Friday, November 8, 2019

The true Christian... ( Saint John Chrysostom )

The true Christian, moving his tongue to praise God, leans on his knees and raises his hands and mind to plead with God, pours out tears of repentance and pity before God.

The true Christian never swears, always speaks the truth ... according to the Lord's command, yes and no in his answers.

Saint John Chrysostom

Sunday, November 3, 2019

How to Read the Holy Scriptures ( Father Seraphim Rose )



From a lecture delivered by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose at the 1979 St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage Platina, CA



IT IS WELL known that Protestants spend a great deal of time on Holy Scripture, because for them it is everything. For us Orthodox Christians the Scripture also holds an essential place. Often, however, we do not take advantage of it, and do not realize what importance it has for us; or if we do, we often do not approach it in the right spirit because the Protestant approach and Protestant books about the Scriptures are widespread, while our Orthodox approach is quite different.

The fact that Scripture is an essential part of our Faith can be seen in our Orthodox services. There are daily readings from the New Testament from both the Epistles and Gospels. In one year we read through almost the entire New Testament. In the first three days of the week before Pascha--the feast of Christ's Resurrection, the four Gospels are read in church, and on Thursday night of Passion Week twelve long selections from the Gospels are read concerning the Passion of our Lord, with verses sung in between, commenting on these passages. The Old Testament is also used in the services. In the vespers for every great feast three parables are read prefiguring the feast. And the Divine services themselves are filled with Scriptural quotations, Scriptural allusions and inspiration coming directly from Holy Scripture. Orthodox Christians also read the Scripture outside the services. St. Seraphim, in his monastic life, read the entire New Testament every week. Perhaps it is because we have such a richness of Scripture in our Orthodox tradition that we are often guilty of taking them for granted, of not valuing and making use of the Scriptures.

One of the leading interpreters of Holy Scripture for us is St. John Chrysostom, an early 5th century Holy Father. He wrote commentaries on practically the whole of the New Testament, including all of St. Paul's epistles and also many Old Testament books. In one sermon concerning Scripture, he addresses his flock:

'I exhort you, and I will not cease to exhort you to pay heed not only to what is said here, but when you are home also you should occupy yourselves attentively with the reading of Holy Scripture. Let no one say to me such cold words-worthy of judgment---as these: 'I am occupied with a trial, I have obligations in the city, I have a wife, I have to feed my children, and it is not my duty to read the Scripture but the duty of those who have renounced everything.' What are you saying?! It is not your duty to read Scripture because you are distracted by innumerable cares? On the contrary, it is your duty more than those others, more than the monks; they do not have such need of help as do you who live in the midst of such cares. You need treatment all the more, because you are constantly under such blows and are wounded so often. The reading of Scripture is a great defense against sin. Ignorance of the Scripture is a great misfortune, a great abyss. Not to know anything from the word of God is a disaster. This is what has given rise to heresies, to immorality; it has turned everything upside down."

Here we see that the reading of Holy Scripture provides us with a great weapon in the fight against the worldly temptations surrounding us – and we do not do enough of it. The Orthodox Church, far from being against the reading of Scripture, greatly encourages it. The Church is only against the misreading of Scripture, against reading one's own private opinions and passions, even sins into the sacred text. When we hear that the Protestants are all excited about something that they say is in the Scripture--the rapture, for example, or the millennium--we are not against their reading the Scripture but against their misinterpretation of the Scripture. To avoid this pitfall ourselves we must understand what this sacred text is and how we should approach it.

The Bible --the Holy Scripture, the Old and New Testaments---is not an ordinary book. It is one that contains not human but divinely revealed truths. It is the word of God. Therefore, we must approach it with reverence and contrition of heart, not with mere idle curiosity and academic coldness. Nowadays one cannot expect a person who has no sympathy for Christianity, no sympathy for the Scriptures to have a proper attitude of reverence. There is, however, such power in the words of Scripture--especially in the Gospels-that it can convert a person even without this proper attitude We have heard of cases in communist countries; the police go out in special squads to persecute believers and break up their meetings; they confiscate all their literature: Bibles, hymn books, patristic texts---many written out by hand. They're supposed to burn them, but sometimes either the person who is assigned to bum them or the person collecting them gets curious and begins reading the condemned materials. And there have been cases where this has changed the person's life. All of a sudden he meets Jesus Christ. And he's shocked, especially if he has been raised with the notion that this is a great evil; here he discovers that there is no evil here but rather something quite fantastic.

Many modern scholars approach the Scriptures with a cold, academic spirit; they do not wish to save their souls by reading Scripture: they only want to prove what great scholars they are, what new ideas they can come up with; they want to make a name for themselves. But we who are Orthodox Christians must have utmost reverence and contrition of heart; i.e., we must approach the word of God with a desire to change our hearts. We read the Scripture in order to gain salvation, not, as some Protestants believe, because we are already saved without the possibility of falling away, but rather as those desperately trying to keep the salvation which Christ has given us, fully aware of our spiritual poverty. For us, reading Scripture is literally a matter of life and death. As King David wrote in the Psalms: Because of Thy words my heart hath bee, afraid. I will rejoice in Thy sayings as one that hath found great spoil.

The Scripture contains truth, and nothing else. Therefore, we must study the Scripture believing in its truth, without doubt or criticism. If we have this latter attitude we shall receive no benefit from reading Scripture but only find ourselves with those "wise" men who think they know more than God's revelation. In fact, the wise of this world often miss the meaning of Scripture. Our Lord prayed: I thank Thee, O Father ..that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes (Luke 10:21). In our approach we must not be sophisticated, complicated scholars; we must be simple. And if we are simple the words will have meaning for us.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Fruits of the Jesus Prayer ( Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos Vlachos)



-I will mention to you some of the fruits of the Jesus prayer,since i can see you are very eager to learn.In the beginning the Jesus prayer is the bread which sustains the athlete,then it becomes oil which sweetens the heart and,in the end,it becomes wine which intoxicates man,that is,which creates ecstasy and union with God.To be more specific,The first gift which Christ gives to the man of prayer is the awareness of his sinfulness.He stops believing that he is " good" and considers himself"the desolating sacrilege..standing in the holy place"(Matt,24,15).Like the saw of a surgeon cutting through bone,the sharp word of the spirit penetrates to the depths of the soul.There is so much impurity within us!Our soul reeks. Sometimes people come in my cell and they give a bad odour..from their inner filth.Well then,whatever was unknown before to the athlete,is now revealed to him through the Jesus prayer.

As a result,he considers himself below all people and thinks Hell is his only eternal habitation and starts crying.He cries for his dead self.Is it possible for one to cry for the dead of his neighbour and not for the dead who is in his own house?In this way the athlete of the Jesus prayer,too,does not see the sins of others,but only his own death.His eyes become fountains of tears which flow from the affliction of his heart.He weeps like a condemned person,and at the same time he cries,"Have mercy on me",Have mercy on me","Have mercy on me".With these tears,as we said above,the purification of soul and nous begins.As water cleanses dirty things,as the falling rain clears the sky of clouds and the earth from filth,likewise tears cleanse and whiten the soul.The tears are water of the second baptism.Thus the Jesus prayer brings the sweetest fruit of purification.-Is man completely purified when divine grace visits him?-He is not purified completely,but is always seeking purity of heart for purification is a never ending effort.St.John Climacos reports this saying which he had heard from a monk,who had achieved dispassion."The perfect but still unfinished perfection of the perfect".The more one weeps the more one is purified;the more one sees the deeper layers of sin the more he feels the need to weep again.St.Symeon the New Theologian elucidates this point well:
"These by frequent prayer,by unutterable words by the flow of the their tears purifying their souls.As they see their soul purified,they are set on fire with love,the fire of desire,to see it perfectly pure.
But as they are powerless to find perfection of light the process is incomplete.The more I am purified I,the sinner,am illumined,the more He appears,the spirit who gives purity.Each day,it seems I begin again to be made pure,to see.In a fathomless abyss,in a measureless heaven,who can find a middle or an end?
As you under stand,my father,man is being continuously perfected and cleansed.The passive aspect of the soul is first cleansed and then the intelligent power of the soul.The faithful are initially delivered from the passions of the flesh;then-through harder prayer and more intensive struggle,from the passions of hatred ,anger and rancour.When man manages to be freed from anger and rancour,it is obvious that the passive aspect of his soul has almost been purified.Then the entire warfare is carried out in the intelligent aspect,and the athlete wars against pride,vainglory and against all vain thoughts.This warfare will follow him to the end of his life.But all this course of purification takes place with the help and energy of grace,so that the faithful becomes a vessel receptive of rich divine grace.Again St.Symeon writes:
For man cannot overcome his passions unless the light comes to our help.Even so,it does not happen all at once.Man by nature cannot receive all of a sudden,the spirit of God.But much must be achieved,all of which is in his power.Detachment of soul,despoiling of goods,separation from his own,giving up his will,renouncing the world,patience in temptations,prayer,sorrow,poverty,humility,dispassion.
-And how does one understand that his soul is beginning to be purified?-This is easy,the wise hermit answered.It becomes perceptible very soon.Hesychios the elder uses a nice image.As poisonous food which enters the stomach and causes disturbance and pain,comes out when we take medicine,and the stomach is relieved afterwards and feels the relief,the same happens with spiritual life.When man accepts evil thoughts and subsequently,experiences their bitterness and their heavyness,he "vomits easily and casts the evil thoughts out completely"through the Jesus prayer,attaining the sense therefore that purification is taking place.Moreover,the man of prayer becomes aware of purification,because the internal wounds that the passions cause cease bleeding.In the Gospel of the Evangelist Luke we read about the woman who had a flow of blood that:"she..came up behind him,and touched the fringe of His garment;and immedeately her flow of blood ceased"(Lk.8.44).
When one approaches Jesus Christ,he is immediately healed-"the flow of blood ceases":the blood of passions ceases to flow.I wish to say that images,circumstances,persons who used to scandalize us cease to now.In other words, when various persons or things disturb us,it is obvious that we are wounded by the attacks of the devil.It is within us that the scandal lies.Being purified through the help of the Jesus prayer,he sees all people and all things as creatures of God.He considers,especially human persons,as images of God Who is full of love.Whoever,therefore,is dressed with the grace of Christ also sees the others dressed with such grace,even if they are naked.Whereas he who is destitute of Divine grace,sees even those who are dressed as if they were naked!

An excerpt from the book "A Night in the desert of the Holy Mountain" by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos Vlachos

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

My dear Mother, Panagia ( St. Joseph the Hesychast )

All the saints wrote many praises to our Panagia. But I, the poor one, have found no words more elegant or sweet to describe her, than to cry out to her at every moment: 
'' My dear Mother! My dear,sweet Mother! 
When my soul departs may it come into thy hands, and through them may it be given to its Creator, thine Only-begotten Son.


St. Joseph the Hesychast

Friday, October 18, 2019

Basic Orthodox knowledge – the true interpretation of the signs of the times (Fr. Seraphim Rose)



The first thing we must have if we are going to have the true interpretation of the signs of the times is something we can call basic Orthodox knowledge. That is, knowledge of the Holy Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments (and not just according to the way it seems, but according to the way the Church has interpreted it); knowledge of the writings of Holy Fathers; knowledge of Church history; and awareness of the different kind of heresies and errors which have attacked the Church’s true understanding of dogma and especially of the last times. If we do not have a grounding in sources such as these, we will find ourselves confused and unprepared. That is precisely what our Lord tells us: to be ready, to be prepared. Unless we have this basic knowledge, we will not be prepared and we will misinterpret the signs of the times.

A few years ago a book was printed in English which has become a fantastic bestseller for a religious book. It has sold over ten million copies in America. It’s called The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, a Protestant Evangelical in Texas. In a rather superficial style he gives his interpretation of the signs of the times. He believes it’s the last times we are living in now. He believes that everywhere around us there are being fulfilled these signs which our Lord talked about. If you read this book, you find that sometimes he gets something more or less correct according to our Orthodox understanding, sometimes he is totally off, and sometimes he is partly wrong, partly right. It’s as though he’s just guessing, because he reads the Scripture according to his own understanding. He has no basic Orthodox Christian knowledge, no background in the true knowledge of the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. Therefore, if you read this book seriously, you will find that you become very confused. You don’t know what to believe any more. He talks, for example, about a millennium which is supposed to come before the end of the world. He talks about the rapture, when Christians are supposedly gathered up into the heavens before the end of the world, and then watch how the people suffer down below. He talks about the building of the Temple in Jerusalem as though this is a good thing, as thought this is preparing for Christ’s coming.

If you read such books as this (there are many other books like it; this one happens to be a bestseller because the author caught the imagination of people just at one particular time), and if you take them all as truth, you will find that instead of recognizing Christ—which is the whole reason for our understanding about the signs of the times—you will be accepting Antichrist.

Take, for example, the very question of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is true, according to Orthodox prophecies, that the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. If you look at people like Hal Lindsey, or even the Fundamentalist Carl McIntire, they are also talking about the building of the Temple, but they’re talking about it as though we are building it in order for Christ to come back and reign over the world for a thousand years. What they are talking about is the coming of Antichrist. The millennium, according to the Protestant interpretation, as being a special thousand-year reign at the end of the world, is actually the reign of Antichrist. In fact, there have already been people who have arisen and proclaimed their thousand-year kingdom which is going to last until the end of the world. The last one was Adolf Hitler. This is based upon the same kind of chiliastic idea: that is, interpreting the millennium in a worldly sense. The actual thousand years of the Apocalypse is the life in the Church which is now, that is, the life of Grace; and anyone who lives it sees that, compared to the people outside, it is indeed heaven on earth. But this is not the end. This is our preparation for the true kingdom of God which has no end.

There are many books of basic Orthodox knowledge now available. Those who are seriously concerned about studying the signs of the times should first be very well versed in some of these books, and they should be reading them, seriously studying them, and having them as daily food. The best books to read are not someone’s interpretation of Revelation (the Book of Apocalypse), because right now there’s not really any Orthodox interpretation of this in English.2

The best books are the basic spiritual textbooks. First of all there are basic texts of Orthodox dogmas, the various catechisms. One of the best is the eighth-century work of St. John Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith, which goes through the whole of the catechism. An even earlier one is St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, that is, lectures prepared for people about to be baptized, which goes through the whole Creed and tells what the Church believes. There are many similar books of catechism, both in ancient times and in more modern times. More recently we have the catechisms in Russian of Metropolitan Platon and Metropolitan Philaret, which are a little shorter and simpler.

Then there is a different kind of book: commentaries on Holy Scriptures. There are not too many of these in English,3 but we do have some of the commentaries of St. John Chrysostom. This area is a little bit weak in English, because there are many good books in Russian which are not in English yet, including more recent books of commentaries on the Scriptures, even on the Apocalypse. Archbishop Averky’s books are very good, but they’re just being put into English now. God willing, before too long, they will be out.4

Then, besides these two kinds of books—basic catechism and commentaries on Scripture—there are all the books on Orthodox spiritual life. These include the Lausiac History (which tells about how the monks lived in Egypt, and how they fought spiritually), the Dialogues of St. Gregory of Rome, the Lives of Saints, The Ladder of St. John, the Homilies of St. Macarius the Great, the books of St. John Cassian, the Philokalia, Unseen Warfare and St. John of Kronstadt’s My Life in Christ. These books deal with basic Orthodox spiritual life, spiritual struggle, how to discern the wiles of the demons, how not to fall into deception. All of them give a basic foundation by which to understand the signs of the times.

Then there are the works of more recent writers who are in the same patristic spirit as the ancient Holy Fathers. The main examples are the two great writers of 19th-century Russia, Bishop Theophan the Recluse and Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov,5 whose works are now coming out gradually in English. Bishop Ignatius’ book The Arena and various articles by Bishop Theophan are in English.6 These two writers are very important because they transmit the patristic teaching down to our times. They have already explained many questions which arise concerning how to understand the Holy Fathers. For example, the new Orthodox Word has a whole text of Bishop Ignatius on the toll-houses which the soul meets after death. Sometimes, in reading the Holy Fathers, one has questions on such subjects and doesn’t quite know how to understand what the ancient Fathers say, and these more recent Father explain these texts.

There are the histories of the Church, which tell of God’s revelation to men and how God acts with regard to men. It is very instructive to read the stories of the Old Testament, because exactly the same things repeat themselves in the New Testament. Then one should read, along with he New Testament, the histories of the New Testament Church. For example, there’s a pocketbook of Eusebius’ History of the Church, which traces the history of the Church down through the first three centuries, written from an Orthodox Christian point of view.7 It’s very important to see what early Church writers saw was important in the history of the Church: the martyrs, the apostles, and so forth.

So all these different kinds of writings help to prepare us with basic Christian knowledge, that is, catechisms, commentaries on Scripture, books on spiritual life, more recent patristic books in this same spirit, and histories of the Church. Before we do too much reading about what specifically the signs of the times mean, we should have a basic background in all of these categories of books. All of them prepare one to understand something about the signs of the times. Once one has begun to prepare oneself like this, it is not merely a matter of adding knowledge up in one’s head and being able to repeat by heart certain phrases, to have exactly the right interpretation of a Bible verse, or anything of the sort.


Fr. Seraphim Rose