Friday, December 29, 2017

Widsom from the Saints: Dealing with Anger, Animosity, Bitterness

Because of human weakness and propensity to misunderstanding, even a passing unkind word or a small thoughtless act can lead to serious consequences in personal relationships. Therefore much vigilance is required to sustain good will between people, and where trust is compromised, much care is needed to make things right.

Overcoming the Vice of AngerResentment

True happiness comes not from the abundance of possessions but from the quality of human relationships. Healthy relationships are marked by respect for others, humility, honesty, truthfulness, willingness to speak calmly and clear up misunderstandings, readiness to settle disputes fairly, and having the ability to reconcile and move on through good will and the gift of forgiveness. Wherever such traits are present in a marriage, a family, a community, or society in general, there also are to be found expressions of harmony, contentment, peace and true joy.

The enemies of healthy human relationships are ignorance, insensitivity, selfishness, evil desires, arrogance and blind pride. Such dispositions degrade human life and cause untold suffering and pain. They produce all sorts of misunderstandings, conflicts, animosities and bitterness between people. Because of human weakness and propensity to misunderstanding, even a passing unkind word or a small thoughtless act can lead to serious consequences in personal relationships. Therefore much vigilance is required to sustain good will between people, and where trust is compromised, much care is needed to make things right.

In a discourse on “Rancor,” Dorotheos of Gaza (sixth century) provides helpful teaching on how to deal with issues of conflict and their consequences. St. Dorotheos’ first line of advice has to do with knowledge. Clear knowledge gives a person better leverage in dealing with conflict. The saint draws a distinction between stages in the process of conflict: provocation, disturbance of mind, anger, rage and animosity or rancor. He illustrates his teaching with the help of the following example.

When someone lights a fire, he must start with a spark, let us say, by striking a match. The spark is a brother’s or sister’s provocative word or act. If you can deal with it sensibly, the spark goes out. But if you pick up on it and allow it to grab your attention, you give it life. It is like adding “a small bit of wood to the flame, or some bit of fuel, and you produce some smoke, that is disturbance of mind.” The more you think about it, the more your feelings turn into anger and anger turns into inward rage. It is like piling logs on the fire which blazes potentially beyond control. You torment yourself and are ready to fly at the offending person, and also others at any time, because of the inner turmoil. Unless resolved, time turns these feelings of anger into lingering animosity or rancor. The Greek word is mnesikakia, literally remembrance of evils or wrongs done. This state is defined by deep seated ill will, spiteful animosity and bitterness toward another human being.

But how is a person to deal with provocations sensibly? St. Dorotheos counsels to keep his teaching in view and to know the difference between annoyance, temper, losing one’s temper, and lapsing into rancor. With this knowledge be prepared ahead of time. Make it a matter of spiritual strategy to cut off the process of conflict at the start. Stand back, take a deep breath, think before you speak or act, and have alternative ways of responding to situations when sparks are ready to fly. Do not allow annoyance to turn into anger and anger into rancor. “When a passion arises, when it is young and feeble, cut it off, lest it stiffen and cause you a great deal of trouble. It is one thing to pluck out a small weed and quite another thing to uproot a great tree.”

Each of us can think of positive ways of responding to provocations. Sometimes it is best to keep silence and take up the matter at a more opportune time. Or a person can speak softly and ask questions of clarification: “What makes you feel that way? Can you please explain what you mean?” Or a person can humbly excuse themselves, saying “I am very sorry you feel that way. I did not mean to offend you. Let’s calm down and talk about it.” We can let the moment pass and at another time address an offender with patient words: “John or Mary, what you said the other day really hurt me. Can we take some time and talk about it. I value our relationship. Let’s try to clear up the misunderstanding.” There are ways to find the right words and speak with the right tone voice to keep the fire from flaring up with the risk of consuming those involved.

St. Dorotheos pays special attention to the human tendency and desire to get even and render evil for evil. He recalls Psalm 7:5 where we pray to God, “If I have paid back evil for evil, let me fall down defenseless before my enemies.” To commit evil for evil is to work against our own self. The saint explains: “The ‘falling’ means no longer to have the power to get up. The ‘defenseless’ means not to have anything good left in us by which we may at length get up again.” We are in danger of losing “our capacity for acting virtuously, or power of right action” by wanting to get even.

There are different ways of rendering evil for evil, not only by words and actions but also by attitudes, movements and looks, all of which must be discerned and avoided. A cold shoulder speaks volumes of resentment in the heart. A disdainful glance can serve as an arrow tipped with malice. Furthermore, although a person may not harbor a complaint or resentment against a brother, but then that same person is amused and is glad when someone else reviles that brother. Another person may not be annoyed by a brother, but then the same person is not gracious enough to be glad when something good happens to that brother or when that brother is praised by others. All these ways are, according to St. Dorotheos, subtle forms of rendering evil for evils and expressions of hidden rancor. They must be carefully discerned, combated and confessed to God. Christ’s charge was to love our enemies and pray for them. St. Paul taught: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

However, knowledge alone and defense strategies are not enough in themselves to deal effectively with provocations and wrongs committed. The intervening grace of God is absolutely crucial in limiting conflict and bringing about reconciliation and healing. At the first spark of conflict, prayer is the most positive and effective response as both background and inspiration to all other useful approaches. Prayer is an inner secure place of peace and reflection, where a human being can find the resources to deal most thoroughly with conflicts and personal hurts.

In the Orthodox tradition the “Jesus Payer” (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”) is given as a “battle ax” against all trials and temptations. It can be adapted to a short invocation as circumstance require, such as “Lord, have mercy!” or “Lord, give me strength, or give me patience, or give me light to deal with this problem.” When sparks light up, invoking the Jesus Prayer helps the soul to take refuge in its own spiritual home, defusing anger, and holding back words or actions that would prove regrettable.

St. Dorotheos suggests a silent and humble prayer of the heart which lifts up the dignity of the offender himself. “O God, help my brother and me, through his prayers!” With these words a person intercedes for his brother or sister, a sure sign of sympathy and love, and he is humbling himself by asking help from God through the offender’s prayers. St. Dorotheos asks: “Where there is sympathy and love and humility, how can wrath and other passions develop?” He quotes a saying from Evagrius the Ascetic: “The man who prays for his enemies is a man without rancor.” Praying for the wellness and salvation of our adversaries provides the surest path to being healed from resentments and to preparing the ground for healing and peace. St. Dorotheos ends his treatise with this prayerful counsel: “May God give us to remember and keep what we have heard [learned], lest it bring us a heavy sentence on the day of judgment.” Pray for us. O saint of God!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Thoughts of Angels Compared With the Thoughts of Men ( Elder Thaddeus of Serbia )

"The angelic hosts are not enslaved by their thoughts, or by the things of this world. They gaze upon created things, but their thoughts do not become enslaved by them; for the center of their thoughts is in servitude only to the power of God, through which they love all creation. As for us, when we see an object that attracts us, we immediately become attached to it. This is terrible and it is also deadly. If this lasts for a length of time, then this object becomes our idol. An object takes the place in our heart that belongs to God - no matter whether it is an inanimate object, a living thing, or a person."

  Elder Thaddeus of Serbia

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Christmas Tradition on the Island of Tinos

Tinian people preserve their local manners and customs as sacred. Besides, many of those stem from ancient religious traditions. These customs survive mostly in the villages, although the Main Town also has its own traditions. In addition, the locals often combine their deep religious faith with their love for dancing and singing, regularly organizing local festivities and fairs.

A custom that proves the deep religious faith of Tinians is the lighting of Vigil Lights. It is an unwritten law, binding the locals to light all the country chapels this way every Saturday afternoon and on the eve of the celebration of a saint’s memory. Every chapel has a permanent or temporary owner, responsible for keeping the custom. Non-fulfillment of this obligation is considered a moral offence not tolerated by the locals.

This custom sometimes takes the form of a solemn religious promise. Thus, many Tinians often as a token of gratitude, supplication or thanks to a Saint, vow to go to the chapel dedicated to the Saint’s name. The pilgrims arrive at the chapel early in the morning. If the oil lamps are already lit, they add some oil to keep them burning and they leave the oil bottle they brought with them next to the candelabrum so it can be used later.

In every case, the ritual includes candle lighting and incense burning. These three ritual elements are the only material sacrifice that has survived since the early Christian years. Its nature is symbolic. Its value is not measured by the materials offered, but by the pilgrim’s devoutness. In general, oil lamp lighting represents the light in their souls. The flame symbolizes the light of the Holy Spirit and the resplendence of all the Saints who are deep in the locals’ hearts.

An old Christian custom, of monastic origin, is held during the Christmas season in Tripotamos. Every year, one family, whose leader receives the title of ‘Kavos’, takes on the responsibility of taking care of the village church, which is dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary. Among their responsibilities is to keep the oil lamp (vigil light) hanging over the Icon of the Nativity lit all year round. In addition, they keep the church clean, they pay the costs for the Christmas Divine Liturgy, the provision of candles, while they are also responsible for the making of a huge candle for the New Year’s Day Service.

On Christmas day, at noon, the Kavos invites the priest and the men – the head of families of the village – for lunch. Each one of the guests has to bring his own fork, spoon, bread and wine, all wrapped in a napkin. The Kavos has to make provisions for a lavish meal, with soup, veal stew, and braised meat with tomato sauce, stuffed vine leaves and several other local specialties. Wine is served in goblets, special mugs of hemispherical shape made of brass that are used only on this occasion.

After the meal, the priest and some of the table-companions carry the Icon of the Nativity from the church to their host’s house chanting Christmas hymns. The Icon is placed on the table, the priest hands out the holy bread, while everyone lights candles, similar to those used in the morning service. This is the moment when the priest appoints the next ‘Kavos’. After eating the traditional sweets, the Icon is taken back to church while the crowd chants Christmas hymns.

On the next day (26th of December) all the men of the village gather again in the house of the former Kavos, to finish up the leftovers from the previous day. Typically, the responsibilities of the former Kavos end with the Christmas meal. However, the oil lamp has to remain lit till the last day of the year. After Divine Liturgy on the 31st of December, there is a procession of the Icon around the houses of the village according to the custom of ‘podariko’ (= first visitor at a house on New Year’s Day is considered to bring good luck).

Today the list for the title of Kavos runs till 2025, which means that this custom is very popular with the locals. In earlier days though, the Kavos would be a last-minute choice, since most of the families were not well-off

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Saint Ahmed the Calligrapher

The holy New Martyr Ahmed was born in the seventeenth century to a Muslim family in Constantinople. By profession he was a copyist in the Great Archives. In accordance with Ottoman law, since he did not have a wife, he had a slave instead, a Russian woman. Another captive from Russia lived together with her, an old woman, also a slave. Both these women were very pious.

On feast days the old woman would go to church. Taking the blessed bread or antidoron, she would give it to the young woman to eat. The old woman would also bring her holy water to drink. Whenever this occurred and Ahmed was close to her, he would smell a beautiful and indescribable fragrance coming out of her mouth. He would ask her what she was eating to make her mouth smell so fragrant. Not realizing what was happening, the slave would say that she was not eating anything. However, he persisted in asking. Eventually she told him that she was eating the bread which had been blessed by the priests, which the old woman brought her whenever she returned from church.

On hearing this, Ahmed was filled with longing to see the Orthodox church and how Orthodox received this blessed bread. Therefore he summoned a priest and told him to prepare a secret place for him, so that he could go when the Patriarch was serving the Liturgy. When the appointed day arrived, dressed as an Orthodox, he went to the Patriarchate and followed the Divine Liturgy. While he was in church, he saw the Patriarch shining with light and lifted off the floor, as he came out of the altar and through the holy doors to bless the people. As he blessed, rays of light came from his finger tips, but though the rays fell on the heads of all the Orthodox, they did not fall on Ahmed’s head. This happened two or three times and each time Ahmed saw the same thing. Thus, Ahmed came to the faith. Without hesitation he sent for the priest, who gave him rebirth through baptism. Ahmed remained a secret Orthodox for some time, concealing his baptismal name, which is why it has not come down to us.

However, one day Ahmed and certain noblemen were eating together. Afterwards they sat talking and smoking, as is the Muslim custom. In the course of the conversation they began to discuss what the greatest thing in the world. Each gave his opinion. The first guest said that the greatest thing in the world was for a man to have wisdom. The second maintained that woman was the greatest thing in the world. And yet a third said that the greatest thing in the world, and by far the most delightful, was good food – for was this not the food of the righteous in paradise?

Then it was Ahmed’s turn. They all turned to him, asking him for his opinion on this matter. Filled with holy zeal, Ahmed cried out that the greatest thing of all was the Faith of the Orthodox. And confessing himself to be a Christian, he boldly censured the falseness and deception of the Muslims. At first, on hearing this the Muslims were aghast. Then, filled with unspeakable rage, they fell on the holy martyr and dragged him to a judge, so that he could be sentenced to death. He was beheaded, receiving the crown of martyrdom on the orders of the ruler on 3 May 1682. According to St Nicodemus the Hagiorite, his memory is celebrated on December 24th.

Holy Martyr Ahmed, pray to God for us!

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Prayer of the Optina Elders

O Lord, help me to confront everything I encounter today with tranquility of soul. Help me to completely surrender myself to Your holy will. Enlighten me at each and every hour of the day, and strengthen me in all that I do.
Teach me to accept all the news I receive today calmly and with the unshakable conviction that nothing takes place unless You allow it.
Guide my thoughts and my feelings in everything I do and say. During unforeseen circumstances, do not allow me to forget that all things are permitted by You.
Teach me to conduct myself sincerely and prudently with each member of my family and with all other people, so that I do not upset or annoy anyone.
O Lord, grant me the strength to endure the difficulties and all the various events this day will bring. Direct my desires, and teach me to pray, to have faith, to be patient, to forgive, and to love. Amen.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

St. John of Kronstadt and the Education of Children

St. John of Kronstadt brings homeless children to the shelter.

A child’s soul is divine beauty
St. John of Kronstadt considered love for children to be the foundation of a teacher’s work—a foundation that is very often denied by modern-day so-called technicians of secular educational sciences and activities. He said to the students of the gymnasium where he taught, “You are my children, for I gave birth to you and continue to give birth in you to the good tidings of Jesus Christ. My spiritual blood—my instructions—flow in your veins. You are my children, because I have you always in my heart and I pray for you. You are my children, because you are my spiritual offspring. You are my children, because truly, as a priest I am a father, and you call me “batiushka” (“little father”, an affectionate term for a priest).

In Fr. John lived a kind of unearthly, angelic love for children, which inspired him and motivated the entire educational process. It was a special gift of God’s grace, which burned in him so strongly that in later years, when he was no longer teaching, he often healed sick children with the power of love and prayer, continually blessing and instructing them in the faith. How often did he weep over sick children, especially if they were spiritually sick! Once he stroked the head of an emotionally ill boy, and another time he kissed a seriously ill girl in the hospital, kneeling before her bed. “My dear, are you in pain? My little sufferer!” Fr. John lamented.”

Father John’s strictness
Nevertheless, Fr. John could be abrupt. One day a sixteen-year-old boy who was extremely lazy and morally spoiled, expressed his disbelief before the entire class in the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Fr. John called him godless and a miscreant, but he did answer his question. Later he summoned him for a separate conversation, after which the boy felt renewed and strengthened in spirit.
Some recall how a noblewoman complained to Fr. John about the degradation of religious and moral education of her children. “Their teachers,” she said, “taught them everything they need to pass the exams and be clever.” “You should say that they pounded them and not taught them,” Fr. John corrected her. “When being pounded with spiritual knowledge, they have the same feeling as when they are learning arithmetic and so on. But how about you? Do you take care of their souls? Have you directed them so that besides human approval they would strive for God’s approval?” “I suggest it to them according to my strength,” the lady answered him. “After all, one can’t find the door to one’s own child’s heart.” “You didn’t find the door to the heart, so you’ll get beasts instead of humans,” Fr. John replied. “You have forgotten that the Lord has shown mankind an example in the bird species. A bird first gives birth to an egg, and until this egg has been kept for the proper time in maternal warmth, it remains an inanimate object. It is the same with people. The born child is that egg—with the beginnings of earthly life, but inanimate with respect to his blossoming in Christ. The child who has not been warmed by his parents and family to the root of his soul, to the root of all his feelings, will remain dead in spirit for God and good works. And it is precisely from these children not warmed by love and spiritual care that those generations come into the world, from which the prince of this world will recruit his armies against God and His holy Church.”

The loftiness of trust and responsibility in the education of God’s children
Fr. John warned that God and parents have entrusted their children to the teacher, and this requires responsibility and a careful relationship to them. He often noted that everything beautiful, individual, and unique has already been placed in the child’s heart as in a seed. God also provides everything needed for their growth and development; but for our modest, but extraordinarily difficult and painstaking work—education—we must have love, and care for the children. But as great is the responsibility, so great also is the reward for conscientious work entrusted by God; for children are His inheritance. In them is not only our future, but also our present, and especially the eternal future. “Be strongly vigilant,” Fr. John reminds teachers, “that you never disdain in your heart any of these little ones (cf. Matt. 18:10) whom you might dislike for some reason. You are disdaining God’s angel, which was assigned to watch over him. You are disdaining God’s child; you are disdaining the Lord Himself, the Father of all children, first of all.” Thus, whoever violates the least of these commandments out of negligence, considering it insignificant, and teaches others to do the same, will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven (according to St. John Chrysostom’s exegesis, “the violator of the law will be the least, that is, the last, cast out and unworthy of the Kingdom of Heaven”), and whoever keeps and teaches [the commandments] will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matt. 5:19).

St. John’s commandment to teachers
What does Fr. John command the instructors of children for the discernment of and caution against sin? What does he command the children themselves so that they would know of the danger and consequences of sin? He said, “Warn the children about sin and its consequences!” And he instructed, “Do not leave children without attention with regard to uprooting from their hearts the chaff of sin, wicked, evil, and blasphemous thoughts, sinful passions, inclinations, and habits, from which our lives are also made. The enemy of salvation and the sinful flesh does not spare the children either, and the seeds of all the sins are also in them. Present a picture to the children of the whole danger and sorrowful consequences of their sins, so that they out of ignorance and unreasonableness would not be formed by their elders on the path of life in sinful passions and habits, which multiply and grow with age.”
Christian upbringing is the first line of defense in the struggle for the salvation of a child’s soul. Fr. John, who himself had difficulty learning as a child, was according to the recollections of his contemporaries a remarkable pedagogue. He never resorted to methods of teaching that were often found in schools: neither to excess strictness, nor to the moral humiliation of slow learners. Well known was his warm, soulful relationship to the students as well as to the work of teaching itself. He had no “slow learners”. Everyone at his lessons without exception greedily soaked in his every word. They couldn’t wait for his lessons to start. His lessons were more of a pleasure for the students than a heavy burden and obligation. It was living conversation, engaging speech, and interesting, attention-grabbing stories.
There were often cases when Fr. John would defend a lazy student who had been “condemned” to expulsion, and he would take the child’s correction upon himself. A few years would pass, and the child who seemed to be a hopeless case would be raised up as a worthy individual.
Christians, first of all, should take care that the children grow to be unwavering in the Christian faith, true children of God, living members of the Church, so that Christ would be formed in their hearts (cf. Gal. 4:19), so that more than anything in earthly life they would love and prefer God, then their neighbor as themselves (Mt. 22:37-40). So that the goal of their lives, in the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, would be the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit” unto the salvation of their souls.

Archpriest Alexander Zelenenko

Translation from

By Nun Cornelia (Rees)

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Ten Drachmas: The Lord in the Guise of a Woman ( St. Nikolai Velimirovich )

Can you believe that Christ the Saviour portrayed Himself in the guise of a woman in two of His parables? 
One is that of the woman who took three measures of flour and made dough. But first let us speak of the other one where the Lord tells us about the woman who had ten drachmas and lost one. These are the most mysterious of all the Saviour's parables. As the parable of the lost drachma is short, we quote it in full.

Or what woman, having ten drachmas, if she lose one, does not light a candle and sweep the house and look diligently till she finds it? And after she has found it, she calls in her friends and neighbors and says, Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma that I lost (Luke 15:8-9).

At first glance this parable seems so simple, or even naive, that it does not impress the reader of the Gospel. In fact, however, the mystery of the universe is revealed in this simple parable.

If we take it literally, it evokes bewilderment. The woman lost only one drachma. Even ten drachmas do not represent a great sum; in fact, a woman who has only ten drachmas must be very poor indeed. Let us assume, first of all, that the finding of the lost drachma meant a great gain for her. Yet it still presents a paradox, for how is it that if she is such a poor woman she lights lamps, sweeps the house and calls in all her friends and neighbors to share her joy. And all because of one drachma! Such a waste of time-lighting a candle and setting the house in order first of all! Furthermore, if she invites her neighbors she is obliged, according to Eastern custom, to offer them something to eat and drink, no small expense for a poor woman. To fail to do so would be to ignore an unalterable custom.

Another important point to note is that she did not invite only one woman to whom she might have offered sweets, which would not have involved great expense. But she invited many friends and neighbors, and even if she entertained them modestly the expense would far exceed the value of the drachma she had found. Why then should she seek the drachma so diligently and rejoice at finding it, only to lose it again in another way? If we try to understand this parable in its literal sense, it does not fit into the frame of everyday life, but leaves the impression of something exaggerated and incomprehensible. So let us try to discover its mystical or hidden meaning. Who is the woman? And why is it a woman and not a man, when a man is more likely to lose money in the ordinary routine of life? Whose house is it that she sweeps and fills with light? Who are her friends and neighbors? If we look for the spiritual instead of the literal meaning of the parable we shall find the answers to those questions. The Lord said, Seek and ye shall find.

The woman represents Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God. The ten drachmas are His. It is He Who has lost one of them and sets out to look for it. The drachmas are not coins of gold or silver. According to Orthodox theologians, the number ten represents fulness. The nine unlost drachmas are the nine orders of angels. The number of angels is beyond the grasp of mortals, for it exceeds our power of calculation. The lost drachma represents mankind in its entirety. Therefore Christ the Saviour came down from heaven to earth, to His house, and lit a candle, the light of the knowledge of Himself. He cleaned out the house-that is, He purified the world of diabolic impurity-and found the lost drachma, erring and lost humanity. Then He called his friends and neighbors (after His glorious Resurrection and Ascension), that is to say, all the countless hosts of the cherubim and seraphim, angels and archangels, and revealed to them His great joy. Rejoice with Me. I have found the lost drachma! That means: I have found men to fill the void in the Kingdom of Heaven, caused by the fall of the proud angels who apostasized from God. At the end of time the number of these found and saved souls will have grown to billions, or, in the language of Scripture, will be as countless as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.

Our Lord described Himself as a woman because women are more careful than men in looking after property, in keeping the house in order and in receiving guests. If this short parable, which consists of only two sentences, is explained in this way, whose heart will not tremble? for it contains the whole tragedy of the world, visible and invisible. It explains why the Son of God came to earth. It sheds a bright ray of light on the history of mankind and the tragedy of each individual's existence. It confronts us with an urgent decision, because our life is swiftly passing-a decision as to whether we want to be the lost drachma found by Christ or not. Christ is looking for us. Are we going to hide from him, or let ourselves be found by Him before death hides us from Him, from the world and from life?

It is a vital question and it lies within our will to accept or reject Him. After death it will cease to be an open question, and then no one will expect an answer from us.

Three Measures of Flour

And again Jesus said, To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour till the whole was leavened (Luke 13:20-21).

This is another of Christ's mysterious parables that many find hard to understand. The actual theme taken from everyday life is simple and clear. From the earliest times housewives have been bakers; they take flour, put it in bowls, prepare leaven, knead the dough and bake it. It has been the daily task of the housewife in East and West for thousands of years. But it occurred to no one to take this simple work as a figure or symbol of the Kingdom of God. Only the Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom nothing was too simple or unimportant, took this familiar chore and used it to explain something stupendous and extraordinary. He could picture to Himself His own mother at work.

I will put the following questions to the reader of the Gospel. Why did Christ take woman as His example, instead of man, when men have been bakers throughout the centuries? And why the leaven, when unleavened bread was also commonly used? And why did the woman take three measures, and not one or two or four? Finally, what connection or similarity is there between the reign of God and the kitchen work of a housewife?

If these questions cannot be answered, how can we understand the parable? Yet to answer them without a spiritual key would only lead to further difficulties. All the parables deal with the superficial, but their real meaning lies deep down. They appeal to the eye and seem obvious enough, but they concern the spirit and the spiritual.

This parable has a twofold spiritual interpretation. The first has to do with the three principal races of mankind, the second with the three main faculties or powers of the human soul. In brief, what is outstanding and unusual in this parable is the historical and personal process of man's salvation.

After the Great Flood, there stemmed from the sons of Noah-Shem, Ham and Japheth-three races of mankind, the Semites, Chemites and Japhetites. These are the three measures of flour into which Christ puts His heavenly leaven-the Holy Spirit. That means He came as Messiah and Saviour to all the races and nations of mankind without exception. Just as with leaven a woman can transform natural flour into bread, so Christ, through the Holy Spirit, transforms natural men into the children of God, into immortal inhabitants of the Heavenly Kingdom. That is why, according to Orthodox teaching, holy men are called earthly angels or heavenly men, because, being "leavened" by the Holy Spirit, they are no longer common flour or unleavened biscuits that lie on the earth, but they are leavened bread that has risen. According to the Bible, unleavened bread was the bread of slaves while leavened bread was for free men, God's children. So for that reason the Orthodox Church uses leavened bread at Holy Communion. The process of leavening began on that first Trinity Sunday or Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven onto the apostles. From that day forth this process has continued down to the present day, and it will continue till the end of time when all will be leavened. This, then, is the historical interpretation of the enigmatic parable about the woman baker. The second interpretation is psychological and personal, and concerns the three main faculties or powers of the human soul: intellect, heart and will, or, in other words, the power to think, the power to feel and the power to act. These are the three unseen measures of the soul of the inner man. These three powers either remain totally unleavened, like the bread of slaves, or they are leavened with the leaven of malice and hypocrisy. Therefore, Christ told His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy, because that is the worldly and human leaven, which weakens all the powers of the soul and leaves it crippled and sick. But Christ the Saviour brought to earth a new leaven to raise the powers of the soul. Those who receive this new heavenly leaven through Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity are called the sons and daughters of God, the heirs of the eternal Kingdom. They will not die, for even when they leave the body, they will be alive and will live for ever. This heavenly leaven fills them with the light of reason, the warmth of divine love and the glory of good works. All three powers of the soul grow together in harmony, and ascend to heaven, to perfection. As the Lord said, Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Woman has been taken as paragon and not man, and Christ has compared Himself to a woman baker, because woman as wife and mother prepares bread for the family in a loving manner, whereas the man baker bakes bread to sell for gain. Everything that Christ has done for mankind was done out of pure love, and therefore He compares Himself to a woman baker. This is the second interpretation, but both interpretations of this parable are correct. The historical and the psychological meaning derived from this simple parable is like a branching oak that grows out of an acorn, for it is truly majestic in its historical breadth and profound in its psychological depth.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich

(Reprinted from Orthodox Life, 1951, Nos. 5 and 6)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The 4 key necessities for Spiritual warfare

Saint Hesychius give this advice on our struggle to overcome the passions:

One who is engaged in the spiritual struggle must have at every moment the following four things: humility, extreme attentiveness, refutation (of the thoughts) and prayer.

Humility, in so far as its adversaries in combat are the demons of pride, so that he will have at hand Christ's help in his heart, for ' the Lord resists the proud.' (James 4:6; 1Peter 5:5)

Attentiveness, so that one does not allow the heart to have any thought, no matter how good it seems.

Denial, so that as soon as one has detected a thought that has come, he may repulse it immediately with anger.

Prayer, so that after refuting a thought, one may immediately cry out to Christ with 'groanings which cannot be uttered' (Romans 8:26) Then the ascetic will see the enemy bound or chased by the honorable name of Jesus, like dust by the wind, or like smoke that vanishes with it's dreams.Saint Hesychius adds the following on the importance of prayer,

One who does not have prayer that is free from the thoughts is without a weapon for battle. I understand prayer to be that which is carried unceasingly within the depths of the soul, so that the enemy who is secretly fighting may be vanquished and scorched by this invocation to Christ. For you must look with the sharply focused eye of the mind so that you will recognize what has entered into it, and after doing so, immediately cut off the head of the snake through refutation, and at the same time call on Christ with groaning. Through experience you will come to know God's invisible help; then you will see clearly the true condition of the heart.

Saint Theophan advises in his commentary on the teaching of Saint Hesychius,

A person whose decision to belong to the Lord is sincere cannot by-pass the path described. He may preform great labors and get around things in various ways, but until he comes upon this path, it is to no purpose. I am pointing you directly to the path so that you do not wander all over the place. Be more diligent in your undertaking, and you will find success. However, you must labor with all your might, because without labor there will be nothing.

Reference: The Spiritual LIfe, pp 249-253

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Living a Christian life ( Saint John of Kronstadt )

In order to live a Christian life and sustain the spirit within us, private and communal prayers are essential. Just as it is necessary to add oil to an image-lamp so that it does not go out, so is it essential to attend church services and pray there with faith, understanding and fervor. Because through self-restraint a prayer becomes more sincere and fervent, it is necessary to live in moderation and to fast. Nothing extinguishes the spirit within us as quickly as immoderation, overindulgence and a dissipated way of life.

Saint John of Kronstadt

Christian Man vs. Secular Man : Their differences

The Secular Man has been the great threat to the Christian faith over the past two or more centuries. Disguised as the person is only only doing the “normal thing,” he lives in a godless world, where others can be tempted to live as though there were no God. Earlier I quoted Berdyaev, “If God does not exist, then man does not exist.” I would add to that that the God Who Exists must be everywhere present and filling all things, or He is no God and a false god. Let us renounce the “soft atheism” of the secular man and live always and everywhere for God.

Many Orthodox writers have spoken about the nature of the secular world, the defining form of modernity. I take here an opportunity to make a small comparison between the secular man and the Christian.

The secular man may believe that there is a God, but he also believes that the situation and outcome of the world are dependent upon the actions of human beings.

The Christian man believes that there is a God, and that all things are in His hands.

The secular man believes in Progress. Life changes, and with good human direction, it changes for the better. Every new discovery stands on the shoulders of every previous discovery. In this way, life improves and always improves for the better.

The Christian man believes that whatever man does may change his circumstances, but does not change man. A modern man is in no way superior to those who came before him. Goodness is not a result of progress.

The secular man believes in the power of human beings. Reason, applied reasonably to any situation, will yield a better outcome.

The Christian man believes in God, but he doubts the goodness of man. Human solutions are always questionable and capable of failure.

The secular man believes, ultimately, in the smooth path of progress. Even though there may be set-backs along the way, he believes that pursuing the path of progress will ultimately yield a better world – even a near perfect world.

Because the Christian man believes in God, he trusts that the outcome of history belongs to God and not to man. Thus, even the good things done by man are judged by a good God whose goal for us is always beyond anything we could ask or think.

The secular man, despite various failures, always believes that the next good is only another plan away. Compromise, negotiation, and a willingness to change will finally solve all problems.

The Christian understands the sinfulness of humanity. He knows that without God things will always fail and dissipate. Only through trust and obedience to God can the human situation improve – and such improvement always comes as a miracle from God.

The secular man does not believe in his own fallibility. He does not learn from history, but yearns repeatedly for a success where none has come before. What success he has known (in medical treatment of disease, etc.) is quickly translated into political terms. What is wrong politically can be eradicated as easily as malaria.

The Christian man knows that problems do not lie so much in the world as within himself. Unless man is changed by a good God, there will be a very limited goodness in the world. The secular man knows how to cure malaria, but he cannot manage to actually share that goodness with the world. The world (the third world) dies as it has always died. The secular man is powerless because he lacks true goodness.

The Christian man is largely marginalized in our modern world. He is considered an artifact of the past. However he is not a religious artifact – the truth he knows is eternal and is as applicable to the ills of the world as any part of the truth of God.

It is for this generation to understand what it means to be a Christian man and not to compromise with the secular man. God is good and wills good for all people. He is not a utilitarian, wishing the greatest good for the greatest number, but willing good for each and every soul.

May Christians be visible everywhere, and everywhere loyal to the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How is TV damaging to the soul of kids.. ( St.Paisios )

Television has done us great damage. It's especially destructive for children. A seven-year-old child came to the hermitage once. I saw the demon of television speaking through the child's mouth, exactly as demons speak through the mouth of the possessed. It was like a baby born with teeth. It is not easy to find normal kids; they are turning into little monsters. And you see they don't get to think for themselves, they only repeat what they have heard and seen on television. That's why they have come up with television to begin with: to make people numb and dumb, so that they will take what they hear and see on television for a fact and act accordingly.

St. Paisios

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Ninth Beatitude- Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.

In the last, the ninth commandment, our Lord Jesus Christ calls especially blessed those who for the sake of Christ and for the true Orthodox faith in Him, patiently bear disgrace, persecution, malice, defamation, mockery, privation and even death. Such a spiritual feat is known as martyrdom. There is no higher spiritual feat than martyrdom.

The courage of Christian martyrs must be distinguished from fanaticism, which is irrational zeal not according to reason. Christian courage must also be distinguished from the lack of feeling brought on by despair or pretended indifference, with which some criminals because of their incorrigible hardness and pride, serve out their sentences and go to execution.

Christian courage is based on the highest of Christian virtues, on faith in God, on hope in God, on love for God and neighbor, on complete obedience and unshaken faith in the Lord God.

The highest form of martyrdom was suffered by Jesus Christ Himself, and in like manner, the Apostles and an innumerable multitude of Christians, who with joy went to martyrdom for the name of Christ.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, and looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be weaned and faint in your minds (Heb. 12:1-3).

For the spiritual feat of martyrdom, the Lord promises a reward in Heaven. But here on earth the Lord glorifies many martyrs for their firm confession of faith with incorruptible bodies and miracles.

If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf (I Pet. 4:14-16).

Numberless Christians martyrs rejoiced during unspeakable torture, accounts of which are preserved in factual accounts of lives of the Saints. Note: In Roman courts, special scribes were obligated to write protocols (official records) of judicial procedures and legal decisions. Such protocols of interrogations, made in Roman courts during the legal process of Christian martyrs, after the period of persecutions were carefully preserved by the Church. The protocols came to be trustworthy accounts of the feats of martyrdom of the Christians.

The Eighth Beatitude - Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

For righteousness’ sake, is meant to live righteously according to the commandments of God, and resolutely fulfilling Christian obligations. Persecuted — for their righteous and pious life, they suffer oppression, persecution, privation and adversity at the hands of the unrighteous enemies of truth and goodness, but nothing can cause them to waver from the truth.

Persecution is inevitable for Christians living according to the Gospel’s righteousness, because evil people detest righteousness, as truth exposes their evil deeds, and always persecute people who stand up for the truth. The Only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, was Himself crucified by haters of God’s truth. For all His followers He predicted: // they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20). All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, says the Apostle Paul (II Tim. 3:12).

In order to endure persecution patiently for righteousness’ sake, a person must have love for the truth, be steadfast and firm in virtuous living, have courage and patience, and faith and hope in the help and protection of God.

To those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for their struggles in confessing the truth, the Lord promises the Kingdom of Heaven, spiritual triumph, joy and blessedness in the heavenly dwellings of the future eternal life (see Luke 22:28-30).

The Second Coming of Our Lord ( Elder Cleopa )

By Elder Cleopa of Romania, from "The Truth of Our Faith," Ch. 15. 
Inquirer: Father, what can you tell us about the exact date of the Second Coming of Christ?

Elder Cleopa: Christ’s true Church provides us with a number of apt testimonies which show that God did not entrust this date to anyone, neither to angels, nor to men, nor even to His own Son as man.

Listen to the divine words of Scripture on the subject:

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be ... Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. (Mt 24:36-51).

If neither the angels in heaven nor the Son of Man Himself as man know the appointed time, how is it possible for it to be known among men? From the words of the Saviour it is understood only that we must be ever vigilant and mindful of our salvation, ever ready for the coming of the Lord, for we know neither the day nor the hour of His coming, nor even the hour of our own end in this life. His appearance will be unexpected, as the Lord forewarned us when he said, Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh. (Mt 25:13).

Inquirer: It is true that at first the Apostles didn’t know the exact date of the Second Coming of the Saviour (Mt 24:36), however, from the time they were strengthened from on high at the descent of the Holy Spirit they were made aware of all. For, as the Saviour foretold, by the Holy Spirit all the mysteries were revealed: I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come. (Jn. 16:12-13). From the time of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the Apostles, as well as all faithful Christians, with the illumination and wisdom given them by the Holy Spirit, were made able to know all truth. In other words, they became aware of the entirety of the divine plan for the history of the world and its end, and thus were able to determine through Holy Scripture the events of the future, such as the date of the Second Coming. Isn’t such a determination possible?

Elder Cleopa: William Miller calculated that, according to Scripture, the Second Coming of Christ would take place between the first of March 1843 and the first of March 1844. He had announced this date as early as 1833 in the brochure "Prophecy from Holy Scripture of the Second Coming of the Lord in the year 1843." Another "prophet," Joseph Chimes, had proposed in the journals "The Voice of Midnight" (1842) and "The Bell of Danger" that the Lord would come in the year 1843.

The closest disciple of Miller, a Mr. Snow, decided to add to the prophecy of Miller another seven months and ten days, predetermining the date of the Second Coming of the Lord as the tenth of October 1844. He was also put to ridicule along with his teacher. Those who believed their pronouncements spent their fortunes, handing out all they had and buying white garments and candles in order to go out and meet the Lord.

It is possible that the shop windows were even filled then with white garments for those "travelling to heaven" on the tenth of October 1844. Yet, this day passed like all others. The so-called prophets became the recipients of every kind of shame, derision and mockery from those deluded people who had scattered their fortunes trusting in the false prophecies.

From these pitiful experiences we must at least come to understand that the promise of our Saviour Jesus Christ concerning the revelation of the future by the Holy Spirit did not refer to the date of the Second Coming, as it appeared to many, but rather to prophecies pertaining to various events and signs due to come to pass in the Church. For, indeed, there have been revelations through the Holy Spirit, as we see, for example, in the Book of Revelation and other books of Holy Scripture. These revelations contain a variety of eschatological teachings (on the appearance of the Antichrist, of the false prophets, the unleashing of the persecutions of Christians), as well as the indispensable wisdom of the Apostles which enabled them to present the divine teachings when they were led to give a defence before their accusers (Mt 10:19-20). These are the future events of which the Saviour speaks in the text that you read.

Inquirer: The Apostle Paul writes: But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. (1Thess 5:4-5). From these words it follows that Christians can and should know the exact date of the Second Coming in order to be ready to accept it.

Elder Cleopa: Why have you read from only verses four and five of chapter five from First Thessalonians, leaving out verses one and two which serve to interpret verses four and five? Listen to what the Apostle Paul says there: But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (1 Thess 5:1-2). This is the truth to which the Christ’s Church has remained faithful. The true Church teaches, equally with the Apostle Paul, that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night and that no one knows the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man will come.

It is possible only for the approach of the Second Coming to be known by the signs which must come before:

~ The preaching of the Gospel throughout the world. (Mt 24:15).

~ The turn of the Jews to Christianity after the preaching of the Gospel in the entire world. (2 Rom 11:25-34).

~ The appearance of the Antichrist, also called the man of iniquity or the beast, together with his representatives, pseudo-christs, false prophets, and every type of false wonder worked by the power of Satan in order to deceive the people. The Antichrist will sit in the place of God acting as if he were God and as an unrelenting beast he will pursue with all rage and furor the chosen servants of God. (1 Jn 2:18; 2Thess 2:3-11; Rev 13:1-8, 20:1-10; Mt 24:9).

~ The multiplication of wickedness and the growing cold of love between men, hatred and betrayal of one another. (Mt 24:10-12).

~ A torrent of bloodshed, wars and rumors of wars between nations, people and states. (Mt 24:6-7).

~ The appearance of calamities such as mass starvation, sicknesses, etc. (Mt 24:7-9).

~ The appearance of certain signs in the world such as the darkening of the sun and moon, the falling of stars from the sky, the passing away of heaven and earth.

~ The appearance in the heavens of the sign of the Son of Man, the True Cross, because this is the sign of victory of our Lord and no other sign so alerts us of His imminent arrival as does His Cross.

The Lord explains these signs thus: Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. (Mt 24:32-33).

Therefore, concerning the signs that will precede the Second Coming of the Lord, we have explanations and confirmation from the Saviour Himself, while of the exact date of His coming neither the angels nor even the Son of Man Himself, as man, are informed, but the Father alone knows.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Evil starts with bad thoughts... ( St. Porphyrios )

Evil starts with bad thoughts. When you are bitter and angry, if only by thinking, you are spoiling the spiritual atmosphere. You prevent the Holy Spirit from acting and allow the devil to grow up evil. You should always pray, love and forgive, driving away from you every evil account.
St. Porphyrios

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Love the Word of God ( Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk )

Love the Word of God, that is the Scriptures, handed down to us by the prophets and apostles, as God Himself. For the word of God is the word of God's mouth. If you love God, then without fail you will love the word of God also. For the word of God is God's epistle or letter to us unworthy ones, and is His supreme gift to us for the sake of our salvation. If you love the Sender, then also love the letter which is sent from Him to you. For the word of God is given by God to me, to you, and to everyone, so that everyone who desires to be saved may receive salvation through it.

You love it when an earthly king writes you a letter, and you read it with love and joy. How much more must we read the letter of the Heavenly King with love and joy.

The word of God was not given to you so that it should lay written only on paper, but so that we may use it spiritually, that we may be enlightened and guided in the true way and salvation, that our morals may be corrected, and that we may live according to its rule in this world, and that we may please God. If you wish, therefore, to be a true Christian, then without fail you must take care to live by its rule. For the word of God is a heavenly seed. It must, then, yield fruit in us after its kind, that is a holy and heavenly life, otherwise it will accuse us on the day of the fearful Judgement of Christ. Live, therefore, as the word of God teaches, and then correct yourself. Do not pry idly into the mysteries.

Of the mystery of the All-Holy Trinity, the Most-Holy Eucharist, and other such things that are not revealed to us in the holy word of God, do not inquire idly, lest you fall into the snare of the devil and be tangled in it, and not be able to escape from thence, and so perish. For that which requires faith alone transcends our reasoning, and it is very dangerous to pry into these things. Keep yourself, then, from prying into things which are above you. Believe in all things as the Holy Scriptures teach, and as the Holy Church believes and establishes in accordance with it.

Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk

Saturday, November 25, 2017

How do you know whether you are living according to the will of God? ( Saint Silouan the Athonite )

How do you know whether you are living according to the will of God?
Here is a sign: if you long for some thing, then you have not submitted to the will of God, even though you may think that you live according to His will. Whoever lives according to the will of God does not concern himself with anything. And if he needs some thing, then he submits himself and that thing to God; and if he does not receive it, then he remains content as though he had received it. 
The soul which has submitted to the will of God, fears nothing: neither storm nor bandits; nothing. And whatever should happen, it says, "It is God’s will." If the body is ill, the soul thinks, "Then I am in need of this illness, otherwise God would not have given it to me." And so the body and the soul remain at peace.

Saint Silouan the Athonite

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Repent my brother, Repent ! ( St. John Maximovitch )

 When we are immersed in sins, and our mind is occupied solely with worldly cares, we do not notice the state of our soul. We are indifferent to who we are inwardly, and we persist along a false path without being aware of it.

But then a ray of God's Light penetrates our soul. And what filth we see in ourselves! How much untruth, how much falsehood! How hideous many of our actions prove to be, which we fancied to be so wonderful. And it becomes clear to us which is the true path.

If we then recognize our spiritual nothingness, our sinfulness, and earnestly desire our amendment - we are near to salvation. From the depths of our soul we shall cry out to God: "Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy according to Thy mercy!" "Forgive me and save me!" "Grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother!"

St.John Maximovitch

Saint Catherine and the Smart Impious

What are we to make of Saint Catherine? We know really very little about her. Even her name is a mystery. According to some, she was originally called Damiani (by a happy coincidence the present Archbishop of Sinai and Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Katherine is called Damianos), although Rufinus claims that she was called Dorothea. At some stage, she became known as Katherine, but what this means is anyone’s guess. It has been derived from the Greek Hecate, or from καθαρός (katharos), meaning “pure” (as well as from Armenian and Arabic).

Saint Catherine, Mount Sinai, 13th Century

This confusion is central to one part of our argument. Her name in Greek is Αἰκατερίνα, so it is impossible that it derives from Hecate. The Greek system of diacritics was more than likely introduced in Alexandria (where Saint Katherine was born) and has “breathings” or signs of aspiration. To put it simply, there is no ‘H’ in Aikaterina (though there is in Hypatia, of whom more later). Likewise, it cannot derive from “katharos”. Greeks are perfectly capable of saying ‘th’, so the name would have ‘th’ rather than ‘t’ in the middle (in Greek). Apart from this, katharina would make absolutely no sense grammatically. If it means “pure”, the name would be “Kathari”; if it means “purified” it would be “Kekatharmeni”. The point I would like to make here is that it is generally agreed that the young girl’s name was Aikaterina and that speculating and inventing implausible etymologies serves no purpose. The same is true of her Life.

The traditional narrative states that Katherine was the beautiful daughter of the pagan Costus (or Cestus) and Sabinella, who governed Alexandria. She was highly intelligent and diligently studied the arts and sciences, especially philosophy. Having decided to remain a virgin, she announced that she would only marry someone who surpassed her in beauty, intelligence, wealth, and dignity, perhaps an early foreshadowing of her eventual discovery of Christ: “His beauty was more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world”. Raised a pagan (though her mother may have been a secret Christian), she became an ardent Christian in her teenage years, having received a vision in which the the Mother of God pledged her to Christ in mystical marriage.

As a young adult, about 18 years old according to what sources we have, she upbraided the Roman Emperor Maxentius (later defeated by Saint Constantine at the battle of the Milvian Bridge) who happened to be in Alexandria at the time of a pagan feast, attempting to convince him of his error in persecuting Christians. The emperor seems to have been quite taken with her: Eusebius, writing very shortly after the events took place, says that Maxentius wanted to take the beautiful young girl into his palace as a concubine, but she refused.

The emperor then arranged for a number of the best pagan philosophers and orators in the city to argue with her, hoping that they would refute her pro-Christian arguments, but Katherine won the debate. Several of her adversaries, conquered by her eloquence, declared themselves Christians and were at once put to death. An interesting footnote here is that in the hymn to Saint Katherine in the Orthodox Church, her opponents are described as “smart”. In Modern Greek and British English this means well-dressed; in Byzantine Greek and American English it means “clever”.

Maxentius went off to inspect his troops, having first ordered that Katherine be imprisoned. When he returned, he was greatly displeased to find that some of his household had been influenced by her and had converted to Christianity. Katherine was sentenced to be tortured on a spiked wheel, which did not kill her, and she was then beheaded, in the year 305.

None of this seems out of place. We know that Maxentius was, indeed, a co-emperor at that time, that he had firm support in North Africa (his severed head was sent there after his defeat to convince his supporters that he really was dead) and that Christians were being persecuted then: Saint Dimitrios was martyred in Thessaloniki in the same year and Saint George two years earlier in Nicomedia, so the persecution was very widespread. We also know that Alexandria was a centre of learning and that Hypatia, a woman of great intellectual gifts, was killed there by a Christian mob in 415 AD. Or do we?

The actual evidence of the existence of Hypatia is no more compelling than that for Saint Katherine, yet she is accorded something akin to cult status today, with a film being made about her (Agora, starring Rachel Weisz) while Saint Katherine is “air-brushed” out of the picture. In The Penguin Book of Saints, Donald Attwater declares that the “legend” of Saint Katherine is “the most preposterous of its kind”. Well, of course it is if you read the barnacles that adhered to it over the centuries, but they do not invalidate the basic truth.

In the same vein, Christine Walsh says in her book The Cult of St Katherine of Alexandria in Early Medieval Europe (Ashgate 2007) that: “As we have seen [!], the cult of St. Katherine of Alexandria probably originated in oral traditions from the 4th-century Diocletianic Persecutions of Christians in Alexandria. There is no evidence that Katherine herself was a historical figure and she may well have been a composite drawn from memories of women persecuted for their faith. Many aspects of her Passio are clearly legendary and conform to well-known hagiographical topoi”. What on earth does this mean?

Of course the cult of Saint Katherine originated in oral tradition. Nobody was there with a mobile phone to take a video. “And she may well have been a composite”; and she may not. “Many aspects of her Passio are clearly legendary and conform to well-known hagiographical topoi”. Does this mean that many martyrs were tortured and died for the faith? No argument with that. Read the life of Elder Païsios, a saintly figure of our own times. It could easily be rendered in a way that makes it sound “hagiographical” (“He was born to pious parents and baptized by Saint Arsenios, who foresaw his future as a monk”), but it is still true.

Another aspect worth recalling is that people express themselves differently in different ages. There is a version of the martyrdom which states that when Saint Katherine was stretched on the wheel with spikes, it was not blood which flowed but milk. It may be that some innocent- in the best sense of the word- people believed this, but most people at the time would have understood it as meaning that she was untainted. This may seem far-fetched, but in a thousand years hence, “scholars” may well be amazed that people in 2013 could talk about “the milk of human kindness”. It might also be mentioned that another modern icon, Joan of Arc, mentions Saint Katherine as having appeared to her to lend her strength, and this was a thousand years and more after the martyrdom.

In his article “The Dragon that Swallowed Saint George”, Whittall Perry says: “The ancient church authorities may have been ‘primitive’ by our lights, but they were not imbeciles”. The ancient Church authorities were scrupulous in weeding out spurious information that would injure the faith. For some reason, North Africa seems to have been a hotbed of heresy and schism. Yet the story of a young woman who dared to oppose an emperor and his minions with her learning, strength of character and faith, and triumph over them in martyrdom, was accepted as true. May her prayers be with us.

Dismissal Hymn:

Let us praise the renowned bride of Christ, Katherine the divine, protectress of Sinai, our aid and assistance. For she brilliantly silenced the clever impious by the sword of the Spirit, and now, crowned as a martyr, petitions for great mercy for all.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My heart is hard like a stone….. ( St. Paisios )

    - Elder, when I feel my heart become hard like  a stone, what should I do?

- Your problem is not a hard heart but a mind-driven heart. Your entire heart has been taken over by your mind and is now at its service. But there is still a chance for your heart to go back. Each day you must read prayers to the Theotokos. If you want your heart to get back in shape, that’s the best medicine. You do have a heart, but it has been clouded by “logic”…. Things are different in the spiritual life. What is needed is simplicity. Act with simplicity and trust in God.

- How can I become simple, Elder? – I shall have to open your head and put an old-fashioned mind in it!
You need to enter the simple world of the Saints, and get to know the spiritual science which lifts and refreshes the soul, and gets rid of headaches. “Logic” will make us suffer. For example, I say to myself, ‘This must be done in this specific manner,’ and so I go ahead and do it because it has to be done. I don’t do it with my heart but because the mind dictates it. Logic and courtesy may tell me that ‘I must surrender my seat,’ but my heart will not. Think of the difference when my heart is moved and I surrender my seat out of love. I feel such joy!

- Elder, I don’t have a heart.

- You do have a heart, but as soon as it tries to act, your mind puts a muzzle on it. You must try to acquire the logic of the heart, faith and love.

- How can I achieve this? – The first step: go down town to Thessaloniki and March barefoot in protest, so that people will say that you went mad; this way you will get rid of your mind!!! Blessed soul! You approach everything with mathematical exactness. What are you, an astronomer? If you stop thinking “logically”, you will be able to start working spiritually on yourself.

“The Holy Fathers saw everything with the spiritual, the divine eye. Patristic tests were written in the spirit of God and it was in the spirit of God that the Holy Fathers gave their interpretations. Today this spirit is lacking and Patristic texts are hard to understand. People see everything with secular eyes and cannot see beyond that; they do not have the breadth of spirit that results form faith and love.”

St. Paisios

Friday, November 17, 2017

Christians should spend the eves of feast days in prayer... ( St. John Maximovitch )

The holy canons dictate that Christians should spend the eves of feast days in prayer and with reverence in preparation for participation or attendance at the Divine Liturgy.
 If all Orthodox Christians are called to this, then this pertains all the more to those who take an active part in the church services itself. Their participation in diversions on the eve of a feast day is especially sinful. 
In view of the above, those who attend a dance or similar form of entertainment and diversion may not participate in the choir the next day, may not serve in the altar, enter the altar or stand on the cliros.

St. John Maximovitch

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The priest is not the representative of God on earth, he is the servant of God!

During his traditional pilgrimage to Mount Athos on his birthday, Metropolitan Kyiv Onuphre met the abbott of Dochiariou, Archimandrite Gregory (Zoumis), in his monastery. He is one of the most respected Athonite fathers, known largely beyond Mount Athos. 
Archimandrite Gregory said, "We pastors are poor and the people are obedient! Thank you [i.e. Metropolitan Onuphre] because, by your simplicity, your humble clothes, you show the way of God. We, those who wear the cassock, must be attentive. The cassock is a cross. It is the standard of Christ. Christ left no other standard, except the cassock. Love it, monks, priests and bishops! It's not fair that the bishop wears cufflinks, while people are poor, they save on bread. And never those who wear the cassock believe that they are the representatives of God on the earth! The pope believed he was the representative of God on earth - and the West drowned. 
Many times I have heard the priests say, "I am the representative of God on earth! You are not the representative, but the servant of God here on earth. Each time, when you ordain priests, say: from this day on, you are not the representative of God on earth, but His servant. 
How horrible, when priests consider themselves the representatives of God on earth! Would I be a representative of God on earth? My face, my presence, do they agree with that? Of course not ! I am a servant, a bad servant, a bad worker of His vineyard. 
The old Amphiloque of Patmos said: "Every night, think: today, I may have scandalized someone! Perhaps, my life has made someone leave the Church! That's the control we have to do all of us wearing the cassock. Let us spiritually fight as confessors and not as holders of power.