the priceless treasure, which if we possess we can be calm in every estate, rich in poverty, generous and kind to others in the time of wealth, and not losing hope even after having sinned.

The Lord is everything to you, and you must be everything to the Lord. As all your treasure is in your heart and your will, and God asks of you your heart, saying, My son, give me thine heart, therefore, in order to fulfil God's perfect will, renounce your own corrupt, wayward, plausible will, and know it not; know only God's will. Not my will, but thine be done.

Taken from Spiritual Counsels by Father John of Kronstadt

A God-Pleasing Life

God gave us this life so that we would have time to prepare for the next one. This one is short, but the next one has no end. Although this life is short, during its course one may lay in provisions for all eternity. Each good work goes toward this end like a small contribution; from all such contributions comes the overall capital, the interest of which will determine the upkeep of the saver for all of eternity. He who makes larger contributions will have a richer upkeep, while he who makes smaller contributions will have a lesser upkeep. The Lord will render to each one according to his works. 

We must presently devote all our concern to making a few more contributions to that account. This concern is neither complicated nor difficult, as the Lord Himself confirms when He says For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light (Matt. 11:30). I have explained this to you with respect to the thoughts that have troubled you in order to assuage your sorrow, as if you lived without being useful and were to spend your entire life without being useful, if you were to continue living as you are living now. For the entire order of Christian life is thus: Believe in God, in the worshipful Trinity that saves us in the Lord Jesus Christ through the benevolance of the Holy Spirit and, receiving the beneficial powers through the Divine Mysteries of the Holy Church, live according to the commandments of the Gospel, being inspired with the hope that God, for the smallest feasible labor of ours, for the sake of faith in the Lord Savior and obedience to Him, will not deprive us of heavenly blessings. This I am adding intentionally, so that you see in what spirit we must perform a real Christian's works. For some people say that good works are necessary, while others say that faith is necessary. But both are needed; faith must be combined with works, and works with faith. 

All the same, attention must be concentrated principally on carrying out the commandments. We already believe, what else is needed? Carry out the commandments, for faith without works is dead. Also, thankfulness to the Lord: that it suited Him to determine the value of our works, not by their magnitude or greatness, but by our inward disposition when carrying them out, having at the same time given us a multiplicity of opportunities for performing good works according to His will, so that, if we pay attention to ourselves, we may at every moment perform God-pleasing works. There is no need to go abroad for this, as the progressives do. Instead, just look around yourself each day and each hour; on whatever you see the seal of the commandment, carry it out immediately, in the belief that God Himself this very hour requires this work of you, and nothing else. 

Work at becoming even more strongly fixed in such thought. As soon as you have done so, peace will begin pouring into your heart from the belief that each moment you are working for the Lord. This beginning embraces everything. Even when you are told to darn your youngest brother's sock, and you do it for the sake of the Lord's commandment to listen and help, this will be numbered among the God-pleasing works. Thus each step, each word, even each movement and glance, everything may direct one to walk in God's will and, consequently, to move each moment toward the ultimate goal. 

Taken from The Spiritual Life by St. Theophan the Recluse 

Exaltation of The Precious and Life-Giving Cross

September 14
Two events in connection with the Honorable Cross of Christ are commemorated on this day: first, the finding of the Honorable Cross on Golgotha and second, the return of the Honorable Cross from Persia to Jerusalem. Visiting the Holy Land, the holy Empress Helena decided to find the Honorable Cross of Christ. An old Jewish man named Judah was the only one who knew where the Cross was located, and, constrained by the empress, he revealed that the Cross was buried under the temple of Venus that Emperor Hadrian had built on Golgotha. The empress ordered that this idolatrous temple be razed and, having dug deep below it, found three crosses. While the empress pondered on how to recognize which of these was the Cross of Christ, a funeral procession passed by. Patriarch Macarius told them to place the crosses, one by one, on the dead man. When they placed the first and second cross on the dead man, the dead man lay unchanged. When they placed the third cross on him, the dead man came back to life. By this they knew that this was the Precious and Life-giving Cross of Christ. They then placed the Cross on a sick woman, and she became well. The patriarch elevated the Cross for all the people to see, and the people sang with tears: ``Lord, have mercy!'' Empress Helena had a silver case made and set the Honorable Cross in it. Later, the Persian Emperor Chozroes conquered Jerusalem, enslaved many people, and took the Lord's Cross to Persia. The Cross remained in Persia for fourteen years. In the year 628 the Greek Emperor Heraclius defeated Chozroes and, with much ceremony, returned the Cross to Jerusalem. As he entered the city Emperor Heraclius carried the Cross on his back, but suddenly was unable to take another step. Patriarch Zacharias saw an angel preventing the emperor from bearing the Cross on the same path that the Lord had walked barefoot and humiliated. The patriarch communicated this vision to the emperor. The emperor removed his raiment and, in ragged attire and barefoot, took up the Cross, carried it to Golgotha, and placed it in the Church of the Resurrection, to the joy and consolation of the whole Christian world.
Prologue of Ochrid by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich
 
Troparion
Save, O Lord, Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance; grant Thou unto Orthodox Christians victory over enemies; and by the power of Thy Cross do Thou preserve Thy commonwealth.
Kontakion 
O Thou Who wast lifted up willingly on the Cross, bestow Thy mercies upon the new community named after Thee, O Christ God; gladden with Thy power the Orthodox Christians, granting them victory over enemies; may they have as Thy help the weapon of peace, the invincible trophy.
 
Bless My Enemies O Lord

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. 
Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have. 
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. 
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. 
Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul. 
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. 
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. 
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. 
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. 
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life,they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me: so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return; so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger; so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; ah, so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.
Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.
A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. 

Taken from Prayers by The Lake by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich 
Bearing Our Cross

According to the Gospel, it should be said that undoubtedly each person is given his own saving cross. This cross has grown on the soil of our heart, and it is only through this cross that we can be saved. From this it follows that if we refuse to carry our cross of obedience for no legitimate reason, we refuse to go by the way of Christ, by the saving way, and we want to invent for ourselves another way, free of labor, for attaining the Kingdom of Heaven. But this cannot be. The Kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Cf. Matt. 11:12). St. Anatoly of Optina

At one time the rod which Moses cast on the ground turned into a serpent, and it so frightened him that he fled (Exodus 4:3). But when by God’s command he put his hand and took it by the tail, the serpent became a rod again, which he carried before him, separated the Red Sea and led the Israelites away from Egyptian servitude. The cross and patience are the rod; if you point them toward the earth, you cannot see them as anything but a serpent, from which you run, being afraid of poison and death. But when you take it with the right hand of true understanding, that is, when you look at the desired end of these sorrows and misfortunes, then you will joyfully see in the cross the rod of Moses, leading you out of the workings of sin and leading you into the heavenly Jerusalem. And so, look up to heaven, where the cross will lead you; look into the blessed eternity which is promised to the bearers of the cross. St. John Maximovitch

To bear the cross does not mean only visible, external sorrows, but also internal spiritual ones. One must endure darkness, faintheartedness and similar things as well. For God sends this for the destruction of our pride and acquiring of humility. St. Macarius of Optina

The cross is the door to mysteries. Through this door the intellect makes entrance into the knowledge of heavenly mysteries. The knowledge of the cross is concealed in the sufferings of the cross. And the more our participation in its sufferings, the greater the perception we gain through the cross. For, as the Apostle says, 'As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.'
St. Isaac the Syrian

Everyone has a cross to carry. Why? Since the leader of our faith endured the cross, we will also endure it. On one hand, the cross is sweet and light, but, on the other, it can also be bitter and heavy. It depends on our will. If you bear Christ’s cross with love then it will be very light; like a sponge or a cork. But if you have a negative attitude, it becomes heavy; too heavy to lift. Elder Ephraim of Katounakia

Humility

"True humility does not say humble words, nor does it assume humble looks, it does not force oneself either to think humbly of oneself, or to abuse oneself in self-belittlement. Although all such things are the beginning, the manifestations and the various aspects of humility, humility itself is grace, given from above. There are two kinds of humility, as the holy fathers teach: to deem oneself the lowest of all beings and to ascribe to God all one’s good actions. The first is the beginning, the second the end." St. Gregory of Sinai

"In the mercy of God, the little thing done with humility will enable us to be found in the same place as the saints who have labored much and been true servants of God." St. Dorotheos of Gaza

"Listen to what the Lord Himself tells us: 'Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart and you shall find rest for your souls' (Mt. 11:29). There you have it in a nutshell: He has taught us the root and cause of all evils and also the remedy for it, leading to all good. He shows us that pretensions to superiority cast us down and that it is impossible to obtain mercy except by the contrary, that is to say, by humility. Self-elevation begets contempt and disobedience begets perdition whereas humility begets obedience and the saving of souls. And I call that real humility which is not humble in word and outward appearance but is deeply planted in the heart; for this is what He meant when He said that 'I am meek and humble of heart.'" St. Dorotheos of Gaza

"It is not the self-critical who reveals his humility (for does not everyone have somehow to put up with himself?). Rather it is the man who continues to love the person who has criticized him." St. John Climacus

"It is well known that obedience is the chief among the initiatory virtues, for first it displaces presumption and then it engenders humility within us. Thus it becomes, for those who willingly embrace it, a door leading to the love of God. Thus humility should be the first concern of those who are fighting against the presumption of the devil, for as we advance it will be a sure guide to all the paths of virtue." St. Diadochos of Photiki
 
"What is the cause that one is hardened, and another readily moved to compunction? Listen! It springs from the will, in the latter case a good will, in the former an evil one. It springs also from the thoughts, in the former case evil thoughts, in the latter from the opposite; and similarly from actions, in the former case actions contrary to God, in the latter godly ones... it is by free choice of the will that every person either attains compunction and humility, or else becomes hard-hearted and proud." St. Symeon the New Theologian
 
"If a person's purpose is fixed in God with all humility and he patiently endures the trials that come upon him, God will resolve for him any question that perplexes him. Without such patience and humility a person will suffer what many have suffered, perishing in their stupidity, trusting to their own opinions and thinking they can get along very well without either a guide or the experience that comes from patience and humility. For experience transcends tribulation, trials and even active warfare. Should a person of experience be subject to some slight attack on the part of demons, this trial will be a source of great joy and profit to him; for it is permitted by God so that he may gain yet further experience and courage in facing his enemies." St. Peter of Damaskos
 
"If... God highly exalted Christ because He humbled Himself, suffered dishonour, was tempted and endured a shameful cross and death for our sake, how will He save, glorify and raise us up if we neither choose humility, nor show love to our fellows, nor gain our souls by enduring temptation (cf. Lk. 21:19), nor follow the saving Guide through the 'strait gate' and along the 'narrow way' leading to eternal life (Mt. 7:14)? To this end we were called, says Peter, the chief Apostle, ' Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps' (I Pet. 2:21)." St. Gregory Palamas
On the Church

The head of the Church is Christ and we humans, we Christians, are the body (Col. 1:18). The Apostle Paul says: He is the head of the body, of the Church. The Church and Christ are one. The body cannot exist without its head. The body of the Church is nourished, sanctified and lives with Christ. He is the Lord, omnipotent, omniscient, everywhere present and filling all things, our staff, our friend, our brother: the pillar and sure foundation of the Church. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the basis---everything. Without Christ the Church does not exist. Christ is the Bridegroom; each individual soul the Bride. 

Christ united the body of the Church with heaven and with earth: with angels, men and all created things, with all of God's creation---with the animals and birds, with each tiny wild flower and each microscopic insect. The Church thus became the fullness of Him who fills all in all, that is, of Christ (Eph. 1:23). Everything is in Christ and with Christ. This is the mystery of the Church.

Christ is revealed in that unity between His love and ourselves: the Church. On my own I am not the Church, but together with you. All together we are the Church. All are incorporated in the Church. We are all one and Christ is the head. One body, one body of Christ: You are the body of Christ and individual members of it (I Cor. 12:27). We are all one because God is our Father and is everywhere. When we experience this we are in the Church. This is our Lord's wish for all the members of the Church as expressed in His great high-priestly prayer: that they may be one (John 17:11, 22). But that's something you can only understand through grace. We experience the joy of unity, of love, and we become one with everyone. There is nothing more magnificent! 

The important thing is for us to enter into the Church---to unite ourselves with our fellow men, with the joys and sorrows of each and everyone, to feel that they are our own, to pray for everyone, to have care for their salvation, to forget about ourselves, to do everything for them just as Christ did for us. In the Church, we become one with each unfortunate, suffering, and sinful soul. 

No one should wish to be saved alone without all others being saved. It is a mistake for someone to pray for himself, that he himself may be saved. We must love others and pray that no soul be lost, that all may enter into the Church. That is what counts. And it is with this desire one should leave the world to retire to a monastery or to the desert. 

When we set ourselves apart from others, we are not Christians. We are true Christians when we have a profound sense that we are members of the mystical body of Christ, of the Church, in an unbroken relationship of love---when we live united in Christ, that is when we experience unity in His Church with a sense of oneness. This is why Christ prays to His Father saying, that they may be one. He repeats the prayer again and again and the Apostles emphasize it everywhere. This is the most profound aspect, the most exalted meaning, of the Church. This is where the secret is to be found: for all to be united as one person in God. There is no religion like this; no other religion says anything of this sort. They have something to say, but not this mystery, this exquisite point of the mystery which Christ demands and tells us that this is how we must become, that He wants us to be His. 

We are one even with those who are not close to the Church. They are distant on account of ignorance. We must pray that God will enlighten them and change them so that they too may come to Christ. We see things in a human light, we move on a different plane and imagine that we love Christ. But Christ, who sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous, tells us: Love your enemies (Matt: 5: 45, 44). We neeed to pray that we may be united, united in God. Then, if we live out this prayer, we will achieve corresponding results; we will all be united in love.

Taken from Wounded By Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios