Friday, March 31, 2017

Saint Paisios the Athonite: Come to your senses

God is very near us, but also very high. In order for someone to have God bend to descend and remain with him, he must be humbled and repent. Then, the greatly-compassionate God, beholding his humility, lifts him up to the Heavens and loves him greatly. There is joy in heaven over the repentance of a sinner, says the Gospel.

God granted man a mind to contemplate his fault, to repent and to seek forgiveness. The unrepenting man is a hard thing. He is very senseless, because he does not wish to repent, in order to eliminate the small hell that he is experiencing, which leads him to something worse, eternity. Thus, he is barren of the heavenly joys on earth, which continue in Paradise, near God, with the much greater joys, eternal ones.

As long as man is far from God, he is outside of himself. Do you see, that the Gospel writes that the Prodigal Son "came to himself", saying: "I will go to my Father." In other words, when he came to his senses, when he repented, he said: "I will return to my Father." As long as he was living in sin, he was outside of himself, he was not in his right mind, because sin is irrational.

-Elder, Abba Alonios says: "If a man wishes, he can reach a divine measure from morning until the evening." What does he mean?
The spiritual life does not desire time. In one second, one can be found in Paradise from hell, if he repents. Man is responsible. He can become an angel, he can become a devil. My, my, my, what power repentance has! It attracts divine Grace. A humble thought that a man brings to mind can save him.

A prideful thought can come to his mind, and if he does not repent, death will find him, he is gone, he is lost. Of course, the humble thought must be followed by internal groaning, by internal contrition. Because the thought is a thought, but there is also the heart. The hymn says: "With all my soul and mind and heart...", I think, however, that the Abba here is thinking here of a more permenant state. It requires some time, in order for one to reach a good state.

I err, I repent, and I am forgiven that instant. If I have a struggling spirit, slowly I will achieve a more stable situation, but until then, I can be swayed.

-Elder, can an older person help himself spiritually?
Yes, barely, for when someone gets old, he is granted the strength to repent, because all illusions flee. Formerly, because he had bodily strength and nothing was difficult for him, he did not understand his weaknesses and he thought that he was in a good state. Now that he has difficulties and grumbles, he is helped to understand that he is not well, that he is limping, that he must repent. If he spiritually utilizes the little remaining years of his life, and if he uses his experience that shows that most of the years of his life have passed him by, [he learns that] Christ will not leave him, He will have mercy on him.

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

We must confess correctly ( Bishop of Kerniki and Kalavryta )

If, with God’s Grace, you manage to confess without shame and without making excuses for yourself , and in following your confessor reads you the forgiveness prayer,and you receive his blessing and depart from the confession room, is there anything else left for you to do? Yes. There are still two things of paramount importance for you to do. First, you must carry out the penance that the spiritual father has given you; and, second, you must make every effort to correct your life
and wrongful deeds. Otherwise, according to St. Basil the Great, what you did is not termed a confession, but idle chatter: “When one confesses
without subsequently correcting himself, he has
actually spoken idle words.”

There are three things chiefly you must correct. First:
If you on bad terms with anyone for whatever reason, regardless of whether or not the other person is at fault, you must forgive him with all your heart. For, if you do not forgive, you will
not be forgiven either. It is a decision and ruling
given from Christ Himself:
“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt. 6:14-15)
. Unfortunately, today people mimic what two Athenians once did in ancient Greece. Themistocles and Aristidis were dire enemies and always at odds with each other. At one point, the Greek nation appointed them as ambassadors to represent Greece on a particular matter.
What could they do in this instance? 

They necessarily had to be in agreement and work together.
Having set off for their journey, just before
crossing over into the foreign land, Aristidis turned to Themistocles and asked,
“Would you like to leave our enmity here at the borders for now, and, if you like, take hold of it again upon our return?” This is indeed what they did. They dropped off their enmity and hatred at their nation’s borders, they cooperated with each
other and executed their republic’s directive, and when they returned to Greece they took hold of their enmity and became spiteful enemies as before.
Today, this is what Christians who are bitter enemies and always at odds do as well when it comes time for them to go to confession. They drop off their enmity for a time. Where? Right at the entrance of the church. They ask each other for forgiveness so they can go receive Holy Communion.  However, as soon as they exit the
doors of the church, where they temporarily set down their enmity, they take hold of it again and become enemies once more. Can their visit to the spiritual father be deemed a true confession? Certainly not! On the contrary, it was idle chatter.


Do you have an immoral tie and sinful relationship with someone?
Sever the bond once and for all, and cut it off permanently. Because it is not possible to love God and fornication simultaneously. A certain philosopher was once travelling by sea. During the course of the journey, such a fierce storm
developed that the ship sank and he was able to save his life by the skin of his teeth. He returned to his home.
Wanting to ensure that he would never be
overcome with the desire to travel by ship again,
he proceeded to close off one of the windows in his house that had a view of the ocean.
If you similarly have run the risk of losing your soul on account of lustful relationships, and have up until now been spared from death of the body and the soul, flee from the causes of sin, no longer walk down that road, never again enter that house, no longer peer through that window, and close your eyes shut, so that the serpent, the devil, does not slither into your heart again. Otherwise, you did not confess; you spoke idle chatter.

Do you have in your possession anything that rightfully belongs to another person? Have you wronged or cheated anyone? Return it immediately, restore what you have acquired unjustly, because otherwise it is not possible for
you to receive forgiveness.

Dear Christian:
Do you want to make a true and perfect confession? 

First, before going to the confessor, examine your conscience. 
Second, when you are standing before the spiritual father, confess without shame and without making

Third, when you leave from the spiritual father, carry out the penance he has given you, wholeheartedly forgive your enemies, abandon your immoral and ungodly relationships, repay what you have acquired through injustice, and
then you will indeed be completely forgiven. Then the deaf and mute evil spirit will depart from you
(vid. Mt. 9:17).
O Holy Spirit! Grant to me first, and to everyone who will hear these words in following, Your Divine Grace, so that we may understand them,
and give us the strength to execute them, for they are words containing Your Divine Truth.

adapted from the writings of Elias Miniatis
         (Bishop of Kerniki and Kalavryta)


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Doctors and God ( Saint Maxim the Confessor )

Like doctors, when treating various physical ailments, do not prescribe one medicine to everyone, so does God, in treating our spiritual ailments, apply more than one suitable type of ministration. But He does cure every soul with medicines that are specifically beneficial to it. Let us thank Him for curing us, even though the medicine did inflict suffering upon us.

Saint Maxim the Confessor

Monday, March 20, 2017

Be careful not to waste your precious energies on redundant worries and vanities , which will turn to dust one day. ( St. Paisios )

Be careful not to waste your precious energies on redundant worries and vanities , which will turn to dust one day.

When you do this , you not only tire your body, but you also scatter your mind aimlessly, offering God only your fatigue and yawns at the time of prayer, much like the sacrifice offered by Cain.

It follows that your inner state will be like that of Cain's, you will be full of anxiety and sighs, provoked by the devil standing by your side.

St. Paisios

Friday, March 17, 2017

Saint Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland

Saint Patrick, the Apostle of the Irish, was seized from his native Britain by Irish marauders when he was sixteen years old. Though the son of a deacon and a grandson of a priest, it was not until his captivity that he sought out the Lord with his whole heart. In his Confession, the testament he wrote towards the end of his life, he says, "After I came to Ireland - every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed - the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was so moved that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many at night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountain; and I would rise for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm." After six years of slavery in Ireland, he was guided by God to make his escape, and afterwards struggled in the monastic life at Auxerre in Gaul, under the guidance of the holy Bishop Germanus. Many years later he was ordained bishop and sent to Ireland once again, about the year 432, to convert the Irish to Christ. His arduous labours bore so much fruit that within seven years, three bishops were sent from Gaul to help him shepherd his flock, "my brethren and sons whom I have baptized in the Lord - so many thousands of people," he says in his Confession. His apostolic work was not accomplished without much "weariness and painfulness," long journeys through difficult country, and many perils; he says his very life was in danger twelve times. When he came to Ireland as its enlightener, it was a pagan country; when he ended his earthly life some thirty years later, about 461, the Faith of Christ was established in every corner.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone

O Holy Hierarch, equal of the Apostles, Saint Patrick, wonderworker and enlightener of Ireland: Intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone

The Master revealed thee as a skillful fisher of men; and casting forth nets of Gospel preaching, thou drewest up the heathen to piety. Those who were the children of idolatrous darkness thou didst render sons of day through holy Baptism. O Patrick, intercede for us who honour thy memory.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How Can Saints Help Us? ( Elder Cleopa )

  There is no question that only Christ is able to save us from sin. So, how can saints aid us? When we honor saints and ask them to pray for us we are not putting them in the place of Christ. They are close to God, so when they pray for us they seek our salvation from Christ.

Elder Cleopa puts it this way,

When the saints pray for us, it is precisely our salvation that they seek from Christ. They interceded with Him for our salvation. From Christ they entreat our salvation. This is what we mean when we say they intercede for us. By their prayers the saints petition for our salvation -- not, however, as if they themselves have the power to save, for the only one who saves is Christ. Thus we do not venerate saints and angels as we do God. (That which we render the saints and angels is solely a veneration of honor and reverence, while God we adore and worship with perfect adoration which is thus properly called worship) The apostle Paul reminds us that the saints are our fellow citizens who can help us. "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Eph 2:19).

How is we know that the saints have the ability to pray to God on our behalf? We know this from Scripture. "And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having everyone of them harps, and golden vials full of orders, which are the prayers of the saints" (Rev 5:8)

Some are concerned that the veneration of saints eclipse the glory and honor that belongs to God alone. But God himself glorified His saints. "And the glory which thou gravest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one" (Jn 17:22).

Elder Cleopa says,

No eclipse or depreciation of the glory of God results from the reverence and veneration of His angels. This is so, first of all, because the veneration that we offer God is one thing and the veneration we render to the angels and saints is another. The same Holy Spirit exhorts us to glorify God with His saints saying, "Praise ye God in His saints." Thus we glorify God likewise when we seek in prayer the help and mediation of the angels and saints, since the saints in their succession convey our supplications and requests together with their own prayers to God. The saints are given special powers by God to work miracles. It says in Scripture, "In the saints that are in His earth hath the Lord been wondrous; He hath wrought all His desires in them" (Ps 15:3). Elder Cleopa lists many examples from the Old Testament of people who were given such powers and then points out the powers of the Holy Apostles, including the seventy, who are able to render all sorts of things.

He writes,
God himself glorified His saints and robed them with His glory: "And the glory which thou gravest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one" (Jn 17:22). Elsewhere He says, "He that receiveth you receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him who sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophets reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in th ename of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward" (Mat 11:40-41). These statements prove sufficiently enough the delusion of those who repudiate the honor shown toward the saints and angels, -- those beloved servants of God -- not realizing that in practice they turn their back on God himself, the Creator and Fashioner of saints.

Reference: The Truth of Our Faith, 67-77

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Monophysites do not say that they did not understand the Holy Fathers but that the Holy Fathers did not understand them ( St. Paisios )

Monophysites do not say that they did not understand the Holy Fathers but that the Holy Fathers did not understand them. Namely, as if they are right and were misunderstood . . . So many Holy Fathers who had divine illumination and were their contemporaries, did not understand them but misunderstood them, and here we come so many centuries later to correct the Holy Fathers? Why don’t they even consider the miracle of Saint Euphimia? Is it possible that even she had misunderstood the book of the heretics?”

+ Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, Life of Elder Paisios the Agiorite by Hieromonk Isaac, Holy ountain 2004, p. 690-691

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sunday of Orthodoxy ( Constantine Zalalas )

Today, the first Sunday of Great Lent, our church celebrates its victory against heresy and more specifically the decisive defeat of Iconoclasm on March 11 843 AD. We celebrate this event not only for the icons, but for the fact that the Orthodox Church is the only form of Christianity which has preserved the teachings of the seven Ecumenical Councils without addition or subtraction down through the centuries.

The 7th Ecumenical Council preserved and safeguarded the truth in its successful defense of the Holy Icons. In doing so our Holy Fathers anathematized the unrepentant icon-fighters, the Iconoclasts, who contended that since Jesus Christ is God it is not permissible to depict Him in icons because the divine is invisible and therefore it should not be depicted. This theological battle lasted over 150 years, and thousands of martyrs were added to the celestial altar. Some of our pacifist Christians in their lack of understanding often judge this element of the Orthodox Church as unnecessary triumphalism. According to them it is egotistical to claim that we the Orthodox have the entire truth.

The church being the Body and the Bride of Christ, is spotless and without wrinkle, and the pillar and the foundation of the truth. Without the absolute truth we lose the path that leads to God's likeness, which is the purpose of our creation. So why the battles, over dogma, over doctrine, over icons and biblical interpretation? The church fathers and especially the defenders of the faith were not some querulous characters. Most of them were monastics, like St. Anthony, St. Maximos the Confessor, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory Palamas, and St. Nikodemos The Hagiorite. They were hesychasts – they loved solitude!!! But they defended the faith not because God was in danger or His Church was in danger. Never! They were shepherding the flock! They fought because of their pure love for God's people who were infected by the spiritual disease of Arius, or Nestorios or Apollinarios or Dioskoros. They were defending the traffic signals, the bridges, the road signs,and the guardrails of the narrow path that leads to God, to the source of love and perfect freedom. The dogmas, the commandments, the statues found in the gospel are not some juridical, legalistic inventions of priests to keep the populations under their thumb! And, Christ did not incarnate to teach us some good manners or to give us some reward after we die!

This is the pitiable plight of the descendants of Luther, Calvin, and the early reformers who completed the derailment of their followers from the already derailed schismatic Church of Rome. Take for example some recent claims of some contemporary icons of the Protestant Mega-Churches. "Jesus had an ego. He said, 'I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. ' Wow, what an ego trip he was on! " (Robert Schuller, "The Phil Donahue Show " 9/12/1980). Ego trip? Not exactly!

This statement is totally irresponsible, and contrary to Christ's hypostatic union of the two natures, the unconfused union of divinity and humanity. Christ said, "Learn from me because I am of a meek and humble heart and I will give you rest." So Christ does not have a trace of egotism because egotism is demonic and in Christ there is no sin.

More recently this same pastor (before 9/11) professed on national television: "It would not bother me if my descendants became Moslems". More new-age psycho-babble is heard from his disciple Rick Warren of Orange County California, author of The Purpose-Driven Life. Warren states, "Learn to Love yourself… Be true to yourself… Forgive yourself… Believe in yourself" (Ladies Home Journal March 2005, page 36). Doesn't this sound like the sermon of the serpent to Eve in the garden? You can reach theosis (divinization) by yourself, you don't need to involve God!

It is no wonder that 50% of the American Christian children graduate from a four-year college not only with a college degree but with a high degree of denial of faith in Jesus Christ. False doctrines of an angry God, a God so angry that He needs to sacrifice His Own Son to satisfy His justice have deleterious effects on the minds of our American youth. True doctrines or true dogmas are not some laws written up at some conferences called Ecumenical Councils. The church Fathers had empirical knowledge of the Holy Trinity, of the two natures of Christ, of the Love of God, in the uncreated light. They experienced these revealed ontologies and then they expressed them in theological terms. The dogmas or the commandments do not necessarily save man, they simply open the road. They guide the faithful to reach catharsis and illumination to experience and taste the reality of God. This, however, cannot take place outside of the Orthodox dogma. Take the dogma of the Holy Trinity, for example. We cannot be called Christians without the dogma of the Triune God. The fact that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons with One Essence, is of paramount importance in our spiritual life and ultimately in our overall behavior towards our fellow human being. Dogmas influence our daily existence. In Christianity we have a personal God, not a higher power. A higher power has might and force, but not love. Salvation without love is hatred, and love that does not preserve freedom is destruction. Saint Nickolai Velimirovich observes, "For someone to conceive a God without a son translates to conceiving a God without love: without a co-eternal son, who then did God love pre-eternally before the Creation of the World? This would mean that God did not know how to love. " The repercussions of this are very overt in the religion of Islam. The Quran ridicules the teaching of the Holy Trinity. At the Temple of Omar, one of the most holy sites of Mohamedanism, the following commandment is engraved on the wall: "Faithful, know that Allah has no Son ".

The repercussions of this false teaching permeate and pervert man's entire life. If God does not love someone else before creation, then who does He love, Himself ? Such an emotion is not love but selfishness and egotism. Since God according to Islam, does not have a Son, it is not surprising that there is no mention of God's love within the Quran. Moreover, if it is not mentioned in the Quran it will not be developed by chance or flourish among its faithful. Mohammed never mentions love with regard to Allah at all. He only emphasizes might, power, justice, submission and mercy - mercy if you are obedient and if you are a good child of Allah! If you offend Mohammad or Allah, or if you choose to doubt your submission to this faith, then according to Mohammed you don't deserve to live.

Let's not go too far. The God of the West presents similar idiosyncrasies mainly because the Western theologians after the schism followed Plato and Aristotle to defend their faith against the rising threat of Islam. They confused the energies of God with the essence of God as a result of the Anselmian Theology and thus distorted the Orthodox revelation. Adam 's fall,they teach, offended the justice of God. This made God angry,so angry that He needed to sacrifice His Own Son to satisfy His "need " for justice and righteousness! If we are obedient to this God of "needs " He is happy with us, but if we cross Him His divine wrath is aroused!!! The Popes of the West needed an army to defend this ideology. Holy Inquisition and the fear of being burned at the stake defended these false religious doctrines for a number of years. After the Age of Enlightenment however, Europe fell into Deism and Agnosticism mainly because of these flaws of the Western Christian theological system. We are not immune from this issue in our Orthodox world today,especially when we reduce the gospel to morality and ethics by ignoring the main purpose of our life,the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Doing this drives our children into the embrace of existentialism and agnosticism. According to the Fathers, true faith (Orthodoxia) will lead to true practice (Orthopraxia). True faith and true life are indispensably connected.

Returning to the subject of Icons, allow me to ask the same question I posed to some of our teenagers after Liturgy this morning: Who would you think was the first iconographer or iconmaker of our church? Most people would venture to say St. Luke. In reality, the first iconmaker, the first iconographer was God Himself. Of Course! He made us, he created us "Kat ' 'Eikova, " according to his Icon. So the first iconagrapher is the Holy Trinity, our God. In Genesis 1:36 we read, "Let us make man… " (the "us " revealing the multiplicity of persons in God)– "according to our image " or "kat 'eikona imeteran. " Therefore, according to Scripture, Christ is the Icon of God the Father and Adam was created in the image, in the "Eikona ", of Jesus Christ. The basis of this theological feud over icons was the dogma of the Incarnation. The Orthodox maintained that we came to know God because He became flesh. Our God is no longer imageless. The iconoclasts were heavily influenced by the rise of Islam which began to conquer the outer parts of the Byzantine Empire during the 7th century. Leo the Isavrian managed to have the right arm of St. John of Damascus cut off because of his brilliant theology in the defense of the icons. Syria at the time was under Moslem occupation. The iconoclasts essentially undermined God's incarnation and more specifically, they undermined the humanity of God the Logos. It is known that Islam is highly iconoclastic. No images of any kind are permitted in the Mosque. But this is the other side of the same coin of Monophysitism. The 1st Ecumenical Council safeguarded the dogma of Christ's Divinity against Arius who taught that Christ was created in time. The 7th Ecumenical Council defended the teaching of Christ 's Humanity – that is, that Christ is the God-man. The central teaching of St. Athanasios' Homily on the Incarnation revered world wide even by Protestants like C.S. Lewis was:

"God became man so man can become God by grace! " The Logos became Flesh – so man can become Logos by grace. To this day biblical fundamentalists will tell you, "I only accept the Holy Scripture. " But you wouldn't have a New Testament without the Church. The Church came first! St. Athanasios the Great filtered out for us the pseudo-gospels and the pseudo-epistles and canonized the 27 Books of the New Testament. So how can you trust these 27 books as authentic and not trust the theology or the church of the Saint who compiled them? If the Holy Spirit was with him, and it certainly was, when he was fighting Arius and selecting the authentic books of the New Testament ,it was also with him when he used the term Theotokos or Birthgiver of God for the Ever Virgin Mary. The very term Theotokos is the jetty that crushes all Christological heresies. When we name the Virgin Mary "Theotokos" we leave no doubt about the identity of Her Child.He is God or "Theos"in Greek. He is the God-man. Salvation is attainable only though the God-human person of Jesus Christ. According to the scriptural interpretation of the Church Fathers,salvation is a journey from the image to the likeness. We are created according to God's image and we are given the potential at our baptism to enter the stadium of virtues to acquire the likeness. Christ gives us the grace, the spiritual weapons, but we must exercise our free will. We do not believe in predestination because we cannot have a God of predestination and a God of freewill at the same time. One of these two Gods does not exist.

St. Gregory Palamas teaches in his homily on free will that we are not automatically children of God by our mere baptism. "He came to his own but his own received Him not, but to those who received Him He gave the power (the potential) to become children of God!" So we are becoming children of God by the grace of Christ. Our Church Fathers teach about three states of Christian development: purification, illumination, and theosis (deification). Although repenting Christians can certainly be saved in anyone of these three states of development, only those at the level of theosis reach their full potential in this life and become gods by grace. They become christs by grace and we depict their transfigured bodies on icons, we include them in our liturgical services, and we venerate their icons in our churches. The icon is a visual dogmatic method expressing the truth of our faith in the same light as the Holy Scripture. Are icons graven images or idols? Certainly Not. We stated that the first iconomaker was God and He continued to use iconography in the Old Testament. God Himself commanded Moses to make a bronze snake to heal the dying Israelites. Was that snake an idol? God Himself commanded Moses to create cherubim using pure gold with specific dimensions and place them over the Arc of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. Were these gold cherubim idols? An idol or a graven image is a depiction of an inexistent being or an inexistent god. The bronze snake was not an idol because it pre-figured Christ on the cross, and the golden cherubim above the golden altar are existing realities of heaven. The golden calf, on the other hand, was indeed an idol because it was depicting an inexistent god. So icons are not idols but precious in the eyes of the Lord! So precious that the Most Holy Theotokos permitted St. Luke to write her personal icon. St. Luke wrote four icons of her when God's mother was still alive and he painted 70 more after her dormition.

In Russia alone we have 200 feast days of miraculous icons for the Mother of God. God is well pleased to glorify His saints and to dispense His grace through created matter. The staff of Moses worked countless miracles, the staff of Aaron budded, and the bones of Elisha resurrected a dead person in the Old Testament. The same God of the Old Testament who is Jesus Christ grants the same experiences to all those who purify themselves like Moses, Prophet Elijah, Aaron, and Elisha. So why are some icons more miraculous than others? One, and perhaps the main reason is the holiness of the iconographer. Each iconographer at the state of theosis is living the reality of Christ 's Transfiguration. As Christ 's Light became manifest it sanctified everything around a certain radius of Mount Tabor. Everything changed into the Kingdom of God. Not only John, James and Peter (who wanted to change his address at that very moment), but even the rocks, the soil, the shrubbery, the clothing of the apostles changed. Everything became brighter than the sun. Likewise a saint is someone who has become a pure vessel of the Holy Spirit – one dead to the world – one who no longer lives but invites Christ to live in him . According to St. Paul, the co-essential Trinity come and make their abode in this person, and in the environment of this saintly Christ-bearing person. So not only the icons, but the shoes, the clothing, the utensils of Saint Spiridon and St. Nektarios, and the chains and the shadow of Peter, and the work rags of St. Paul were full of healing power. So icons painted by saints are especially miraculous. And let's not think that someone needs to be 80 years old like Moses to have this grace. A young child can be at the state of theosis. This was not uncommon before the age of radio, television, cds, and gameboy. Young children at the age of ten or twelve like Father Iakovos Tsalikis, Elder Paisios, and many others had visions of God. One young man of the same caliber lived in Smyrna less than one-hundred years ago. His family was renting an apartment. This young boy was very pure, very spiritual and had an ardent love for the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary. He expressed this love by painting the icon of the Mother of God on the wall of his bedroom and by praying under this icon daily and extensively. After a number of years his family had to move and the landlady was surprised to find an icon on the bedroom wall of the apartment. The new non-Christian tenants were ready to move in and the new lease called for a fresh paint job. Strangely enough, no paint would stick to this fresco. They tried repeatedly to paint over this icon but the new paint was miraculously not only peeling, but falling off of the icon. The landlady was in despair. If the new tenants were Orthodox they would understand, but this was not the case. So she went and purchased a tall new dresser big enough to hide the icon, she pushed it up against the wall and left. The following morning she was walking through the apartment with the new tenants showing them every room. When they opened the door with the icon they found the new dresser face down on the floor of the room and the icon of the Virgin Mother staring them in the face. The icon did not wish to be hidden! God was glorifying his young servant who reached holiness from a very young age, and the Holy Spirit sanctified not only him but the works of his hands. This is central to our Orthodox Faith. The Holy Spirit does not abandon the material nature of man who reaches theosis. This is the theology behind the relics of the Saints. The relics of the Saints, the material belongings of the Saints (i.e. chairs, beds, clothing, crosses, icons) are forever energized by the presence of the Holy Spirit! They are distribution outlets of grace! It is worth mentioning here one of the great surprises relayed to me by Dr. Dimitrios Tsellegidis, Proffessor of Dogmatics of the theological department of the University of Thessaloniki. His doctoral dissertation was on the theology of icons. At some point Dr. Tsellegides visited an elder who was the spiritual father of a convent in Northern Greece. This elder who is still living today happens to be blind by birth. Although he was 100% blind, his spiritual vision is 20/20. After visiting with him and discussing various ecclesiastical topics, our Doctor Tsellegidis expressed some curiosity about the elder's cell. Their dialogue was this.

"Now elder I know that you are totally blind – why then do you have dozens of icons on the walls of your cell? " "Demitri, because of their grace! "

"Elder I understand that, I do know that icons are windows of grace, and that they somehow bring us closer to the saint they depict when we venerate them, but in your case, you cannot see. Wouldn't one or two icons be enough for you to venerate since you really don't know which icon you are venerating? "

"Demitri, of course I know which icon I venerate. Each icon has its own distinct grace! St. Irene has one grace, St. Barbara has her own grace, and St. Nicholas has an altogether different grace. "

The professor and his companions were in disbelief. "Elder I'm sorry but I have a difficult time believing this. Do you mind if we do a little test? Would you please tie your hands behind your back so I can bring you an icon to venerate? " Dr. Tselleggidis takes an icon off the wall from the back of the elder and places it on the elder's lips to venerate.

"Oh Demitri this is Saint Catherine the Great. "

"I'm sorry Elder but I think you made a mistake in this case. I hate to tell you but I think I took St. Barbara off the wall. I think you made a mistake! "

"My dear Demitri, the grace of St. Catherine is totally different. Trust me I know St. Barbara very well! Go ahead and read the name of the icon! "

The Professor was flabbergasted when he saw that the blind man could "see " much better than the PhD of dogmatics with perfect natural vision. The icon was that of Saint Catherine indeed! This had Professor Tselleggidis and his company in tears, and quite humbled. The purity and ascetical struggle of this blind elder transformed his inner vision and transfigured his cell to Mount Tabor!

Did you ever consider this? How did the eye witnesses of the Transfigured Lord recognize Moses and Elijah on either side of the Lord on Mount Tabor since they were totally blinded by the Uncreated Light – a light that turned the sunlight into candle light by comparison? Their natural eyes were useless but the eyes of their soul were wide opened! Only with the eyes of their soul did they recognize Moses and Elijah in the Holy Spirit. Does this answer how the blind monk was able to differentiate between the icons of different saints? He was a saint himself – he was at the state of theosis.

In closing I need to say that I'm not Orthodox simply because I was born to Orthodox parents. I am Orthodox because all the experiences of Moses, Aaron, Elijah, Elisha, and all the prophets are lived and experienced only in the Orthodox Church today! The Light of Mount Tabor comes out of the Holy Tomb of Christ every year on Holy Saturday only in Orthodoxy! Our Metropolitan Maximos was an eyewitness of the healing power of this holy fire. The flow of the waters of Jordan still turns backwards when our Orthodox Patriarch blesses and sanctifies the water of the Jordan every Epiphany! We have saintly elders in Orthodoxy with apostolic gifts not lesser than those of St. Paul and Saint Peter. The woman with the issue of blood in the gospel of Saint Mark was healed not by the Word of the Lord, not by His hands, but by the fringes of His cloak.

Here then is the theology of the icon, and of the relics of the Saints if you will: the icons are the FRINGES OF THE LORD'S CLOAK and by extension the fringes of all those who kept their baptismal garment pure and became christs by grace! My friends, we are surrounded by fellow citizens, very good people of many Christian denominations accentuating and emphasizing some doctrine of the gospel. Unbeknownst to them, their leaders have divided the garment of the Lord in thousands of pieces. In Orthodoxy we have not only the Lord with his garment intact but all the fringes of the Lord's Cloak, and His fringes are still miraculous today. In Orthodoxy we preserve all the trimmings of the Lord's banquet and every year during Great Lent our Holy Church invites us to come and enter the stadium of virtues, to search, touch, and taste the sweetness of its life-giving springs, to discover and see "that the Lord of Orthodoxy is good." Once we practice and apply our Orthodox faith, and we begin to explode with the love of Christ. It is then that we successfully begin to share this unfathomable treasure with the sixty million unchurched Americans, including the unchurched Orthodox who are waiting for you, the Good Samaritan, to lead them to the hospital called the Orthodox Church.


Constantine Zalalas
Sunday of Orthodoxy 2006
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Bethlehem PA 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Small Things are Important- St Luke the physician

This short story is an example how the little things demonstrate our firmness in our faith. Valentine Voino-Yassenesky was a highly respected surgeon at the time of the Communist revolution in Russia. He stands as a example for us because of the faith he demonstrated in a most horrible period of persecution for Christians in Russia. He later became Bishop Luke and then was affirmed as Saint Luke the Surgeon.

Valentine's deep faith was revealed in his life and work. His love for the sick and his great interest in the suffering sprang from his faith in God. He had an icon of the Mother of God hanging in the operating room. Before an operation he would make the sign of the cross, pray, and then make a cross with iodine on the patient's body. Only after this would he get down to work.

In the beginning of 1920, however, an examination committee ordered the icon to be removed from the operating room. Doctor Valentine reacted vigorously without fearing the consequences. He left the hospital, declaring that he would return only when the icon was returned to its place. ONe of the representatives of the committee declared with a certain dose of irony: "The operating room is a place of public service. We have separated the state from the church. IF your surgeon wishes to pray, that's fine and dandy, but he should keep the icon at home!"

Valentine did not yield. One admires his courage. At a time when he was in danger of losing not only his position but even his life, the faithful doctor dared to stand up to the resolute authorities for the sake of his faith. Hie persistence and unshakable faith in God brought quick results.

The wife of one of the Party members was brought to the hospital in need of an immediate operation. She demanded that only Professor Voino-Yassenetsky operate on her. Valentine was called to the visitor's room and asked to do the operation, but he answered firmly: "I am very sorry but in accordance with my beliefs, I cannot enter the operating room until the icon is first hung in its place."

The husband of the sick woman promised that, if the operation was done, the icon would be back the next morning. Valentine agreed. The operation was successful and the husband of the sick woman kept his world.