Tuesday, November 19, 2019

We have an obligation to advise others ( St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite )

There are people who make excuses and utter the following cold and indifferent words: 
“Why should I be concerned with what other people do? ...
 Why should I advise and correct another person?
 I am not responsible for him!” Such people must realize that they are obliged by the natural law, the ethical law, the Gospel, and the invisible warfare (which their fellow brothers in Christ are experiencing) to be concerned for others.
 
Let us listen to the divine St. John Chrysostom who reproves such people with his golden and sweet words. He says that no one should speak in this manner because such statements are demonic and characteristic of the callousness of the devil; and Christians have no ties and nothing in common with the devil, whereas they have numerous things in common with their brothers in Christ.“Do not utter this chilling phrase, ‘What concern is it to me? I have nothing to do with him’ ... for this is a satanic saying. It is diabolical cruelty. It is only with the devil that we have nothing in common, whereas with all human beings we have much in common.”
 
Furthermore, he advises us to be concerned for the salvation of our brothers because when we look after the salvation of others we simultaneously attend to what is beneficial for us.
“Do not utter that phrase replete with gross insensitivity, ‘What concern is it to me? I have my own affairs to worry about.’ For it is precisely then that you care about your own affairs, when you seek the advantage of your neighbor. This is why St. Paul said, ‘Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’swell being’ (Cor.10:24).”
 
Elsewhere, he censures them who make excuses by pointing out that the statement many people make, “It’s none of my business,” was first voiced by Cain who murdered his own brother.
 He continues to say that such remarks give rise to all the evils, and he posses the following question: If the salvation of your fellow Christian is of no concern to you, to whom is it a concern? 
To them who do not believe in God?
To the idolaters who rejoice when they see Christians sinning?
 Or to the devil who struggles to destroy and throw Christians into sin?
 
“Do not say to me, ‘What do I care? 
Fear him who first uttered these words. The statement ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Gen. 4:9)expressesthe same meaning. This is from where all the evils sprout forth; for we consider the wounds of our body to be something foreign. 
 
What are you saying? 
You do not care about your brother? 
Who will care about him? 
The unbeliever, who gloats over him, upbraids him, and insults him? 
The devil, who impels him to sin and trips him up?”
St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite
https://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/en/index.php 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The healing of St. Iakovos Tsalikis by St. Charalambos


"Once," as St. Iakovos Tsalikis related: "When I was a small child, I suffered a severe cold, as I was struck bed-bound with great shortness of breath and terrible pain in the left side of my chest.

There was no doctor in the village, and our only refuge was God and His Saints. We had in our home a small silver icon of St. Charalambos--it was wonderworking--over 600 years old, and we had brought it from Asia Minor as a family heirloom.

My mother therefore, offered much prayer and prostrations, entreating the Saint. Then, I saw the hand of a Priest, from the wrist down, pass over my head, and descend to my chest where I was having pain, and make the sign of the cross over my and pat my head. Immediately, the pain passed along with the shortness of breath, and I became well. I told me mother:

"Mother, I saw the hand of a Priest cross me and pat me on the head, and now I'm fine. It all passed." I even told her with such detail, even about the hair on the wrist, as I saw it.

"My child," my mother said, "it was St. Charalambos, who came to heal you. You should remember this day forever (it was the feast of the Holy Apostle Thomas) when the miracle happened, because you were dead, and resurrected."

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