Friday, July 12, 2019

Dreams, Demons, and Distractions ( Saints Barsanuphius and John )


Q: Can the demons communicate anything good? And how does one discover that it is demonic? And what distinguishes it from something good from God?
A: To someone it might seem that he receives something good, but this is from the evil one for his deception. For every good thing which comes from the devil for the deception of a man, being precisely examined, turns out to be unreal; for the devil is a liar, and there is no truth in him (John 8:44), as is shown by the consequences of that (false good). His light ends in darkness, according to the Apostle’s word which speaks about diabolic heralds transformed into the servants of righteousness “whose end will be according to their deeds” (II Corinthians 11:15); and the Savior says: “From their fruit ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). If you investigate with understanding and judgment, you will find in the false good (which comes) from the devil, there was not even a trace of good, but either vainglory, or disturbance, or something similar; but the good which comes from God always increases enlightenment and humility of heart and gives a man quietness. But when, out of ignorance, we suffer in something from the deception of the evil one, and later we recognize in this a temptation, then let us call ourselves and hasten to Him Who is powerful to do away with this temptation. One should know that to some the difference (between the good of the devil and that of God) is understandable from the very beginning; while to sinners, only at the end (of the temptation), just as a skilled master in gold work can take gold (in his hand) and tell before it is tested with fire of what sort it is, while an unskilled one does not find this out until it has been tested with fire. 
 
Q: When I do something good, how should I humble my thoughts? And how does one reproach oneself after doing something good? 
 
A: For humility of thoughts, even though you might have performed all good deeds and kept all the commandments, remember Him Who said: “When you have done all this, say that we are unprofitable slaves, for we were obliged to do what we have done” (Luke 17:10) - and all the more when we have not even attained as yet to the fulfilling of a single commandment. Thus one should always think and reproach oneself at every good deed and say to oneself: I do not know whether it is pleasing to God. It is a great work to do according to God’s Will, and yet greater to fulfill the Will of God: this is the joining of all the commandments; for to do something according to God’s Will is a private matter and is less than fulfilling the Will of God. Therefore the Apostle said: “Forgetting what is behind, and stretching forth to what is ahead” (Philemon 3:13). And no matter how much he stretched out to what was ahead, he did not stop and always saw himself as insufficient, and he advanced; for he said: “whatever is perfect, think on this"(Philemon 3:15), that is, so as to advance. 
 
-- Q: Tell me, Master, how can the devil dare in a vision or a fantasy during sleep to show the Master Christ or Holy Communion?
 
A: He cannot show the Master Christ Himself, nor Holy Communion, but he lies and presents the image of some man and simple bread; but the holy Cross he cannot show, for he does not find means of depicting it in another form. Inasmuch as we know the true sign and image of the Cross, the devil does not dare to use it (for our deception); for on the Cross his power was destroyed, and by the Cross a fatal wound was given him. The Master Christ we cannot recognize by the flesh, which is why the devil tries to convince us by lying that it is He, so that having believed the deception as if it were truth, we might perish. And thus, when you see in a dream the image of the Cross, know that this dream is true and from God; but strive to receive an interpretation of its significance from the Saints, and do not believe your own idea. May the lord enlighten the thoughts of your mind, O brother, so that you might escape every deception of the enemy. 
 
-- Q: A thought says to me: “If the holy Cross appears to you, you, being unworthy of this, will fall into high-mindedness.” This thoughts brings fear and terror upon me. 
 
A: Do not be disturbed about this, because, if the holy Cross will truly appear to you, it will abolish the pride of high-mindedness: where God is, there is no place for evil. 
 
-- Q: I have heard that if one and the same dream appears to someone three times, one should recognize it as true; is this so, my Father? 
 
A: No, this is wrong; such a dream also one need not believe. He who has appeared once to anyone falsely can do this three times and more. Watch, lest you be put to shame (by the demons), but pay heed to yourself, brother. 
 
-- Q: If, during the time of psalm-singing, or prayer, or reading, a bad thought comes, should one pay attention to it and leave off (for a while) the psalm-singing, prayer, or reading in order to oppose it with pure thoughts? 
 
A: Disdain it and enter more carefully into the psalm-singing, prayer, or reading, so as to gain strength from the words you pronounce. But if we shall begin to be occupied with hostile thoughts, we will never be in a condition to do anything good, heeding what the enemy instils. But when you see that his cunning fabrications hinder psalm-singing, prayer, or reading, even then do not enter into dispute with them, because this matter is beyond your strength; but strive to call on the Name of God, and God will help you and do away with the cunning of the enemies, for His is the power and the glory unto the ages. Amen. 

from “Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life,” trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp. 98 - 106 (selections).

Friday, July 5, 2019

A Little Before Death ( Memoirs of a Greek Taxi Driver ) by Constantine Zalalas



Shortly before the year 2000, my mother came over to my house and said, “Son, a few blocks away there is a distressed family with two elementary school girls. They need to live with their grandmother because they are going through a terrible ordeal. Their father, who is about your age, is a drug addict. I know his mother. Please drop by to see what you can do, because his wife and his mother told me that he is in his last days.”

“And what do you think I can do, mom? I can hardly keep up with my own dirty messes, and now all of a sudden you think I can help others?”

“Come on, my boy, you need to go; please, don’t upset me.”

The next day, I complied with my mother’s wish. With the blessing of my mother and my spiritual father, I prayed briefly and said, “My Panaghia, I will go, but you lead and I will follow.” When I arrived at the home, his mother welcomed me with a hug and a kiss. Then she drew me aside, and while she wept, she explained her Golgotha and the heavy cross the entire family had had to bear. As she was unfolding their very painful family drama to me, occasionally, she would use her apron to wipe her eyes. The poor woman had suffered so much all these years. She had gone to various neighborhoods and local businesses to borrow money to help her son get his drugs. What pain this mother had endured! What a Golgotha! What crises families in similar situations must be going through! I couldn't endure so much pain. I hugged her, and told her to have her hope and faith in Christ. When I went to the other room, and I saw her son lying in bed, the truth is that I wasn’t prepared for it; I was shocked. I went to give him my hand, but he couldn’t even exchange a handshake, because his fingers had become deformed. I grabbed him from the wrist and attempted to speak to him, but he would fade in and out of consciousness. With a little patience, however, we became acquainted and shared a few words.

“My brother, I am your neighbor,” I told him “I don’t know you, of course, but you don't know me either. So, since we have become acquainted now, what do you say, can we help one another?”

“It’s too late for me, Thanasi,” he told me in a whispering voice, “I am in the last stage. There is no recovery for me. The doctors can't do anything.”

“Humanly, yes, we agree, but don’t forget the power and grace of our God; what is impossible for man is possible for God” (cf. Luke 18:27).



“I believe in God, Thanasi, but I have fallen into a snake pit. I have made repeated efforts to detoxify myself for many years now but all in vain. I know that I upset my mother, my wife and especially my children. What can I do? I’m not to blame. It’s the deprivation of heroin.”

“So fine, since you believe that you are in a pit with snakes, stretch out your hand and ask the help of Christ. He is the only one who is able to take you out of this pit.”

“What must I do; and how?”

And he faded out again. I needed to wait a few minutes, for him to regain consciousness. In the meantime, I prayed and said, “My Christ, is he listening to what I’m telling him? Can he even think, understand, or remember? Please Lord, only You are able to help us, especially me.” A few moments later, he opened his eyes, and we spoke a bit more. In the end I told him, “I need to leave you now, my brother. The next time I come, if you like, I can bring a priest to read some prayers over you. I think this will do you much good.”

“Yes, Thanasi, I will wait for you. Bring the priest also. I don’t have a problem with that.”

When I came out of the room, there in the hall, I met his wife and their two charming little girls for the first time. They had red swollen eyes. As soon as they saw me they lowered their heads, probably out of shame for the condition of their father. I don’t know, but my heart went out to these little innocent girls; I shared their pain and loved them very much from the first moment. I talked for quite a while with his wife. We said many things, and the poor woman was constantly crying. I left in shambles.

Two days later, I went to his home with a priest, and he read some prayers of Saint Basil over him. I will not forget that I needed to hold him from the shoulder, so he wouldn’t fall down. At the end, we told him what his next steps were. He needed to go confess with sincere repentance, to be able to commune, to take Christ in him so that he could be strengthened.

By the grace of God, my friends, he accepted all this joyfully. Not only he, but his entire family, even his little girls came and confessed to Father , filled with joy and hope for a new beginning. When everyone was finished, Father pulled me aside and told me, “Thanasi, this man needs all the help he can get; do as much as you can for him, because he is in dire straits, he is not at all well. He needs to recover for the sake of his family. Under the circumstances, he has my blessing to receive Holy Communion whenever he is able.”

“Yes father, he’s going down fast, but please let me share a thought with you.”

“Go ahead, speak up.”

“This coming Sunday, I am thinking of going to church as a family to the monastery of Saint Nicodemos at Goumenissa. I will go with Glykeria, and the young man and his wife. Allow me also to take my friend Savvas, the paralytic, with me, so he can envelop us in prayer. On Monday, with your blessing, I'd like for all three of us to venture to the Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos, for all of us to venerate the Precious Belt of our Panaghia. I will make all the necessary arrangements with the fathers.”

“Very well, but are you sure you can manage all this?”

“I cannot without God’s grace and your blessing and prayers.”

“Do accordingly, however God enlightens you. As far as I am concerned I bless you with all my heart.”

Then I proceeded to relay to the lad and his wife my ideas, to see if they would agree. They joyfully accepted my suggestions, especially his wife who responded with tears of joy, perhaps because a gleam of hope was finally on the horizon. I then turned to her husband and firmly told him, “My brother, I ask you, and I beg you. Between now and Sunday, while preparing yourself for Holy Communion at St. Nicodemos monastery and during the days of our pilgrimage to Mount Athos, don’t even think about using heroin.”

“Listen, Thanasi, I will speak to you with all sincerity, especially since I just confessed. I give you my word, here and in the presence of my wife, that I will not use heroin. I will take some kind of opiate substitute, so that I can stand on my feet. If I don’t do this, my bones will be creaking. My temple blood vessels will begin to burst; I will scream uncontrollably, because the pain is excruciating at the final stage of heroin addiction.”

“What are these substitutes?”

“They come in the form of pills[1], and they help me to stand on my feet.”

“Mr. Thanasi, don’t worry. I will be very careful, and I will not let him leave from my sight. I promise you,” his wife told me.

So, early Sunday morning, we all headed out. Savvas, my paralytic friend, was sitting in the front seat, and I asked him to pray unceasingly. The young man in the back however was sweating profusely and nonstop. The sweating continued and several times during the Divine Liturgy we had to exit the Church so he could catch his breath. I made sure always to be at his side to console him and help him as needed.

Soon enough, the voice of the priest was heard, “With the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near”; I held him by the arm and we waited for all others to commune first. Then as we slowly walked towards the chalice, I turned to the large icon of the Virgin Mary and silently asked her, “My Virgin Mary, please, help us to commune today and be with us as we travel to your perivoli[2] tomorrow." It seems that my prayer was heard.

That morning, everything went well at the monastery, thank God. The Abbot, who sensed the gravity of the situation, and learned that we would be leaving the next day for the Holy Mountain, was quite moved. Upon our departure, he walked towards the lad and prayed and said in a loud voice, “May Angels accompany you." His poor wife couldn’t control her tears all day long.

The next morning, we took a taxi, and all three of us arrived at the bus station[3]. I helped the young man onto the bus, and guided him to the open seats toward the back. I then lifted Savva the paralytic on my back, carried him onto the bus and placed him next to the young man. I reminded Savva to continue with unceasing prayer.

While on the bus and later on the ferry boat, we were able to discuss various nice things. The lad was listening to me carefully although he was sweating quite a bit due to acute withdrawal symptoms. He was constantly wiping his sweat, and he struggled to stay on his feet. In less than two hours we disembarked and continued on a minibus towards Vatopedi. The driver dropped us off a few hundred yards outside of the monastery. I looked around for some help but there was no one in sight. It was very difficult to roll the wheelchair on an uphill gravel road. I remember holding the lad with one hand, and pushing the wheelchair with the other. I will not be ashamed to tell you that my tears were running, while I was pleading to the Virgin Mary, silently saying to her, “My dear Mother, help me first, and then my brethren because I am the sickest one of all." When we entered inside the gates of monastery, it was noon, and everyone was resting. There were many stairs for us to climb. I first helped the lad up the stairs and then I lifted up the paralytic on my shoulders since there was no other solution at the moment. Finally I went back down once more to bring up the wheelchair.

When we found the Archondari[4], he received us with much love. We had notified the fathers about the purpose of our visit a few days prior. They were happy to see us because Savvas and I had visited Vatopedi before.

When we got settled in a room, another monk came and told me, “Thanasi, the Geronta (Abbot) wants to see you." I immediately went to him, did a prostration and received his blessing. We talked for quite a while, about the condition of the lad. The Abbot was very moved, asked that we write down our names, and promised to commemorate us during forty successive liturgies[5]. He asked us to come to one of the chapels in the afternoon, to venerate the Holy Relics and the Precious Belt (of the Virgin Mary). Upon entering the church, the father told the lad to kneel so that he could place the Precious Belt on his head, and to pray over him. I sat back and savored every second of this most beautiful hour. These were truly heavenly moments. When the priest finished with the young man he asked the paralytic to bow and receive the Precious Belt on his head as well. Then the father took the Belt, and went to leave. While he was preparing to depart, I asked him, “Father, please, don’t deprive me of this blessing, because I am the sickest one in the group. My body is healthy, but my soul is paralyzed." The father turned back, looked at me with a blank stare, and asked, “What’s your name, my son?”

“Thanasi.”

“Kneel, Athanasios[6], and may you have all the blessings of our Virgin Mary.”

The very Belt of the Virgin Mary was now resting on my head! What an indescribable feeling this was. I have no words even to begin to tell you what this felt like. Even if I did, you would not be able to understand it.

This was such an uplifting and truly beneficial pilgrimage. When we returned home, I went to find Father, to inform him how things went. He was very pleased and said, “Thanasi, don’t worry, the Virgin Mary will do her miracle." After this the recovering young man, stayed close to Fr. Triantafyllos[7] and continued to go to holy Confession, with his entire family.

Now, I am sure you are probably anxious to find out what happened to this young man and his family. Well, he is well, very well. The same man who could hardly even exchange a handshake, nor stand on his feet without being held, now returned to his old job of hard physical labor, and even works overtime. The smile returned to his family, especially to his charming little girls. They were no longer ashamed of their father at school. More importantly, he returned to our Christ. For this we are ever so grateful to the blessing of our Virgin Mary, to the supplications of the fathers, and to the prayer of the paralytic.

[1] The irony is that most people come to this sad position because of these prescribed painkillers. Dentists and doctors often overprescribe opium derivatives such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco), codeine, morphine, etc., for pain management. These are usually highly addictive and when these prescriptions expire, a high percentage of their victims turn to heroin which is rather inexpensive in its beginning stages but later becomes very costly and deadly as its addictive qualities totally enslave the human organism. Overdosing is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, accounting for more deaths than traffic fatalities or gun homicides and suicides. Fatal overdoses from opiate medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone have quadrupled since 1999, accounting for an estimated 16,651 deaths in 2010.


[2] According to tradition the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist were on a ship to visit Lazarus who was serving as a Bishop in Cyprus. Along the way, the weather became severe, and the swollen waves carried the boat north to the present location of the monastery of Iveron, on the Athonite peninsula. The Virgin Mary was truly enchanted by the paradisiacal beauty of this location so she asked her Son to gift it to her. This is why, to this day, the Holy Mountain is the exclusive “Garden of the Panaghia” and no other female-human or animal-is permitted to set foot on it.


[3] Mt. Athos is not accessible by land so visitors and pilgrims must travel to Ouranoupolis (150 km from Thessaloniki), the last seaport with frequent ferry boat rides to Dafne, the central access point to the one-thousand year-old monastic community with twenty major monasteries and their dependencies. At present there are approximately 2000 monks on the Holy Mountain.


[4] The monk in charge of guest accommodation.


[5] The most important of all Orthodox services, also called Holy Eucharist.


[6] Thanasi, the nickname for Athanasios (immortal), changes the meaning of this dogmatic Christian name from immortal to mortal. This is precisely why the Father used Athanasi’s baptismal name.


[7] Triantafyllo (thirty petals), is the Greek word for rose.

Constantine Zalalas

from the book: Tears of Repentance

source :http://www.saintnicodemos.com/

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Acquire the Love of Paul and you’ll have a Perfect Crown



(Saint John Chrysostom: In Praise of the Holy Apostle Paul, III)

Demonstrating the power of human will and the fact that we can fly even to the heavens themselves, leaving the angels and archangels and the other powers, Saint Paul urges believers to become imitators of Christ, sometimes through him (“Become imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”) and sometimes without him (“Therefore become imitators of God, like beloved children.”).

Then, in order to show that nothing befits this imitation so much as living for the common good and looking out for what is useful for each other he adds: “Behave with love”. This is why, when he said “Become imitators of me”, he immediately speaks of love, demonstrating that it is principally this virtue that brings people closer to God, because all the other virtues are certainly inferior to it and all revolve around the human person: the struggle against desire, the war against gluttony, the fight against avarice, the battle against anger. This is why Christ says: “Pray for those who bother you, so that you may be like your Father Who is in heaven”.

So because Paul knew that this was the most important of the virtues, he applied it with great care. Nobody loved their enemies as he did; nobody did so much good to those who envied them; nobody suffered so much for those who had grieved them. He didn’t look at what they were suffering, he saw them as human beings and the more furious they became, the more he forgave their rage. And in the same way as parents treat a child in a tantrum (because the more a child speaks badly and lashes out, the more the parents feel sorry for it), so Paul, thinking about the illness of those who were acting in this way towards him, was stimulated towards ever greater care.

Just listen to the gentleness and sympathy with which he speaks of those who scourged him five times, stoned him, imprisoned him, who thirsted for his blood and were always ready to kill him. “I assure you that they have zeal for God, but not a true awareness.” And, to put those who would have condemned those people in their place, he says: “So do not be proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches [i.e. of the olive tree which were broken off, Romans 17-21], neither will He spare you”. But when he saw that the decision of the Lord turned against them, he still did what he could. He wept constantly for them, he sorrowed, he tried to prevent others from following them to destruction and tried, as far as was possible, to find a trace of forgiveness for them. Since he couldn’t persuade them with his words, because they were thrawn and unbending, he constantly prayed for them: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved”.

And yet he still held out hope for them saying: “For the gifts of God are irrevocable”, so that they wouldn’t despair entirely and be lost. All of these were features of a person who cared about and was aflame for such people, since he says: “The Deliverer shall come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”, because, when he saw their perdition, he was sorely wounded and saddened. This is why he thought up consolations for himself for this pain, sometimes saying: “The Deliverer shall come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”, and at others “so they also have rejected your mercy so that they may receive mercy” Jeremiah does the same thing, struggling to find some justification for those who have sinned, at one time saying: “Even though our iniquities have risen against us, act for your name’s sake” and at another “A person’s way is not their own…No-one shall start out and set their own course”. And elsewhere he also says: “Remember that we’re dust”. Because it’s common among those who intercede on the part of sinners, that even if they can’t find anything actually good to say, at least they’ll think up some insignificant justification, even if it’s not entirely accurate and can’t really be taken as true; at least to provide some comfort for those who are lost.

So let’s not go through these excuses with a fine-tooth comb, but on the understanding that they’re a characteristic of a soul that suffers and is trying to find something to say on behalf of the sinners. And was it only towards the Jews that Paul behaved in this way, and not to the Gentiles? He was more understanding than anyone, both towards his own people and foreigners. Here’s what he says to Timothy: “A servant of God should not be quarrelsome, but kindly towards everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness, in case God grants them repentance and knowledge of the truth. And that they may be raised from the devil’s snare, captured by Him to do His will”. And do you want to hear him talking to sinners? Listen to what he says to the Corinthians when he sent them his letter: “For I fear that perhaps I may come and find you not what I wish” And immediately afterwards “I feat that when I come again, my God will humble me before you and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned before and have not repented of the impurity, immorality and licentiousness which they have practised”. And to the Galatians when he says: “My children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ is formed in you”.

And concerning the person who engaged in harlotry, listen how he suffers no less than the man himself and entreats: “Show him love in public” And when he set him apart from the Church, he did so with many tears: “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love I have for you”. And again he says: “To the Jews I became as a Jew; to those under the law I became as one under the law; to the weak I became weak; I became all things to all people that I might save some”. And elsewhere he says: “ that I may present every person perfect in the name of Jesus Christ”.

Have you seen a soul that’s worth more than the whole world? He wanted to present every person as perfect, and, so far as it depended on him, that’s how he presented them. Because it’s as though he fathered all of them, all the people in the world: he worried; he chivvied; he tried to bring everybody into the kingdom of heaven, healing, comforting, giving promises, praying, interceding, striking fear into the demons, dismissing those who were corrupting the others, with his presence, with letters, with discourses, with actions, with his disciples; restoring, by his example, those whose faith had been shaken, supporting those who were unstable, raising those who had fallen, healing those whose lives had been shattered, exhorting the indifferent, emitting dreadful cries to the enemies and fixing opponents with a dread stare. As if he were a general or a skilled doctor, he himself was a sutler, an adjutant, a defender, a comrade-in arms, everything you’d find in an army camp. And his concern wasn’t confined to the spiritual but also extended to the material.

So listen to Paul, how he talks about a woman when he’s writing to a whole city. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you”. Or again, “You know the house of Stephanas… be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labours” and “acknowledge such men”. Because this, too, is typical of the care and attention of the saints: the desire to be of assistance in such cases, as well. So Elisha says to the woman who had shown him hospitality: “Is there anything you want said to the king or the governor?”. In other words, he was not content with helping her spiritually, he wanted to offer material assistance as well.

And why would anyone be surprised that Paul made such recommendations in his letters, because, whenever he summoned anyone to come to him, he didn’t consider it beneath him to refer to the supplies they would need? Writing to Titus, he says: “Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing”. And if, when he had sent someone, he gave orders that they were to be well supplied, how much more would he do when he realized that they were in some kind of danger? See, when he writes to Philemon, how concerned he is about Onesimus, how he writes with such sense, so much paternal interest. Now, if he didn’t avoid writing a letter on behalf of a slave- and one who had escaped and made off with many of his master’s belongings, at that- just think how he was towards others.

Because he considered only one thing shameful: if you overlooked something that was necessary for another person’s salvation. This is why he would move anything at all, would never hesitate to expend whatever was needed, on behalf of those who were being saved, be it money, words or even his own body. Because surely he who had risked death so many times wouldn’t balk at giving money, provided he had any. And why do I say, “Provided he had any?”. Because it’s actually possible to show that, even though he had none, he didn’t miss it. Don’t think that what I’m saying is a conundrum, but listen again to what he says, writing to the Corinthians: “But I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” And, speaking to the elders of the Ephesians, he says: “You yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my self and those with me”

And while he was great in the chief virtue of love, he was also more devouring than any flame. Just as iron, when it falls into the fire, becomes all aflame, so Paul, when he was once ignited with the flame of love, became wholly love. As if he were the common father of all humanity, he tried to imitate fathers, or rather to surpass all fathers, both in their care for corporeal matters as well as those of the spirit, placing his money, words, body, soul and everything he had at the service of those he loved. This is why he called love a completion of the law, the bond of perfection, the mother of all good things, and the beginning and end of virtue. This is why he also says; “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience”. And again “For the commandments ‘You shall not commit adultery’; ‘you shall not kill’; [and any other commandment] are summed up in this sentence: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’”.

So since the beginning and end of all good things is love, let us follow Saint Paul in this, because he became the person he was through love. Never mind the dead he raised or the lepers he cleansed. God’s not going to require that of you. Acquire the love of Paul and you’ll have the perfect crown. Who says so? The father of love himself, he who valued it above all signs and portents and above so many other things. Because he had it to such a high degree, he knew full well how powerful it is. That’s how he became such a person, and nothing made him so worthy a man as the power of love. This is why he also says: “But earnestly desire the highest gifts and I will show you a more excellent way”, meaning love, the best and easiest path.

Then let us, too, walk this path, so that we’ll see Paul, or, even better, Paul’s Lord, and win the eternal crowns, through the grace and love for mankind of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to Whom belong glory and power, always, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Saint John Chrysostom: Ἐγκώμιον εἰς τὸν Ἅγιον Ἀπόστολον Παῦλον, Λόγος γ´

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Place of Holy Relics in the Orthodox Church ( St. Justin Popovich )




The Place of Holy Relics in the Orthodox Church

Without doubt, matter is represented in the human body in a manner which is most puzzling, most mysterious, and most complex. The brain: What wondrous mysteries pass between its physical and spiritual parts! How vast is the experience of the human race. In no manner can one ever fully comprehend or grasp these mysteries. Indeed, little of this is accessible to the human senses or intellectual investigation. So it is also with the heart of man, formed as it is entirely and solely from cosmic mysteries. So formed, too, are every cell, every molecule, every atom. Everyone and all are set on their mystical path toward God, toward the God-Man. Inasmuch as it was created by God, the Logos, matter possesses this same theocentricity. Moreover, by His advent into our earthly world, by His all-embracing condescension as God and Man for the redemption of the world, the Lord Christ clearly demonstrated that not only the soul, but matter also was created by God and for God, and that He is God and Man; and for it, matter, He is all and everything in the same manner as for the soul. Being created by God, the Logos, matter is, in its innermost core, God-longing and Christ-longing.


The most obvious proof of this is the fact that God the Word has become Incarnate, has become man (St. John 1:14). By His Incarnation, matter has been magnified with Divine glory and has entered into the grace- and virtue-bestowing, ascetic aim of deification, or union with Christ. God has become flesh, has become human, so that the entire man, the entire body, might be filled with God and with His miracle-working forces and powers. In the God-Man, the Lord Christ, and His Body, all matter has been set on a path toward Christ —the path of deification, transfiguration, sanctification, resurrection, and ascent to an eternal glory surpassing that of the Cherubim. And all of this takes place and will continue to take place through the Divine and human Body of the Church, which is truly the God-Man Christ in the total fullness of His Divine and Human Person, the fullness "that fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23). Through its Divine and human existence in the Church, the human body, as matter, as substance, is sanctified by the Holy Spirit and in this way participates in the life of the Trinity. Matter thus attains its transcendent, divine meaning and goal, its eternal blessedness and its immortal joy in the God-Man.


The holiness of the Saints—both the holiness of their souls and of their bodies—derives from their zealous grace- and virtue-bestowing lives in the Body of the Church of Christ, of the God-Man. In this sense, holiness completely envelopes the human person—the entire soul and body and all that enters into the mystical composition of the human body. The holiness of the Saints does not hold forth only in their souls, but it necessarily extends to their bodies; so it is that both the body and the soul of a saint are sanctified. Thus we, in piously venerating the Saints, also venerate the entire person, in this manner not separating the holy soul from the holy body. Our pious veneration of the Saints' relics is a natural part of our pious respect for and prayerful entreaty to the Saints. All of this constitutes one indivisible ascetic act, just as the soul and body constitute the single, indivisible person of the Saint. Clearly, during his life on the earth, the Saint, by a continuous and singular grace- and virtue-bestowing synergy of soul and body, attains to the sanctification of his person, filling both the soul and body with the grace of the Holy Spirit and so transforming them into vessels of the holy mysteries and holy virtues. It is completely natural, again, to show pious reverence both to the former and to the latter, both to soul and body, both of them holy vessels of God's grace. When the charismatic power of Christ issues forth, it makes Grace-filled all the constituent parts of the human person and the person in his entirety. By unceasing enactment of the ascetic efforts set forth in the Gospels, Saints gradually fill themselves with the Holy Spirit, so that their sacred bodies, according to the word of the holy Apostle, become temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19; 3:17), Christ dwelling by faith in their hearts (Ephesians 3:17) and by fruitful love also fulfilling the commandments of God the Father. Establishing themselves in the Holy Spirit through grace-bestowing ascetic labors, the Saints participate in the life of the Trinity, becoming sons of the Holy Trinity, temples of the Living God (II Corinthians 6:16); their whole lives thus flow from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. By piously venerating the holy relics of the Saints, the Church reveres them as temples of the Holy Spirit, temples of the Living God, in which God dwells by Grace even after the earthly death of the Saints. And by His most wise and good Will, God creates miracles in and through these relics. Moreover, the miracles which derive from the holy relics witness also to the fact that their pious veneration by the people is pleasing to God.


The pious veneration of holy relics, based on their miraculous nature, originated from Divine Revelation. Even in the Old Testament God deigned to celebrate with miracles the holy relics of certain of those who were well-pleasing to Him. Thus, by the touch of the holy relics of the Prophet Elisea, a dead man was resurrected. The tomb and bones of this Prophet, who had prophesied to Jeroboam the destruction of idolatrous altars, were greatly revered in Judea. The Patriarch Joseph also left a testament to the sons of Israel to preserve his bones in Egypt and, during their exodus, to carry them to the promised land (Genesis 50:25).


The New Testament raised the human body to the sublime and divine heights, endowing it with a glory which the Cherubim and Seraphim do not possess. The Good News of the New Testament concerning the body—the significance and goal of the human body—is that, together with the soul, it achieves and inherits immortal life in Divine eternity. The Lord Christ has come to deify, to make Christ-like, the entire man, that is, the soul and body, and this by the resurrection, insuring thereby victory over death and eternal life. No one ever elevated the human body as did the Lord Christ by His bodily resurrection, the ascension of His body into heaven, and its eternal session at the right hand of God the Father. In this way, the Resurrected Christ extended the promise of resurrection to the nature of the human body—"having made for all flesh a path to eternal life." Thus man now knows that the body is created for eternity through union with the God-Man and that his divine work on earth is to struggle, with the soul, for eternal life; to struggle, with all those means that convey grace and virtue, to make himself grace-filled, fulfilled by Divine grace, and created anew as the temple of the Holy Spirit, the temple of the Living God.


Bearing in mind that this New Testamental notion of the human body has been achieved and realized in the persons of the Saints, Christians show a pious veneration for the bodies of the Saints, towards holy relics, the temples of the Holy Spirit, Who by God's grace abides within them. But Holy Revelation indicates that by God's immeasurable love for man, the Holy Spirit abides through His grace not only in the bodies of the Saints, but also in their clothing. So it is that the handkerchiefs of the holy apostle Paul healed the ill and expelled unclean spirits (Acts 19:12). With his mantle the Prophet Elias struck the water, separating the waters of the Jordan, and along the dry bed of the river crossed the Jordan with his disciple Elisea (IV Kings 2:8). The prophet Elisea did the very same thing, himself, with the same mantle, after the taking-up of Elias into heaven (IV Kings 2:14). All this has its verification and source in the Divine power that rested in the garments of the Savior, which encompassed His most pure and Divine body. Moreover, by His inexpressible love for man, the Divine Lord allows the servants of His Divinity to work miracles not only through their bodies and clothing, but even with the shadow of their bodies, which is evident in an occurrence with the holy apostle Peter: his shadow healed an ill man and expelled unclean spirits (Acts 5:15-16).


The eternal good news of Holy Revelation about sacred relics and their pious veneration is proved, and is continually being proved, by Holy Tradition from Apostolic times to the present day. Innumerable are the sacred relics of the holy Chosen Ones of God throughout the Orthodox world. Their miracles are innumerable. The pious veneration of these relics by Orthodox Christians is everywhere to be found. And without doubt this is because the holy relics, through their miracles, incite the Orthodox toward their pious veneration. From the very beginning, in Apostolic times, Christians piously preserved the honored relics of the Holy Forerunner and the holy Apostles, so that these could be preserved even for us. As well, during the times of persecution the sacred remains of the bodies of the holy Martyrs were taken away by Christians and hidden in their homes. From that time until now, the sacred relics of the holy Chosen Ones of God have, by their miracles, poured forth the immortal joy of our faith into the hearts of Orthodox Christians. The proofs concerning this are countless. We shall cite only several.


The way that the holy relics of the Saints were translated and greeted is in a touching manner described by St. Chrysostomos in a eulogy on St. Ignatios: "You, inhabitants of Antioch, have sent forth a bishop and received a martyr; you sent him forth with prayers, and received him back with crowns; and not only you, but all the cities which lay between. For how do you think that they behaved when they saw his remains being brought back? What pleasure was produced! How they rejoiced! With what laudations on all sides did they beset the crowned one! For as with a noble athlete, who has wrestled down all his antagonists, and who comes forth with radiant glory from the arena, the spectators receive him, and do not suffer him to tread the earth, bringing him home on their shoulders and according him countless praises. So also every city in turn received this Saint from Rome, and bearing him upon their shoulders as far as this city, escorted the crowned one with praises, hymning the champion.... At this time the holy Martyr bestows grace to the very same cities, establishing them in piety, and from that time to this day he enriches this city."


Speaking of the miraculous power of holy relics, Saint Ephraim the Syrian relates the following concerning the holy Martyrs: "Even after death they act as if alive, healing the sick, expelling demons, and by the power of the Lord rejecting every evil influence of the demons. This is because the miraculous grace of the Holy Spirit is always present in the holy relics."


During the finding of the relics of Saints Gervasius and Protasius, St. Ambrose, in speaking to his listeners, relates this with pious enthusiasm: "You know—indeed, you have yourselves seen—that many are cleansed from evil spirits, that very many also, having touched with their hands the robe of the Saints, are freed from those ailments which oppressed them. You see that the miracles of old times are renewed, when through the coming of the Lord Jesus grace was more abundantly shed forth upon the earth, and that many bodies are healed as it were by the shadow of the holy bodies. How many napkins are passed about! How many garments, laid upon the holy relics and endowed with the power of healing, are claimed! All are glad to touch even the outside thread, and whosoever touches it will be made whole."


Speaking of the miracles produced by holy relics, the blessed Augustine says: "To what do these miracles witness, but to this faith which preaches Christ risen in the flesh and ascended with the same flesh into heaven? For the martyrs themselves were martyrs, that is to say, were witnesses of this faith.... For this faith they gave their lives, and can now ask these benefits from the Lord in whose name they were slain. For this faith their extraordinary constancy was exercised, so that in these miracles great power was manifested as the result. For if the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life had not taken place in Christ, and were not to be accomplished in His people, as predicted by Christ..., why do the martyrs who were slain for this faith which proclaims the resurrection possess such power? ...These miracles attest this faith which preaches the resurrection of the flesh unto eternal life."


Saint Damascene, summarizing the life-giving teaching of Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition concerning the pious veneration of holy relics, preaches in a Cherubic manner from the altar of his God-bearing and Christ-like soul: "The Saints have become according to grace that which the Lord Christ is according to nature. That is, they have become gods according to grace: pure and living habitations of God. For God says: 'I will dwell in them, walk in them, and I will be their God' (II Corinthians 6:16; Leviticus 16:12). The Holy Scriptures likewise say: 'the souls of the righteous are in God's hand, and death cannot lay hold of them' (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1). For death is rather the sleep of Saints than their death. Further: 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints' (Psalm 119:6). What, then, is more precious than to be in the hand of God? For God is life and light, and those who are in God's hand are in life and light. Further, that God dwells even in their bodies in a spiritual manner the all-divine Apostle attests: 'Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you?' (I Corinthians 3:16). And, 'the Lord is Spirit' (II Corinthians 3:17). Thus, the evangelical truth: 'If anyone destroy the temple of God, him will God destroy—for the temple of God is holy, and ye are that temple' (I Corinthians 3:17). Surely, then, we must ascribe honor to the living temples of God, the living dwelling-places of God. These, while they lived, stood with boldness before God. The Lord Christ granted us the relics of the Saints to be fountains of salvation unto us, pouring forth manifold blessings and abounding in sweetly fragrant oil. Let no one disbelieve this! For if water burst in the desert from the steep and solid rock according to God's will (Exodus 17:6), and from the jawbone of an ass to quench Samson's thirst (Judges 15:14-19), is it then unbelievable that fragrant oil should spring forth from relics of the holy Martyrs? By no means, at least to those who know the omnipotence of God and the honor which He accords to His Saints. According to the Old Testament law, everyone who touched a dead body was considered impure (Numbers 19:11). However, the Saints are not dead. For from the time when He Who is Himself Life and the Author of life was counted among the dead, we do not call those dead who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and with faith in Him. For how could a dead body work miracles? And how, through the holy relics, are demons driven off, diseases dispelled, the sick made well, the blind restored to sight, lepers cleansed, temptations and tribulations overcome; and how does every good gift come down from the Father of lights (St. James 1:17) to those who pray with sure faith?"


The universal faith of the Church concerning the pious veneration of holy relics was confirmed by the God-bearing Fathers of the Seventh Œcumenical Synod in its decrees: "Our Lord Jesus Christ granted to us the relics of Saints as a salvation-bearing source which pours forth varied benefits on the infirm. Consequently, those who presume to abandon the relics of the Martyrs: if they be hierarchs, let them be deposed; if however monastics or laymen, let them merely be excommunicated."


....That a pious veneration of the holy relics is a constituent part of the salvation rendered by the God-Man is also evidenced by the following facts: from the depths of sacred antiquity, churches were built on the graves and relics of Saints, and the holy Liturgy is performed only on antimensia, in which are placed parts of the holy relics. Moreover, the divine service books, especially the Menaion, are replete with prayers and hymns which refer to the pious veneration of holy relics....


All in all, the mystery of holy relics is at the heart of the universal mystery of the New Testament: the incarnation of God. The full mystery of the human body is explained by the incarnation, the embodiment of God in the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, then, the Gospel message concerning the body: "The body for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (I Corinthians 6:13). And through a human body also the entire creation, all of matter, received its divine significance, the universal meaning of the God-Man. By man, who is sanctified in the Church by the holy mysteries and the holy virtues, the creation and even matter are sanctified, united to Christ. There accrues to this also a joy—the myrrh-streaming property of many relics. This wonder of myrrh has been given to the holy relics in order to indicate that Christians are truly "a sweet-savour of Christ unto God" (II Corinthians 2:15), sweet-smelling to God and to heaven. The truth of the Gospel is that the sin of man is a foul odor before God and every sin pleases the devil. Through the holy mysteries and holy virtues, Christians become "a sweet-savour of Christ unto God." For this reason, then, the holy relics of the Saints pour forth myrrh.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. VII, No. 1, p. 9. Translated from the Serbian by the Reverend Gregory Telepneff.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

How St. Paisios saved a soul from suicide




The Elder, according to his custom, spent the night praying. Once, while praying, about 1 a.m. he was "informed" by Divine grace that, at that moment, someone in the world, called John, was in danger. Upon receiving this information, the Elder immediately lit a candle and began to pray for John. Approximately half an hour later, the Elder’s soul received was "informed," that John was out of danger. But, the Elder still did not understand, what had happened.

The next day a young man came to the Elder and told him, what the Divine grace had concealed, i.e. that he, depressed because of a multitude of problems, found himself at a dead end, and decided to commit suicide.

Getting on his motorcycle at 12.30 a.m, he left the city, heading towards a distant district, in order to drive off a precipice and crash.

Around 12.50, while he was driving along the highway, he had a thought: "They say so many things about this Paisios on the Holy Mountain, maybe I should visit him, and if nothing happens there, then I shall crash."

That was that very John, about whom the Divine grace instilled the Elder to pray, when the young man was approaching the abyss.

And of course, when the young man returned home, he did not drive to that abyss, but to a confessor, to whom he confessed his sins. Thus, by the prayers of the Elder, the youth started on the right path.


St. Paisios