Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Canonization of Saints ( St. John Maximovich )

Holiness is not simply righteousness, for which the righteous merit the enjoyment of blessedness in the Kingdom of God, but rather such a height of righteousness that men are filled with the Grace of God to such an extent, that it flows from them, upon those who associate with them. Great is their blessedness, which proceeds from personal experience of the Glory of God. Being filled also with love for men, which proceeds from love of God, they are responsive to men's needs and upon their supplication, they also appear as intercessors and defenders before God.

At the time of the high spiritual fervor in the first centuries of persecutions against Christians, such were the "martyrs also. The martyr's death became a door to the higher Mansions, and Christians at once began to invoke them as holy men pleasing to God. Miracles and signs confirmed this faith of the Christians and were a proof of their sanctity.

Subsequently, the great ascetics likewise, began to be revered. No one decreed the veneration as saints such as Anthony the Great, Macarius the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Nicholas the Wonder-worker, and many others like them, but East and West equally revered them. Their sanctity can be denied only by those who do not believe in sanctity.

The choir of saints pleasing to God grew unceasingly; in every place, where Christians were, its own new ascetics appeared, also. However, the general life of Christians began to decline; the spiritual burning began to grow faint. There no longer was a clear sense of what Divine righteousness was. So the general consciousness of the faithful could not always distinguish who was a righteous man and pleasing to God. In some places, there appeared dubious persons who by false ascetic exploits attracted a part of the flock. For this reason, the Church authority began to keep watch over the veneration of saints, showing concern to guard the flocks from superstition.
 The life of ascetics revered by the faithful began to be investigated, and the accounts of their miracles to be verified. Towards the time of the baptism of Russia, it had already been established that the acknowledgement of a new saint was to be performed by the Church authority. The decree of the Church authority, of course, was disseminated to the region within its jurisdiction; but other places, too, usually acknowledged a canonization performed elsewhere, even though they did not enter it into their own calendars. After all, the Church authority only testified of sanctity.
 Righteous men became saints not by the decree of the earthly Church authority, but by the mercy and grace of God. The Church showed approval by the praising in church and the invocation in prayer of a new saint.

Which authority should and could do this was not precisely determined; in any case it was an episcopal authority.

There have been canonizations performed by the higher Church authority of an entire Local Church, and the names of the newly canonized were then entered into the Church calendar of that entire Church. Others were canonized in one or another locality and their veneration gradually spread to other places. Ordinarily, the canonization was performed in the place where the righteous one lived or suffered. But it also happened in other ways. 
Thus, the youth George from the city of Kratov (Serbia), who suffered at the hands of the Turks in Sofia (Sredets) (Bulgaria) in 1515, was canonized within fourteen years in Novgorod. Notwithstanding the fact that his fellow-countrymen also revered him as a new martyr, and that a Church service to him was compiled by his spiritual father, they did not dare to show this openly, fearing the Turks. Therefore, in Novgorod, which had trading connections with these places, by order of the Archbishop a service was compiled and the memory of the martyr George the New began to be revered, and from there it was spread to all of Russia. Later when Serbia and Bulgaria were freed from Turkish slavery, they began to use the Service compiled in Russia, and the Service compiled originally in Sofia remains to this day on a library shelf.

In the last two centuries, when Russia lived in glory and prosperity, the canonization of new saints was usually performed quite solemnly by the decree of the Higher Authority. Sometimes (but not always) taking place throughout the whole of Russia, especially in the place where the wonderworking relics were obtained. However, this does not alter the general order in the Church. If the Russian people under the godless yoke of power today cannot openly praise and invoke a Saint of God, glorified by God, it is the duty of the part of the Russian Church that is free, to universally revere and invoke a Wonderworker like St. Nicholas, who is revered in the whole world, to pray to St. John the Righteous one [of Kronstadt] for the correction of our life and the cessation of calamities which (according to prophecy) have befallen our Fatherland.

May the Lord grant, that that longed-for day come, when from the Carpathians to the Pacific Ocean will thunder out: "We magnify thee, O righteous Father John, and we venerate thy holy memory, for thou dost pray for us to Christ our God!"

St. John Maximovich

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

How often our church life is just a matter of habit! ( Father Seraphim Rose )

Every Orthodox Christian is placed between two worlds: this fallen world where we try to work out our salvation, and the other world, heaven, the homeland towards which we are striving and which, if we are leading a true Christian life, gives us the inspiration to live from day to day in Christian virtue and love.

But the world is too much with us. We often, and in fact nowadays we usually forget the heavenly world. The pressure of worldliness is so strong today that we often lose track of what our life as a Christian is all about.

Even if we may be attending church services frequently and consider ourselves “active” church members, how often our churchliness is only something external, bound up with beautiful services and the whole richness of our Orthodox tradition of worship, but lacking in real inner conviction that Orthodoxy is the faith that can save our soul for eternity, lacking in real love for and commitment to Christ, the incarnate God and Founder of our faith.

How often our church life is just a matter of habit, something we go through outwardly but which does not change us inwardly, does not make us grow spiritually and lead us to eternal life in God.

Father Seraphim Rose

Sunday, January 31, 2021

What is an Orthodox Man?


Holy Prophet Job

Happy is the man who becomes wise – who comes to have understanding (Proverbs 3:13).

We live today in a society where husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, have been torn from their roots, ripped from time-honored and theologically-sanctioned values about what it is to be a man, a woman, a family. The old values and roles, so easily nurtured in a largely agrarian and patriarchal society, now seem almost impossible to live in our industrialized cities. The healthy psychological bonding that used to occur naturally between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, is now a rare experience.
As if this were not a difficult enough burden for the spiritually-minded to bear, we are also now inundated by strange and sometimes aberrant notions about sexuality and role models. We live in a culture of increasing “unisex,” perversion, and immorality – on the job, at home, and sometimes even in the church.
The “women’s liberation movement” was originally an understandable reaction to irresponsible, heavy-handed, arrogant and insensitive men; but instead of raising the conscience and morality of men to the traditional nurturing and moral level of women, it had the effect of bringing women down to the more animal level of men’s behavior, while at the same time shattering the “male myth” without giving in its place a proper sense of what it is to be a man – or, for our purposes, what it is to be an Orthodox Christian man.
An extraordinarily relevant model for the Orthodox man today is the Holy Prophet Job in the Old Testament. Indeed, here was a man “after God’s own heart.” His life gives evidence of certain manly characteristics by which the Orthodox man can, and should, measure himself today – providing a program of spiritual growth and struggle that is without equal.
We think of St. Job primarily in the context of his trial of faith and the afflictions of his life, for which reason the Orthodox call him “The Much-suffering.” We forget that he persevered to the end and found victory over his troubles. We seldom realize that in order to obtain this victory, he needed certain qualities of character and soul – the qualities of a true and godly man.

What are those qualities?
He was a man who did not forget God and God’s loving care for him, no matter how terrible the present affliction: God was always with me and the friendship of God protected my home (Job 29:3-4).
The Orthodox man strives never to forget God and His blessings whether in the past or in the present, and he gives this same example to his wife and children, especially in times of trial.
The Prophet loved his children and missed them sorely when he was in exile. He did not see them as an irritating intrusion into his own “lifestyle.” He rose early to pray and make sacrifice for them, in order to purify them in case they had sinned. The Orthodox man prays ardently for his children – both for wisdom in guiding them aright, and for God’s blessing and grace on them. This is also a model for a priest, who has many spiritual children.
St. Job was just and fair, both with his children and with those for whom he had responsibility outside his family. In the same way, an Orthodox man is a model of justice and even-handedness for his own children, tempering justice with mercy.
The Prophet Job received respect from old and young. Orthodox men show respect to their elders, both in the family and at work, but especially in the Church, and they earn the respect of their wives and children, doing nothing to kill this respect or to scandalize them.
The Saint was stable, like a tree whose roots always have water. An Orthodox man consciously strives to avoid the restlessness of our mobile society, recognizing the need for children to have a secure sense of place and stability in their lives.
St. Job was a seeker after God and wisdom: The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord. An Orthodox man also strives to serenely rest in God’s providence, keeping lively his commitment to the Orthodox Faith, and modeling this for his family according to his strength.
Because of all these spiritual characteristics, St. Job was able to endure terrible suffering and affliction, as a result of which the Lord blessed the last part of Job’s life even more than he had blessed the first. Here, then, is a real example for today’s men, who are often tempted to retreat into passive self-centeredness in the face of difficulty and temptation, who are too ready (and encouraged by society to do so) to jettison job, wife, and children at the slightest whim or difficulty. Here, then, is a Saint who can inspire in contemporary man a real manhood rather than a fake masculinity.

Always obey the Lord and you will be happy. If you are stubborn, you will be ruined (Proverbs 28:14).

Father Alexey Young

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Cross Preserves the Universe ( St. John Maximovitch )

In the Prophet Ezekiel (9:6), it is said that when the Angel of the Lord was sent to punish and destroy the sinning people, it was told him not to strike those on whom the "mark" had been made. In the original text this mark is called "tau," the Hebrew letter corresponding to the letter "T," which is how in ancient times the cross was made, which then was an instrument of punishment.

So, even then, it was foretold the power of the Cross, which preserves those who venerate it. Likewise, by many other events in the Old Testament the power of the Cross was indicated. Moses, who held his arms raised in the form of a cross during the battle, gave victory to the Israelites over the Amalekites. He also, dividing the Red Sea by a blow of his rod and by a transverse blow uniting the waters again, saved Israel from Pharaoh, who drowned in the water, while Israel crossed over on the dry bottom (Exodus, ch. 14, 17).

Through the laying on of his hands in the form of a cross on his grandsons, Jacob gave a blessing to his descendents, foretelling at the same time their future until the coming of the "expectation of the nations" (Genesis, ch. 48).

By the Cross, the Son of God, having become man and accomplished our salvation. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the Cross (Phil. 2:8). Having stretched out His hands upon the Cross, the Savior with them as it were embraced the world, and by His blood shed on it, like a king with red ink, He signed the forgiveness of the human race.

The Cross of the Lord was the instrument by which He saved the world after the fall into sin. Through the Cross, He descended with His soul into hell, to raise up from it the souls who were awaiting Him. By the Cross Christ opened the doors of paradise which had been closed after our first ancestors had been banished from it. The Cross was sanctified by the Body of Christ which was nailed to it when He gave Himself over to torments and death for the salvation of the world. Then it was filled with life-giving power. By the Cross on Golgotha the prince of this world was cast out (John 12:31) and an end was put to his authority. The weapon by which he was crushed became the sign of Christ's victory.

The demonic hosts tremble when they see the Cross, because the kingdom of hell was destroyed by the Cross. They do not dare to draw near to anyone who is guarded by the Cross.

The whole human race, by the death of Christ on the Cross, received deliverance from the authority of the devil, and everyone who makes use of this saving weapon is inaccessible to the demons.

When legions of demons appeared to St. Anthony the Great and other desert-dwellers, they guarded themselves with the sign of the Cross, and the demons vanished.

When there appeared to St. Symeon the Stylite, who was standing on his pillar, what seemed to be a chariot to carry him to heaven, the Saint, before mounting it, crossed himself and it disappeared. The enemy, who had hoped to cast down the ascetic from the height of his pillar, was put to shame.

One cannot enumerate all the various incidents of the manifestation of the power of the Cross. Invisibly and unceasingly, Divine grace that gushes from it saves the world.

The sign of the Cross is made at all the Mysteries and prayers of the Church. With the making of the sign of the Cross over the bread and wine, they become the Body and Blood of Christ. With the immersion of the Cross the waters are sanctified. The sign of the Cross looses us from sins. "When we are guarded by the Cross, we oppose the enemy, without fearing his nets and barking." Just as the flaming sword in the hands of the Cherubim barred the entrance into paradise of old, so the Cross now acts invisibly in the world, guarding it from perdition.

The Cross is the unconquerable weapon of pious kings in the battle with enemies. Through the apparition of the Cross in the sky, the dominion of Emperor Constantine was confirmed and an end was put to the persecution against the Church. The apparition of the Cross in the sky in Jerusalem in the days of Constantius the Arian proclaimed the victory of Orthodoxy. By the power of the Cross of the Lord, Christian kings will continue to reign until Antichrist, barring his path to power and restraining lawlessness (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on II Thess. 2:6-7).

The "sign of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:30), that is, the Cross, will appear in the sky in order to proclaim the end of the present world and the coming of the eternal Kingdom of the Son of God. Then all the tribes of the earth shall weep, because they loved the present age and its lusts, but all who have endured persecution for righteousness and called on the name of the Lord shall rejoice and be glad. The Cross then will save all who conquered temptations, from eternal perdition by the Cross, who crucified their flesh with its passions and lusts, and took up their cross and followed afar Christ.

However, those who hated the Cross of the Lord and did not engrave the Cross in their soul will perish forever. For "the Cross is the preserver of the whole universe, the Cross is the beauty of the Church, the Cross is the might of kings, the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful, the Cross is the glory of angels and the scourge of demons" (Octoechos: Exapostilarion, Monday Matins).


St. John Maximovitch

Monday, January 4, 2021

There is life after death ( Saint Paisios )

“As soon as I went to live at the skete,” recalls Saint Paisios,“an elderly gentleman whom everyone referred to as old Thanasis and who worked for Philotheou Monastery as a forester, found out about it and came to see me. He was a friend of mine, and he brought me some blessings, since I had just moved to the skete, and I did not have anything.I thanked him, and I told him to write down the names of his departed relatives, so that I could commemorate them. 
Influenced by a certain Jehovah’s Witness, he replied, ‘When someone dies, there is nothing else,after death everything is lost.’”“Soon after that, he himself died. When I found out, I went to Philotheou Monastery and saw his grave. Every day I prayed from my heart for God to give rest to his soul. About twenty days after Mr. Thanasis passed away, I found out that someone from Philotheou was looking for me. It was one of the stewards of the monastery, and he came to me all upset. ‘Father,’ he said to me, ‘old Thanasis, the one who just died, came to me and complained that I have forgotten him and have not done anything for him.And he told me that you are the only one who helps him with your prayers. 
The truth is, I have not commemorated him in my prayers. Now that I have become a steward of the monastery, I take care of the office, and I have a lot of work ... What can I do? I have also stopped doing my own prayer rule.’”This event strengthened the Elder, so that he henceforth prayed even more for the souls of all the departed.

From the book Saint Paisios of Mount Athos