Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Homily on Thanksgiving ( St. Basil the Great )

You have heard the words of the Apostle, in which he addresses the Thessalonians, prescribing rules of conduct for every kind of person. His teaching, to be sure, was directed towards particular audiences; but the benefit to be derived therefrom is relevant to every generation of mankind. Rejoice evermore, he says; Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). Now, we shall explain a little later on, as far as we are able, what it means to rejoice, what benefit we receive from it, and how it is possible to achieve unceasing prayer and give thanks to God in all things.

However, it is necessary to anticipate the objections that we encounter from our adversaries, who criticize the Apostles injunctions as unattainable. For what is the virtue, they say, in passing ones life in gladness of soul, in joy and good cheer night and day? And how is it possible to achieve this, when we are beset by countless unexpected evils, which create unavoidable dejection in the soul, on account of which it is no more feasible for us to rejoice and be of good cheer than for one who is being roasted on a gridiron not to feel agony or for one who is being goaded not to suffer pain?

And perhaps there is someone among those who are standing among us here who is ailing with this sickness of the mind and makes excuses in sins (Psalm 140:4, Septuaginta), and who, through his own negligence in observing the commandments, attempts to transfer the blame to the law-giver for laying down things that are unattainable. How is it possible for me always to rejoice, he may ask, when I have no grounds for being joyous? For the factors that cause rejoicing are external and do not reside within us: the arrival of a friend, long-term contact with parents, finding money, honors bestowed on us by other people, restoration to health after a serious illness, and everything else that makes for a prosperous life: a house replete with goods of all kinds, an abundant table, close friends to share ones gladness, pleasant sounds and sights, the good health of our nearest and dearest, and whatever else gives them happiness in life. For it is not only the pains that befall us which cause us distress, but also those that afflict our friends and relatives. It is from all of these sources, therefore, that we must garner joy and cheerfulness of soul.

In addition to these things, when we have occasion to see the downfall of our enemies, wounds inflicted on those who plot against us, recompense for our benefactors, and, in general, if no unpleasant circumstance whatsoever that would disturb our life is either at hand or expected, only then is it possible for joy to exist in our souls. How is it, therefore, that a commandment has been given to us that cannot be accomplished by our own choice, but depends on other antecedent factors? How am I to pray without ceasing, when the needs of the body necessarily attract the attention of the soul to themselves, given that the mind cannot attend to two concerns at the same time?

And yet, I have been commanded to give thanks in everything. Am I to give thanks when I am strapped to a rack, tortured, stretched out on a wheel, and having my eyes gouged out? Am I to give thanks when I am beaten with humiliating blows by one who hates me? When I am stiff from the cold, perishing from hunger, tied to a tree, suddenly bereft of my children, or deprived even of my very wife? If I lose my wealth as a result of a sudden shipwreck? If I run into pirates on the sea, or brigands on the mainland? If I am wounded, slandered, wander around, or dwell in a dungeon?

Raising these objections, and more besides, our adversaries find fault with the lawgiver, thinking that, by slandering the precepts that we have been given as impossible to fulfill, they furnish themselves with a defense for their own sins. What, therefore, shall we say in response to them?

That, while the Apostle is looking elsewhere and attempting to elevate our souls from the earth to the heights and to transport us to a heavenly way of life, they, unable to attain to the loftiness of the lawgivers mind, and preoccupied with the earth and the flesh, crawl around in the passions of the body like worms in a swamp and demand that the Apostle issue precepts which are capable of being fulfilled. For his part, the Apostle summons not just anyone, but one who is as he was to rejoice always, no longer living in the flesh, but having Christ living in himself, since union with the highest good does not in any way allow sympathy for the demands of the flesh (cf. Galatians 2:20). And even if an incision is made in the flesh, the disintegration occasioned by its continued presence remains in the part of the body that suffers it, since the pain is unable to spread to the noetic part of the soul. For, if, in accordance with the Apostles precept, we have mortified our members which are upon the earth (Colossians 3:5) and we bear in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus (II Corinthians 4:10), necessarily the injury suffered by the mortified body will not reach the soul which has been freed from contact with the body. Dishonor, losses, and deaths of our nearest and dearest will not rise up to the mind, nor will they incline the sublimity of the mind to sympathy with things below. For, if those who fall into difficulties have the same attitude as the virtuous man, they will not cause annoyance to anyone, seeing that not even they themselves endure sorrowfully what befalls them; but if they live according to the flesh (Romans 8:13), not even in this way will they annoy anyone, but will be reckoned pitiable, not so much because of their circumstances, as because they do not choose to react properly.

In short, a soul which has once and for all been held fast by the desire for its Creator and is accustomed to delighting in the beauties of the heavenly realm will not alter its great joy and cheerfulness under the influence of carnal feelings, which are varying and unstable; but things which distress other people it will regard as increasing its own gladness. Such was the Apostle, who took pleasure in infirmities, in afflictions, in persecutions, and in necessities, counting his needs an occasion for glorying (II Corinthians 12:9-10); in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in persecutions and distresses (II Corinthians 12:10; 11:27), conditions in which others endure only with difficulty, bidding farewell to life: in these he rejoiced. Therefore, those who are ignorant of what the Apostle has in mind, and do not understand that he is calling us to the evangelical way of life, dare to accuse St. Paul of laying down things that are impossible for us. Well then, let them learn how many legitimate occasions for rejoicing are made available to us through Gods munificence. We were brought from non-being into being; we were made in the image of the Creator (Genesis 1:27); we have the mind and reason to perfect our nature, and through them we have knowledge of God. And perceiving the beauties of nature carefully, we thereby recognize, as if through letters, God's great providence and wisdom concerning all things. We are capable of discerning good and evil; we are taught by nature itself to choose what is beneficial and to avoid what is harmful. Having been estranged from God through sin, we have been called back to kinship with Him, being released from ignominious slavery by the blood of His Only-begotten Son. We have the hope of resurrection, the enjoyment of Angelic goods, the Kingdom of Heaven, and promised goods, which transcend the grasp of mind and reason.

How is it not proper to think that these things are sufficient reasons for unending joy and unceasing gladness? How is it proper to suppose that one who is a glutton, who delights in hearing flute-playing, and who lies on a soft bed and snores, is living a life worthy of joy? I would say that such people are worthy of lamentation on the part of those who are endowed with intelligence, whereas we should call blessed those who endure the present life in the hope of the age to come and who exchange present joys for eternal joys. Whether they stand amid flames, as did the three Youths in Babylon, who were united with God (Daniel 3:21), or are shut up with lions (Daniel 6:16-23), or swallowed by a whale (Jonah 2:1), we should call them blessed, and they should pass their lives in joy, not being distressed over present sufferings, but rejoicing in the hope of what is in store for us in the next life. For, in my opinion, a good athlete, once he has stripped down for the arena of piety, should valiantly endure the blows of his adversaries in hope of the glory that comes from crowns of victory. Indeed, in gymnastic contests, those who have become inured to pain in wrestling schools are not depressed at the prospect of suffering pain from blows, but advance to close quarters with their foes, disdaining momentary pains in their desire to be publicly proclaimed victors. Thus, even if some misfortune befalls a virtuous man, it will not cast a shadow over his joy. For tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed (Romans 5:3-5). Hence, in another place, Saint Paul enjoins us to be patient in tribulation and to rejoice in hope (Romans 12:12). It is hope, therefore, that makes joy to dwell within the soul of a virtuous man. But the same Apostle bids us weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15); and, writing to the Galatians, he wept over the enemies of the Cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18). And what need have I to speak of the tears of Jeremiah (Lamentations), of Ezekiel writing lamentations over the rulers of Israel, at Gods command (Ezekiel 2:9), or of many other Saints who mourned? Alas, my mother, that thou hast borne me (Jeremiah 15:10); Woe is me, for the godly man hath perished from the earth, and there is none among men that ordereth his way aright (Micah 7:2); Woe is me, for I am become as one gathering straw in the harvest (Micah 7:1).

So, in a word, scrutinize the sayings of the righteous, and when anywhere you find one of them emitting a rather doleful expression, you will be convinced that all who are of this world bemoan the misery of the life that is led therein. Woe is me, for my sojourning is prolonged (Psalm 119:5, Septuaginta). For the Apostle has a desire to depart, and to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). He is, therefore, vexed at the prolongation of this earthly sojourn as an impediment to his joy. David, too, bequeathed to us a lamentation in song for his friend Jonathan, in which he also mourned for his enemy: I am grieved for thee, my brother Jonathan (II Kings 1:26); and: O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul (II Kings 1:24). He mourns for Saul, as one who died in sin, but for Jonathan, as one who shared his life in every respect. Why should I speak of the other examples? And yet, the Lord wept over Lazarus (St. John 11:35) and He wept over Jerusalem (St. Luke 19:41), and He calls blessed those who mourn (St. Matthew 5:4) and likewise those who weep (St. Luke 6:21).

But how, you say, are these things to be reconciled with the words: Rejoice always? For weeping and joy do not derive from the same source. Weeping, for example, is naturally engendered as a result of some blow, in which the involuntary impact strikes and constricts the soul, while the spirit surrounding the heart is depressed; but joy is like a leap of the soul, as it were, which rejoices at things that are under its control. Hence, the physical symptoms are different. For, in the case of those who are distressed, their bodies are sallow, livid, and cold, whereas in the case of those who feel joyous, the condition of their bodies is efflorescent and reddish, while their souls all but leap outwards, propelled by delight.

To this we will say that the Saints lamented and wept on account of their love for God. And so, ever beholding Him Whom they loved and increasing the gladness that they themselves derived from Him, they provided for the needs of their fellow-servants, mourning for those who sinned and correcting them through their tears. Just as people who stand on the shore and feel sympathy for those who are drowning in the sea do not jettison their own security in their concern for those in peril, so also, those who are distressed at the sins of their neighbors do not efface their own gladness; on the contrary, they increase it, being vouchsafed the joy of the Lord by virtue of the tears that they shed for their brothers. This is why those who weep and those who mourn are blessed, for they themselves will be comforted and they themselves will laugh. By laughter, one means not the sound which is emitted through the cheeks when the blood boils, but the cheerfulness which is pure and unmixed with any sadness. Therefore, the Apostle allows us to weep with those who weep, because tears of this kind are like the seed and pledge of eternal joy. Ascend with me in mind, please, and behold the Angelic estate and consider whether any other condition befits them than that of rejoicing and gladness; for they are vouchsafed to stand before God and enjoy the ineffable beauty of the glory of Him Who created us. And so, it is to that life that the Apostle urges us on, bidding us always to rejoice.

Now, as for the fact that the Lord wept over Lazarus and the city, we have this to say: He ate and drank, not because He needed these things Himself, but so as to leave you with measures and limits by which to control the unavoidable emotions of the soul. Thus, He wept in order to correct the propensity to excessive emotion and dejection among those given to mourning and lamentation. For if there is anything that needs to be moderated by reason, it is weeping: that is, over what things, to what extent, when, and how it is proper to weep. For that the Lord's weeping was not emotional, but didactic, is clear from this verse: Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep (St. John 11:11). Who among us mourns for a sleeping friend, whom he expects to awake after a short while? Lazarus, come forth (St. John 11:43). And the dead man was brought back to life; he who was bound walked. This is a miracle within a miracle: that his feet were bound with grave-clothes and yet were not prevented from moving. That which strengthened him was greater than that which impeded him.

Why, therefore, did the Lord, Who was about to accomplish such things, judge the incident worthy of tears? Is it not clear that, disregarding our infirmity in every way, He contained the necessary emotions within certain measures and limits, avoiding a lack of sympathy, on the one hand, as something appropriate to wild beasts, and, on the other hand, refusing to give way to excessive grief and lamentation as something ignoble? Hence, in weeping over His friend, He both displayed that He Himself shared in our human nature, and freed us from either kind of extreme, allowing us neither to indulge our emotions nor to be unfeeling in the face of sorrows.

Therefore, just as the Lord accepted hunger, after digesting solid food, submitted to thirst, after the moisture in His body was consumed, and felt weary, when His muscles and nerves were strained from travel-ling—although it was not that His Divinity succumbed to weariness, but that His body accepted its natural attributes; so also, He accepted weeping, permitting a natural property of the flesh to supervene. This occurs when the hollow parts of the brain, filled with vapors arising from grief, discharge the burden of moisture through the opening of the eyes as through some kind of duct. Hence, one experiences a certain ringing in the ears, dizziness, and darkening of the eyes when he hears about unexpected sorrows, and ones head is set in a whirl by vapors which are emitted by compressed heat deep inside him. Then, in my opinion, just as a cloud dissolves into raindrops, so also the thickness of vapors dissolves into tears. Hence, those who grieve feel a certain pleasure when they lament, because the burden that weighs on them is secretly evacuated through weeping. Experience of events proves the truth of this account. For we know many people who, in desperate straits, forcibly restrain themselves from weeping; then, in some cases, they fall into incurable sufferings, either apoplexy or paralysis, while in other cases, they completely faint, their strength having been broken down, like a weak support, by the weight of sorrow. For, what is observable in the case of fire, that it is stifled by its own smoke if it does not escape, but rolls around it—this, it is said, occurs also in the case of the faculty that governs a living creature; that is, it wastes away and is extinguished if there is no way for it to ex-hale.

Therefore, let those who are given to mourning not adduce the Lords tears in support of their own weakness. For, just as the food which the Lord ate is not an occasion of pleasure for us, but, on the contrary, the highest criterion of restraint and sufficiency, so also, His weeping is not an ordinance prescribing lamentation, but is a most fitting measure and an exact standard whereby we may, with proper dignity and decorum, endure sorrows while remaining within the limits of our nature. Thus, neither women nor men are permitted to indulge in mourning and excessive weeping, but only to the extent that it is fitting to grieve over sorrows; they are permitted to shed a few tears, but this must be done calmly, without bellowing or wailing, without rending ones tunic or sprinkling oneself with dust, or committing any of the other improprieties that are typical of those who are ignorant of heavenly things. For one who has been purified by Divine doctrine must be fenced around by right reason, as by a strong wall, and must manfully and strenuously ward off the onslaughts of such emotions; he must not accept any crowd of emotions that flows in, as it were, to some low-lying place, with a submissive and compliant soul.

It is the mark of a craven soul, and one that is lacking in the vigor that comes from hope in God, that it utterly collapses and succumbs to adversities. For, just as worms are particularly inclined to breed on more tender pieces of wood, so also sorrows grow in men of lesser moral fiber. Was not Job adamantine in heart? Were his inward parts not made of stone? His ten children fell dead in one brief moment of time, overwhelmed by a calamity in the house of their gladness at a time of enjoyment, when the Devil brought down their dwelling upon them. He saw the table drenched with blood; he saw his children, who had been born at different times, but who had ended their lives together. He did not wail aloud; he did not pluck his hair out; he did not let out a degenerate cry; but he uttered that thanksgiving which is renowned and acclaimed by all: the Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; as it seemed good to the Lord, so hath it come to pass; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). Was this man not lacking in sympathy? How could this be so? For about himself, at any rate, he says: I wept over every man who was afflicted (Job 30:25). But was he not lying when he said this? But here, too, the truth bears witness to him that, in addition to his other virtues, he was also truthful: ...That man was blameless, righteous, godly, and truthful (Job 1:1).

Yet many of you keep on wailing in dirges that are designed to express dejection, and you deliberately waste away your soul with mournful melodies; and, just like the make-believe and paraphernalia with which they adorn theatres to typify tragedies, so, also, you suppose that the proper outfit for a mourner consists of black clothing, squalid hair, dirt, and dust, complete with a darkened house and lugubrious chanting, which preserves the wound of grief ever fresh in the soul. Let those who have no hope do these things. You, however, have been taught, concerning those who repose in Christ, that it [the body] is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (I Corinthians 15:42-44). Why, then, do you weep for one who has gone to change his vesture? Neither mourn for yourself, as one who has been deprived of a helper in this life; for it is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 117:8-9, Septuaginta). Nor lament for this helper, as one who has suffered a terrible calamity. For, a little later, the trumpet sounding from Heaven will awaken him, and you will see him standing before the judgment-seat of Christ. So, dismiss these dejected and ignorant cries: Alas, these unexpected woes! Who would have thought that this would happen? Could I have ever anticipated that I would cover this dearest friend of mine with earth? If we should hear someone else saying such things, it behooves us to blush, since we have been taught from both past memories and present experience that these natural occurrences are inevitable.

Therefore, neither untimely deaths nor other misfortunes that unexpectedly befall us will ever cause consternation in us who have been educated by the doctrine of piety. For example, let us say that I had a son who was a young man—the sole heir of my estate, the comfort of my old age, the adornment of his family, the flower of his peers, the support of his household, and at that time of life which is most charming—, this lad having been carried off by death, he becoming earth and dust who, a short while ago, uttered sweet sounds and was a most pleasing sight in the eyes of his father. What, then, am I to do? Shall I rend my clothing? Shall I consent to roll around on the ground, scream in vexation, and act in front of those present like a child crying out in pain and having convulsions? Rather, paying heed to the inevitability of events, that the law of death is inexorable and affects every age-group alike, dissolving all compound things in order, surely I should not be surprised at what has happened. Surely I should not be upset in my mind, as if I had been devastated by some unexpected blow, since I have been taught beforehand that, being mortal, I had a mortal son, that there is no constancy in human affairs, and that nothing wholly abides for those who possess it.

Why, even great cities, which were renowned for the elegance of their buildings and the abilities of their inhabitants, and conspicuous for their prosperity both in the countryside and in the marketplace, now display tokens of their erstwhile dignity only in ruins. A ship which has frequently been preserved from the sea, and which has made countless speedy voyages and conveyed innumerable amounts of merchandise for traders, vanishes with a single gust of wind. Armies which have many times defeated their foes in battle have, on suffering a reversal of fortune, become a pitiful sight and one pitiful to relate. Entire nations and islands, which have attained great power, and have raised many trophies both by land and by sea, and have gathered much wealth from booty, have either been consumed by the passage of time or been taken captive and exchanged their liberty for enslavement. Indeed, in short, whatever great and unbearable evil you care to mention, life already has prior examples of it.

Therefore, just as we determine weights by a turn of the scale and assay gold by rubbing it with a touchstone, so also, if we were to remember the limits revealed to us by the Lord, we would never exceed the bounds of prudence. Whenever, therefore, any involuntary adversity befalls you, by virtue of being mentally prepared, you will avoid confusion, and you will make light of present afflictions by your hope for the future. For, just as those whose eyes are weak divert their gaze from things that are excessively bright and give them rest by looking at flowers and grass, so, also, the soul must not constantly behold that which causes grief or be fixated on present sorrows, but must direct its gaze towards what is truly good. In this way will it be feasible for you always to rejoice, if your life always looks towards God and if hope of recompense alleviates life's colors.

Have you been dishonored? Then have regard for the glory which is laid up in Heaven through patient endurance. Have you suffered a loss? Then contemplate the heavenly wealth and treasure which you have laid up for yourself through your good deeds. Have you been expelled from your homeland? Then you have Jerusalem as your heavenly homeland. Have you lost a child? Then you have Angels, with whom you will dance around the Throne of God, rejoicing eternally. By thus opposing anticipated good things to present sorrows, you will keep your soul in the cheerfulness and tranquillity to which the Apostles precept summons us. Neither let the joys of human affairs create immoderate and excessive gladness in your soul, nor let sorrows diminish its exultation and sublimity by feelings of dejection and abasement. Unless you have previously trained yourself in this way regarding the eventualities of life, you will never have a calm and tranquil life. But you will easily achieve this if you have dwelling within you the commandment which advises you always to rejoice, dismissing the vexations of the flesh and gathering that which gladdens the soul, transcending the sensation of present realities and extending your mind to the hope of eternal realities, the mere thought of which is sufficient to fill the soul with rejoicing and to make Angelic exultation reside in our hearts; in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be the glory and the dominion, unto the ages. Amen.

St. Basil the Great


The Most Holy Theotokos - According to Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain

Your eminence Archbishop Kyrill,

Holy Fathers, Deacons, monastics, guardians of Our Myrrh streaming Virgin Nectary, brothers and sisters, Christ and His Mother are in our midst.

Our Most Holy Mother will always be with us because, although totally unworthy, we belong to the generations of Christians who call her blessed. Our presence here at Our Lady Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral, with St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco, continues to fulfill the prophetic words of her magnificent ode, after the Annunciation: “Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed!” And even though we belong among the most sinful generations of Christians, her miraculous and ever so fragrant presence among us validates and justifies the early melodist of our holy Church: “During Birth you preserved your Virginity and after your Dormition you did not abandon the world O Theotokos.”

What could be greater proof for this truth! For the past five years, she has blessed us with the paradisiacal myrrh of her Son. She anoints us with the heavenly fragrance of the Holy Trinity, the oil of gladness, according to the 45th Messianic psalm of King David. Yes, we can boast in the Lord, His Mother and our Mother Church, the pillar and foundation of the Truth! Only in Orthodoxy do we taste Paradise in this Life! We see, smell, taste, touch, and live the majesties of God with our body and soul! Emmanuel, God with us! At the same time, we are saddened by the orphanage of millions of non-Orthodox Christians around us, because they have never truly felt the warm embrace of such a majestic mother—the sweet kiss of our celestial mother. The myrrh, pouring from this icon that our impure lips come in contact with, is the sweet kiss of our Glykofilousa—the sweet kissing ever Virgin Mother.

The holy Virgin’s distant forefather David, the prophet and king, beautifully captures what we have been experiencing not only this weekend, but for the last five years with her miraculous myrrh steaming presence. Approximately 3060 years ago, he wrote about the majesties of the Messiah, His Bride the Church, and the Theotokos—the Virgin Mary—because our Virgin Mother is synonymous with the Church—and I quote:

“Therefore God, your God has anointed you with the elaion aggaliaseos, with the oil of gladness, more than your companions.”

What a stunning prophecy about the hidden mystery—hidden before all ages! Oil is material, and anointing can only take place in the physical world! A spirit cannot be anointed with oil! What God can be anointed? The God Who would be betrothed to His physical creation. The God Who would assume a physical body, in time. Therefore “God, your God has anointed you” … refers to the human nature of Christ.

The devil hid this verse from Arius and his contemporaries who fought the divinity of Christ. Remember, the Triune God addressed Jesus Christ as God approximately 3060 years ago! The next verse is equally astounding… “All your garments are scented with myrrh, aloes and cassia… All your garments are perfumed with Myrrh…” This is a phenomenal prophesy about the companions of Christ: the Virgin Mary, first and foremost, and all the Holy Virgins that she will lead to the palace of the king, according to the same psalm. We all have been sanctified and covered our spiritual nakedness with the garment called Christ! For as many of you have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ, according to Saint Paul. Adam and Eve were clothed with a God-woven garment, an immaterial garment, the garment of the Uncreated light… But after their tragic disobedience, they lost that fragrant garment, and they were dressed with the skins of dead animals. They lost the fragrance of Paradise, and they chose the stench of death and corruption…Our predecessors’ ill use of the gift of free will removed God from the center of their lives, so to speak… Yet, the love and the longing of the Hypostatic Wisdom was to live with men… One of the titles of Christ in the Old Testament is the Wisdom of God. “I the Wisdom (with capital W) was beside Him as a Master craftsman, and my delight was with the sons of men…” we read in the eighth chapter of Proverbs.

I am not giving out verses anymore… this is a good way to get some of you to read that whole Chapter.

Several weeks ago I was speaking at one of your parishes, The Holy Apostles in Beltsville Maryland and we had a most pleasant surprise … Metropolitan Ilarion stopped by to visit and stayed for the presentation. I protested and tried to convince him to teach, but I was unsuccessful. I was stunned by his simplicity and humility…With such leadership, it is no wonder God is blessing you with miraculous icons…I tried again to persuade him to speak after my talk, and he said very few words. Yet he was the real teacher that evening. He taught all of us by his simplicity and humility. May God grant him and all your hierarchs many years! One of his comments that evening was that we Orthodox are lazy in reading the Scriptures… So I thought from now on it would be a good idea to provide (only) the chapter, and those who love the word of God enough, will read through the chapter to locate the verse.

So, the delight of the Wisdom—Proverbs, Chapter Eight—was to wear garments and live with the sons of men. This was the kat’evdokian—the prior or primary will of God. God created the entire Universe through His Master Craftsman, Wisdom—His Word and beautified it to share His love with us.

The rebellion of Adam and Eve left the Wisdom homeless. Sin, death, and corruption insulated nature from God. He needed to borrow His initial physical garments from this physical world, but there were none compatible with the brilliant purity of God. According to St. Gregory of Thessaloniki, God cannot touch anything unclean, and the fall made the world unclean. The garments of man were full of blood, treachery, and evil.

According to the church Fathers and St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, the Incarnation of God was independent of the fall. The Wisdom would incarnate regardless of the fall. The ultimate purpose of man is to reach theosis, and this could not take place without the hypostatic (personal) union of the two natures of Christ. Thus, the prior or primary will of God was to incarnate and live with His creation. The delight of the Wisdom was to live with the sons of men.

His foreknowledge of the fall pre-eternally worked out a few minor adjustments. My elder and teacher, Athanasios Mitilinaios, calls this the concessionary or secondary will of God. This is extremely important especially for those converts who may struggle with the western doctrine of predestination. The foreknowledge of God does not contradict the concept of man’s free will. God predestines with His primary will but He economizes—He mends—the bad choices of man’s free will with His Secondary will. For example, the primary will of God was for Adam and Eve to stay in the garden without sin, then mankind would increase and multiply in an angelic manner.

In view of the fall, however, in view of that tragic ancestral sin, God’s foreknowledge pre-installed a sort of a safety net called gender, or marriage. So marriage between a man and a woman is that safety net that safeguards man from the inherited consequences of that early fall. Virginity and purity were the primary will of God, the state of His Kingdom. Marriage is certainly blessed by God, but it is His secondary will, and as such, it will not exist in the Kingdom of God where only His primary will shall prevail.

While preparing these lines, I glanced through the first chapters of Genesis and at the end of every creating day, God used the refrain: and God saw that it was good. He does this for all natural creation but not for mankind.

There we read: So God created man in His own image; male and female He created them. Here the refrain and God saw that it was good is missing.

At the end of the same Chapter, however, we read: Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. This very good, according to St. Nicodemos, who often quotes Saint Gregory Palamas and Saint Maximos the Confessor, includes the contribution of our Most Holy Virgin. Her amazing virtue and purity would work in a synergistic action with God to reverse Adam’s fall. Her words Let it be done to me according to your will would repair Adam’s ill will. God had His eyes on her and through her the renewal of man when He said everything was indeed very good.

The sin perpetuated by Adam and his descendants made the Wisdom homeless, incapable of acquiring His garments, His human nature. He needed a House according to the ninth chapter of Proverbs: Wisdom has built her house. She has hewn out Her seven pillar. …The house and real Temple of the Wisdom was Mary of Nazareth. Wisdom needed a sinless virgin to cloth Himself, so He could give birth to His Bride, the Church, to establish Her with the seven pillars—the sacraments of the Church—and to cry out: Come, eat of my Bread and drink of the wine I have mixed with water!... That water is the Zeon that our altar boys carry to the liturgist priest.

None of these mysteries could take place without the Let it be done according to your will of our Fragrant Virgin.

Please forgive me if I exhausted some of you with this lengthy and perhaps too theological introduction, but this knowledge will help us somewhat understand our saints’ preoccupation with, admiration, and adoration of the person of the Most Holy Theotokos. … The Great Gregory, the second theologian of our Church, sharply warns Kleidonios and all his followers past and contemporary: “Anyone who does not call Mary Theotokos— Birthgiver of God—is separated from divinity—he is godless…” very strong language from this otherwise very sensitive and most meek theologian.

Rightfully then and most befittingly, Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain concludes that only one person in human history surpassed the spiritual height of even the angelic world. According to this holy Father, all creatures communed “only of God’s energy, while our Lady received in herself, hypostatically, the second person of the Holy Trinity, ending up mainly and truly Theotokos … setting to prove that according to the volition and foreknowledge of God, the Theotokos was the most purposeful and utmost end of the entire creation.”

Naturally, the teaching of St. Nicodemos echoes the holy patristic teaching on the most Holy Theotokos, the teaching of the Church. The Saint’s most fervent eros of soul for the most Holy Theotokos is parallel to the deep love and the deep piety all holy Fathers felt towards the venerable person of the Mother of the Lord. Moreover, this is axiomatic in the area of Orthodox hagiologion: One cannot be a saint without first being a lover of the Mother of God. The theology of the Theotokos of Saint Nicodemos is the result of the profound piety, love, and personal experience of the Saint, who lived and was in constant occupation with her name. According to the verbal tradition of his contemporary monks, the Most Holy Theotokos would often appear to him and tell him: “I bless you, my child Nicodemos, and strengthen you to write.”

Of course, all the saints (precisely because they were saints) with their strong spiritual vision discerned that the Most Holy Theotokos drew the love of God, and she became very beloved and desired of the only desired One because of her universal holiness. However, even the Saints confess their complete inability to approach, even partially, the bottomless ocean of the mystery of her ever virginity. Basil of Seleucia writes relatedly, “How can I dare to investigate the virginal ocean and depth of the great mystery, unless you O Theotokos teach me, the inexperienced swimmer that I am, to cast off the old man corrupted from the deception of desire?”

Saint Nicodemos’ great love for the person of the most Holy Theotokos drove him to be insatiably occupied with her name, with the blessedness, and with all the majesties which the Mighty One did for her (Luke 1:49).

The saint wrote in his Theotokarion, which includes 2450 hymns to the Virgin, full of contrition and read in our monasteries daily, “[from all the creatures] she only from birth became by disposition completely unmoved towards evil. She had forever put to death the passionate inclinations of the three parts of soul [noetic, appetitive, and irascible] for she gave birth to the Creator of all and (to) a man crucified in the flesh.” In the interpretation of the Ninth Ode, Saint Nicodemos continues to develop his theology of the superior worth of the Theotokos compared to the rest of the created world of people and angels, “The Virgin Mary, with her ultra supernatural purity in all her life and especially during the period of the twelve years in the Holy of Holies, was deemed worthy to become Mother of the Son and Word of God Himself.”

And the Saint continues, “Who else was more theoretical* and capable to transverse into the mysteries of heaven more so than the Theotokos; no one, from the ranks of Angels or men more than her, understood the majesties of God.”

Yet in our recent theology, especially in the academic area where the Protestant influence has been intense, we may hear the expression “the first after the One” distinguishing the intellectual and theological profundity of the “mouth of Christ” of the Apostle Paul. The Apostle of the Gentiles certainly was a vessel of grace, a chosen vessel, a tireless servant of the Word.

But the holy living Tradition which saves the Church from this sort of intellectual theologians through the centuries, singles out one theologian par excellence who is “higher than the heavens and purer than the rays of the sun” according to St. Nicodemos, who summarizes the universal consciousness of the Fathers of the Church by attempting to appraise the unrepeatable and forever unique person of the Theotokos. As St. Nicodemos expounded in his confession of faith, in Orthodox theology “the first after the One” is our Virgin Mother, and the Orthodox views of the Kollivades (Saint Nicodemos, Saint Makarios of Corinth, and Athanasios Parios) stressing the need for continuous holy Communion and concerning the performing of memorials on the appointed day of Saturday and not Sunday created storms in the souls of the 18th century “zealot and uneducated monks of the Holy Mountain” resulting in him being slandered with rage for twenty-two years.

The sacred community of the Holy Mountain, naturally, justified and acquitted the Saint from this unsacred war, whose cause was a daring hypothesis in the footnotes of his newly published book, Unseen Warfare, which said, “With every right the Holy Triune God, enjoyed and greatly rejoiced before the ages foreknowing according to His divine knowledge, the Ever Virgin Mary. Because it is the opinion of certain theologians that if we were to assume that all the nine ranks of angels would be torn down from the heavens and would become demons, if all of the people from the ages would become evil and all go to hell … With all of this, all these evils compared to the Theotokos’ fullness of holiness would not be able to sadden God, because the Lady Theotokos alone would be able to please Him in all and for all. …she alone loved Him above all, because she alone obeyed His will, above all, and because she alone was capable and receptive of all those natural, optional, and supernatural gifts—which God distributed to all creation …”

All these gifts of the Most Holy Theotokos are listed in the content of his interpretation of the Ninth Ode where the insatiable longing of the Saint is poured out, “Oh most sweet in person and in name Mariam, what passion is this that I feel in myself? I cannot get enough of the praises of your majesties! For the more I praise them all, the more I desire them, my longing is forever kindled, and my desire becomes insatiable …”

In the passage “for He looked upon the humility of His handmaiden,” Saint Nicodemos underlines the depth of our Virgin’s humility and footnotes, “The Theotokos did not only have the depth of humility rooted in her heart, but as from a spring springing forth, it flooded all the external members of her all pure body …” In her whole demeanor, in her movements, in her words, and in all her inner character and appearance, her humility shone like the sun … Generally speaking, the presence of the Lady Theotokos radiated so much divine grace and respect, that, whoever first gazed upon her, received in his soul such reverence and compunction … even from that initial glance one knew—merely from her external character—that she truly is the Mother of God …

St. Dionysius the Areopagite, like all the saints, had great love for Christ, his Lord. When he was informed that Christ’s all pure Mother was still alive, he travelled from Athens to meet her. When he first gazed upon her divine countenance and her amazing and royal beauty, not to mention all the angels who were encircling her as a queen, he was dumbfounded… finally upon hearing the godly words of her all pure mouth, he was amazed and awestruck, confessing that her physical character and appearance alone proclaimed her to be the Mother of God.”

The Lady fully possessed the God-woven garment of humility. Although she was chosen to be the true Mother of God and queen of all creatures visible and invisible, she addressed herself as the slave of the Lord at the annunciation of Archangel Gabriel with the most natural ease. The more a soul is purified and perfected, the more she feels her weakness and unworthiness. Such was the depth of the Ever Virgin’s humility that she considered herself unworthy to be the servant of the Virgin of Isaiah, who would give birth to the Messiah according to our host, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco (Isaiah, 7:14). Also some teachers consider “that the Virgin, out of her great and unparalleled humility, did not reveal the annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to her betrothed Joseph, so that she might not seem boasting and proud, but she left God to inform him from above.”

Some of the personal majesties of the Theotokos are her relative sinlessness and her personal struggle. According to Saint Gregory of Thessaloniki, as a little child, the Theotokos in the Holy of Holies invented the “noetic action” and was the inventress of noetic prayer and noetic hesychasm, “for through the return of the nous to the heart and everlasting prayer, she was elevated above each form and shape and thus constructed a new path to heaven—noetic silence—through which she ascended above all creatures and envisioned the glory of God more perfectly than Moses, saw divine grace which cannot be captured by the senses, but is a most graceful spectacle of angels, monks, and of pure souls.”

St. Nicodemos in his book Garden of Graces continues with the “majesties that the mighty One has done for her”:

1. God foreknew her and fore chose her before all creation to serve in the mystery hidden before all ages.

She is the distillation of all seventy-seven generations of the righteous, before and after the law, from Adam all the way to Righteous Joachim according to Saint Basil the Great.

2. She is the acrostic of every prophet and the beginning of all the prophecies beginning in Genesis.

3. She is the mother of Grace before the time of grace.

4. He has made her wider than the heavens for having contained the Uncontainable God in her womb.

5. The majesty of all majesties was the supernatural conception of God the Word, Who did not grow in her womb according to the common laws of developmental biology. Saint Basil teaches in his Christmas homily that “the Infant formed itself instantly and not by small divisions [of cells and blastomeres]…” The saint is suggesting that in the absence of gametes and ova, there was a different kind of development, not so different from that of the Old Adam. The Master crafting Wisdom fashioned the Old Adam out of clay. Once again, 2000 years ago the same Master-crafting Wisdom fashioned His garment, His human nature from the all pure blood of the Virgin, and the King of all was seen for the first time by the Archangel Gabriel during the Annunciation according to the Theotokion of the first tone, “While Gabriel was saying rejoice to you oh Virgin, at the sound of the voice the Master of all was incarnating. … The Virgin carried the tiny Infant which continued to grow naturally for nine months without any birth pains and without any feeling of weight or exhaustion.

6. Finally, she gave birth to the One through Whom all was made without any change and corruption. She preserved and maintained her virginity during this supernatural birth and for the rest of her life, since she was totally devoted to the primary will of God, which preordained virginity. In the absence of this crystal clear patristic Orthodox theology, our non-orthodox Christian neighbors struggle with the brothers of Jesus for centuries now and very recently have slipped to the sad point of ascribing carnal thoughts and even a marriage to the Son of God, Whom they obviously no longer accept as One with the Trinity. This is nothing other than the spirit of the Antichrist according to Saint John the Divine. The Orthodox position is that the hypostatic union of the two natures made Jesus totally immune to any worldly desires and temptations. Jesus was the only true man who never deviated from the perfect will of God as the Father proclaimed during Epiphany and Holy Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased.”

According to Saint Nicodemos, the Lady Theotokos continued her personal struggle after her Son’s Resurrection and Ascension, “The Lady Theotokos strove honorably to also struggle after the Ascension of her Son, with fasting, prayers, prostrations, and with every kind of ascetic struggle …”

In the passage of the ode “and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior” the Saint summarizes the Church’s teaching on the Theotokos’ relative sinlessness. He Who would save the world from its sins also saved the Theotokos from the ancestral sin, because although the Theotokos was higher than every voluntary sin, forgivable and mortal … she was, however, subject to the ancestral Sin until the Annunciation. Then she was cleansed of this through the coming of the Holy Spirit.” Saint Nicodemos places her ever-virginity, Resurrection, Translation, and Ascension in the Kingdom of the Heavens, in the supernatural majesties of the Theotokos.

Saint Nicodemos in his book, Garden of Graces, includes Saint Augustine’s testimony on the Theotokos’ inconceivable worth, “If the great Creator God, Who brought everything into being from non being, was able to make more perfect creatures, of course, He was able by being Almighty; three things, however, God Himself could not do more perfectly: the humanity of Christ, the birth-Giving worthiness of the ever Virgin Mary, and the everlasting glory of the Blessed ones.”

In the light of the above, we cannot agree with the opinion of some theologians in the Orthodox sphere who claim that the Virgin’s mediation or intercession, as they hasten to call it, does not differ essentially from the intercession of other saints. It is known that a few decades ago, the Tradition of the Church of Christ which prays “Most Holy Theotokos save us” was doubted. Only God, they say, saves. The All Holy Virgin Mary can only intercede like every saint. Certainly, the Church prays “by the intercessions of the Theotokos, Savior save us” but also chants “and I have you as a mediatrix towards the philanthropic God,” and since our Lady is “More Honorable than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim,”—“the Saint greater than saints,”—“God after God,” all this implies that her intercession—her mediation—is incomparably higher than that of the saints and angels.

It seems the danger of rationalism and humanism continues to lurk in the Orthodox world today. This danger was much greater in the age of Saint Nicodemos because the Orthodox lands were impoverished by the enslavement to the Ottoman Turks. The “saved” missionaries of Protestantism “were running rampant in the forsaken vineyard of Balkan Orthodoxy attempting to save the Orthodox.” Perhaps this is why Saint Nicodemos puts forth an excellent argumentation for the superior mediation—intercession—of the Virgin Mother to her Son and God. The Saint begins his apology from the inspired canon of Pentecost “…look, he argues,… the melodist did not say that the Virgin gave or granted, or another such word, but that she lent flesh to the Creator of all, she gave a loan to the Word of the Father… This implies that the Theotokos, through such a loan, made the Son of God a debtor to herself.” The Saint further elaborates that this was a loan of a different type and irrelevant to the “external” loans of money and objects which are usually returned with interest in the commercial world. The loan to the “All-crafting Wisdom of God” was inner and everlasting, and with no prospect of repayment. The hypostatic union of Christ is irrevocable since God the Word will be endlessly united with the human nature (a loan from the All Holy Virgin Mary) because this presence of human nature makes him the ontological Mediator between Creator and creature, God and man. Without the presence of human nature, the “impossibility of the Old Testament Moses to see God” would be prevailing until today. As a result, those various heretics who set the boundary for the work of Christ’s salvation at Golgotha and those who argue that the body of Christ dissipated during the Ascension are delirious! Far be it! Saint Nicodemos would say, who further theologizes: “What can we conclude from this? Since the Son of God is permanently indebted to His Mother, for this reason first He needed to glorify her with all the Godbefitting glories and honors unknown to another creature; secondly, since the loan He received from her is endless, He must now endlessly fulfill the petitions and requests of His Mother…”

And the Theotokofilos Nicodemos continues, “Did you ever see such glory, my beloved? Did you see the majesties of the Virgin? Hasten to her with piety and faith and your prayer requests in all matters of salvation will be answered.”

Your Eminence, the love and compassion of the Queen of heavens knows no boundaries according to this wonderful story from St. Cosmas the Aetolian.

According to St. Cosmas, a certain Christian named John surrendered to the evil path of thievery. He became the captain of a band of an hundred thieves, but he also had great reverence for the Mother of God, which he probably inherited from his pious home. He never failed to pray the salutations to our all holy Mother, morning and night.

Soon enough, the mercy of God, through the intercession of the Panagia, the all holy Virgin enlightened a holy ascetic to visit this band of robbers and preach to them the word of salvation. He convinced the captain, John, to summon all his followers, and the clairvoyant ascetic saw that one was missing. “Who is missing?” he asked. Indeed, the cook was missing. The ascetic requested his presence, and this cook upon his arrival refused to look at the man of God in the face. The holy ascetic ordered this strange cook: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to tell us your name and where you come from…” He replied, “I am the master of lies…but now that you have bound me with the Name of Christ I am forced to tell the truth… I am a demon and my master sent me here to serve Captain John, eagerly waiting for that first day that he would skip his prayers to the Mother of God, so I can take his soul straight to hell. I have been here for fourteen years and he has never omitted his ‘Rejoice Bride Unwedded’!”

The ascetic distanced the demon to the other side of the world, and then he evangelized the thieves who showed exemplary repentance. Some became monks, and some were married and lived very pious lives.

Your Eminence, my brothers and sisters in Christ, this story beautifully exemplifies the love of our Lord and His mother for every sinner. There is nothing more precious to the Lord on this earth than a few drops of tears from a contrite heart. Even one tear of true repentance outweighs a ton of good works done in the absence of repentance.


Your Eminence, the par excellence theological title, which renders the All Holy Virgin Mary’s position in Orthodox theology, is Theotokos. The term Theotokos goes directly to the heart of the Christological dogma and, due to this, it was natural for it to be contested by a number of heretics, who distorted different aspects of the Christological doctrine and the hypostatic union of God the Word. In the Church’s conscience, the Theotokos is classified as the “bulwark of faith” and as an unshakable term, it comprises a formidable fortress against all Christological heresies. In the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, the name Theotokos is unbreakably associated with the soteriological consequence of the name Theanthropos, and the Theotokos, as a term and as a person was, and remains throughout the centuries the anchor of salvation “of those who kiss her venerable icon.” Alongside the title of Theotokos, the Fathers and teachers of the Church validated the title ever Virgin Mary in the Fifth Ecumenical Counsel in the Ninth Canon, formulating the correct faith about Christ, “incarnated of the holy glorious Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary” as the Liturgy of the Sacred Chrysostom preserves till today.

The multitude of prophecies, depictions, types, and symbols of the Most Holy Theotokos in the Old Testament proclaim the unrepeatable person of the All Holy Virgin Mary, truly making her the “ladder, bridge, and gate” of mankind’s salvation. In his work “Eortodromion” Saint Nicodemos conducts comprehensive commentaries interpreting the hymnographers and melodists throughout the centuries who “borrowed” from the prophetic word for the interweaving of their hymns for the Mother of God. Extending the theology of the Fathers, Saint Nicodemos declares that the “center, end and purpose of the whole law, all the sayings and enigmas of the prophets is the Theotokos herself, and before her, God the Word Who incarnated from her.” Like other Theotokos-loving Saints, Nicodemos used a large part of his writings to express his insatiable longing for the “incomprehensible miracle” of the Mother of God.

Interpreting the Ninth Ode, St. Nicodemos theologizes on the superior worth of the Most Holy Theotokos vis-à-vis the other creatures. The Theotokos exceeds every creature in purity, brilliance, simplicity, inexpressible longing, and perfect obedience to the will of God. So the gifts of the Theotokos make her “full of grace” before the Annunciation and Mother of grace before the time of grace, Pentecost. With the “behold the handmaid of the Lord” the all holy Virgin Mary was cleansed of the Adamian stain and “became spotless and undefiled” to serve the mystery of “rebirth” lending her all pure blood to the new Adam.

The indwelling of Christ in the virginal womb of the Theotokos graced her and deified her to an incomparable degree in relation to any other creature and, according to Fr. Athanasios Mitilinaios, He made her the ontological mediatrix between the human race and the new Adam, her Son, although this may sound excessive to some.

The Most Holy Theotokos certainly saves because according to the davidic psalm, she is the Queen who is standing at the right of the King, her Son, Who sits “at the right of the Father” in the kingdom of the heavens.

Most Holy Theotokos protect us, shield us, and save us from the fiery darts of the evil one through the prayers of our holy Hierarchs. Amen.

The Most Holy Theotokos - According to Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain - Presented in San Francisco, October 6, 2012 by CZ Written (in Greek) by C. Zalalas

Translated by Fr. Nicholas Palis

Edited by Eliades/Zalalas/Reznic

The meaning of objects held by Saints in Icons

Orthodox Iconography can be an extremely concise way of communicating the Faith. Therefore, what the Saints hold in their hands in portrait icons help in identifying them and in telling us about their lives.

Cross: It indicates the Saint is a Holy Martyr. The reason martyrs are shown holding a cross is two-fold: firstly, martyr comes for the Greek for witness, and so these witnesses hold the preeminent symbol of Christianity: the Cross. Secondly, the Cross symbolizes the most perfect sacrifice of life for others, Christ’s own crucifixion. Therefore, any Saints who were murdered for confessing the Faith are shown with crosses, regardless of how they died.

Scroll: It indicates holy Wisdom, and so is often shown in the hands of the Old Testament prophets, but is also commonly seen in the hands of the Apostles. Both were given wisdom from God – the prophets through visions, the Apostles through meeting and knowing Jesus Christ. Later Saints may also be shown holding scrolls if they were also known for prophecy, percipience, and imparting divine knowledge to others.

Gospel Book: Sainted Bishops in Icons hold their main tool: the Gospel Book, from which they proclaim the Good News to the faithful during the Liturgy. Many of the Church Fathers were also Bishops, and some of their “writings” which we read today were not writings at all, but sermons preached after the reading of the Gospel, later copied down by the congregation for other churches to benefit from. Their inspired teachings were grounded in the Gospel, and so they hold these books in Icons as the instruments through which God granted them sainthood. And they hold them with great reverence indeed, indicated by the way some Icons show the Bishops covering their bare hand with their vestments or stole.

Crosier: Another role of the Bishop is that of a pastor, or shepherd, of Christ’s flock. This is symbolized by the Crosier, which in Orthodoxy doesn’t look the same as the “shepherd’s crook” held by bishops in the West. It is of a simpler design, usually in the shape of the Greek letter Tau, which symbolizes life, resurrection, or the Cross.

Weapons: Often there are weapons in icons, such as lances, shields and swords. In the first few centuries of the Church, two types of martyr gained particular devotion among Christians: virgin-martyrs and soldier-martyrs.These martyr-soldiers (and they usually hold crosses too, in remembrance of their sacrifice) have through their confession of faith become “soldiers for Christ”.

Church Building: Some Saints are depicted holding a Church Building in their hands, just like Ss Peter and Paul. This reflects the hymnography of the Church, where the two Apostles are praised as “pillars of the Church.” Not only were they pillars of the Church, but church-builders too, establishing Christian communities (churches) around the Mediterranean and Holy Lands. Later, other Saints are remembered for their “church-building” and so are depicted holding small churches or monasteries, often in profile, shown offering the church to Christ. It is quite common for Sainted kings and queens to be shown holding churches in this way, as they are honoured for their role as protector and benefactor of the Church within their lands.


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