Monday, December 31, 2018

Why should we confess ? ( St. Paisios )

The Elder advised one visitor to go to confession. He objected:

— Gheronta, what sense is there in confessing, and then sinning again?

Then the Elder explained him:

— Look, during war, when someone is wounded, say, with a bullet in his leg, should he not first of all see the doctor to get his wound dressed? If he says: "Why should I get the wound dressed, if I shall be wounded again anyway?" Then he will die prematurely from bleeding or blood poisoning, which he could have avoided. The same thing happens with sins. That is why you go and confess, and if you fall again, confess again. And let it be so until you stop falling.

St. Paisios

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A CHRISTIAN OR AN ACTOR? ( Archimandrite Vassilios Bakoyiannis )

"Christ is born, give glory
Christ is upon earth, be exalted ! "
In Christ's love and many blessings,
the author

by Archimandrite Vassilios Bakoyiannis (CV)

Our life is beautiful, but it is corrupted by passions. The greatest damage (destruction), is done by the king of passions; selfishness. In this book we will see how this passion works in our soul, but also how we will overcome it, so that we can transform our lives, by truly living with the humble Jesus, being heirs of His Kingdom. Amen
A chapter from the book
1. “You will be like gods”
(Gen. 3:5)

God created Adam and Eve “in His image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26). With the
ability to improve their position; to come closer to Him. The devil knew this, and in order to deceive them, he told them if they eat the forbidden fruit, they “will be like gods” (Gen. 3:5). They believed and ate it, losing both God and themselves.
Coming out of Paradise, they did not forget that they had been created “in the image and likeness” of God. That they were once small gods. This has passed through their DNA, as a result all their descendants inherit it. Thus, every man is born with the illusion that he is an earthly god; that he is on top of the world, and everyone else is down below, looking and admiring him. Or, as the late Professor Nikolaos Nissiotis said, “we have the illusion that our ego is the center of the world. And everyone else is revolving around ourselves.” “Do not think, as you look at yourself, the others look at you when you are crossing crowds of people. The only thing they give attention, is to themselves”, a Priest said to a young man who suffered from agoraphobia.

As we view ourselves as god, we want the other person to think of it, and this is why we are expecting praise from that person, even if it is false. “You are great and powerful” , Queen Amalia used to say to Theodore Kolokotronis. “Do not believe her. She’s pulling your leg” Makriyiannis whispered in his ear. “I know, but I like it! ”. Take a look at this crazy fact: On the one hand, we consider ourselves to be on top of the world, seeing our fellow humans as a “footstool of our feet ” and on the other hand, we want from these trivial people, praise and applauses...!
This feeling (deception) of being earthly gods, makes us judge one another on our own merits. If you regularly wake up at seven in the morning, then, according to you, a person who wakes up at eight, wakes up late. Whereas the one who wakes up at six, according to you, he wakes up early.
A 9th grade (Middle School) student was asked: “How old is your theologian professor?” “He is old. Forty years old.” He was old, because the student who judged him, was young. “How old are you?” A 95-year-old man asked his fellow villager. “I am 85 years old.” “I see! You are young.” The 95-year-old responded, judging also (as the student) according to himself.

The struggle of a Christian is how to uproot from within himself the illusion, of being an earthly god, and gain the feeling that he is “dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27), so God may dwell within him, becoming like Him.
But most people cultivate the thought that they are earthly gods, going as far as to believe they are great and important, but may be small and trivial...! Do you see? We ourselves assemble, feed the passion of selfishness. Within us there is simply the tendency, the predisposition.

Publisher: Archangels Publications.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Divine Services on the Nativity of Christ

Next to Pascha, the Nativity of Christ is the most joyous festival, and may justly be called the "Winter Pascha." The celebration of the Nativity of Christ was established very early, possibly already in the first century. But until the end of the fourth century, the Nativity of Christ was celebrated with His Baptism on the 6th of January (the 19th according to the New Style) and was called Theophany. Beginning in the fourth century, the Nativity of Christ began to be celebrated on the 25th of December (on the day of the pagan festival in honor of the "Invincible Sun"). At present, this takes place on the 7th of January according to the Gregorian Calendar. The Church prepares the faithful for a worthy celebration of the Nativity of Christ by a forty-day fast, which begins on the 15 th/28th of November, on the day after the commemoration of the Apostle Philip (hence "Philip's Fast"). Orthodox Christians spend the Eve of the Nativity of Christ in strict fasting. According to the Typicon, on this day one may only eat sochivo (boiled wheat with honey), so this day is called Sochel'nik.

On the Eve of the Nativity of Christ, the "Royal Hours" are performed. This divine service differs from the usual "Hours" by the reading of special "paremias" (readings from the Bible, primarily from the Old Testament) corresponding to the feast. Furthermore, the Apostol and Gospel are read.

The Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is then performed with Vespers. At this Vespers, the stichera on "Lord, I have cried," depict both the inner significance and the outward picture of the Nativity of Christ. Thus, we hear how, with the Incarnation of the Son of God, the strife between God and men ceases, the fiery sword of the angel (blocking the entry to paradise) is turned back, and we receive access to paradise. We also hear of the doxology of the angels, of Herod's confusion, and of the unification of all men under the authority of the Roman emperor Augustus.

Additional paremias are read at Vespers. The first paremia (Gen. 1:1-13) speaks of the creation of man by God. The second (Num. 24:2-9, 17-18) speaks of the prophetic significance of the star out of Jacob and the birth of the Messiah, to whom all men will submit. The third (Micah 4:6-7, 5:2-4) speaks of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. The fourth (Isaiah 11:1-10) speaks of the Rod (i.e., the Messiah) that would come forth from the root of Jesse and of the fact that the Spirit of God would rest upon Him. The fifth (Baruch 3:36-38; 4:1-4) speaks of the appearance of God on earth and of His life among men. The sixth (Dan. 2:31-36, 44-45) prophecies the restoration of the Heavenly Kingdom by God. After the conclusion of the Liturgy, the priests stand before the icon of the feast in the middle of the Church, and glorify Christ with the singing of the troparion and the kontakion of the feast.

In the evening, on the Eve of the Nativity of Christ, a solemn All-night Vigil is served. This begins with Great Compline and the triumphant singing of the verses: God is with us, containing a prophecy of the birth of the Messiah (see Isaiah 7:14, 8:8-15 and 9:6-7). The stichera at the Litia express the triumph of heaven and earth, of angels and men, who rejoice over the descent of God to the earth and the spiritual and moral change in men that followed. The stichera for the Aposticha proclaim that a most glorious miracle has been performed: the Word is born incorruptibly from a Virgin and is not separated from the Father. After "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart," the following troparion is sung.


Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, shined the light of knowledge upon the world: for therein they that adored the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high: O Lord, glory be to Thee.

Before the reading of the Six Psalms at the beginning of Matins, the church choir joins with the heavenly choir to sing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will among men.

In the Canon, the thought is expressed that He Who was born of the Virgin is not a simple man, but God, Who has appeared in the flesh on earth for the salvation of men, as was foretold concerning Him in the Old Testament. In the Canon, Jesus Christ is called the Benefactor Who has reconciled us with God, and the Father Who has freed us from the authority of the devil and saved us from sin, the curse and death (see the Canon of Matins below). After the sixth ode of the Canon and the Small Litany is sung the following kontakion.


Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him Who is beyond being, and the earth offereth a cave to Him Who is unapproachable; angels doxologize with shepherds, and Magi journey with a star; for a young Child, the pre-eternal God, is born for our sake.

On the very feast of the Nativity, at the beginning of the Liturgy, instead of the psalms "Bless the Lord, O my soul" and "Praise the Lord, O my soul," special antiphons are sung. The prokeimenon before the Apostol expresses the worship of Jesus Christ by all creation: Let all the earth worship Thee and chant unto Thee; let them chant unto Thy name, O Most High. The reading from the Apostol explains how, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, we have become children of the Heavenly Father: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Gal. 4:4-7). The Gospel reading tells of the adoration by the Magi of the Lord Who had been born.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Every sin, in reality is a sin through pride ( St. Justin Popovich )

The third sin, which synthesizes all the sins of the world is: “the pride of life.” That is the first sin in all the worlds: the sin of Satan. The source of all sins, which always was and will forever stay as such. It can be said: pride is the ultimate sin. Every sin, through its life force, comes from it and holds to it: “the pride of life”–woven from countless multifarious prides, both great and small, both short-term and long term.

Let us remember the primary things: the pride of glory (scientific, government, in any rank or position in general), pride of beauty, pride of wealth, pride of benevolence, pride of humility (yes! of humility), pride of charity, pride of success…There is not a virtue that pride cannot convert into a vice. The pride of prayer converts the person praying into a Pharisee, and the ascetic into a self-murderer.

So, every sin, in reality is a sin through pride, because Satan in in reality Satan through pride. If it were not for pride, sin would not exist, neither in the angelic or the human world. All this “is not of the Father.” That which is of the Father is the Only Begotten Son of God. He is incarnate and personified humility before all of His divine perfections. In His Gospel, the beginning virtue, the ultimate virtue is humility (Matt. 5:3). Humility is the only medicine for pride and all other sins.
St. Justin Popovich

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Angel Did not Write down the Names of Those Who Took Communion with Unconfessed Sins

Rufinus the Presbyter. "Living of Desert Fathers."
(translated from Russian)
We cannot pass over in silence the inhabitants of the desert adjoining the Porfenian sea and bordering the area of the city Diolk. There we saw one wonderful priest, named Piammon, who was notable for the absolute humility and meek indulgence. He was given the grace of revelation. Once bringing the Bloodless Sacrifice to the Lord, he saw an Angel of the Lord near the Altar: he was holding a book in which he wrote down the names of the monks who approached to the Holy Altar. The elder carefully noticed whose names the Angel missed. After the end of the liturgy, he summoned separately each one of the missed by the Angel and asked him whether he had some secretly committed sin in the conscience. At this confession, he revealed that each of them was guilty of a mortal sin ... Then he persuaded them to bring repentance, and casting himself down before the Lord along with them, prayed with tears day and night, as if he was involved in their sins. And he was in repentance and tears until he saw the Angel again, standing before the Altar and writing down the names of those who were taking the Holy Mysteries. Having written down the names of everyone, the Angel even started to call each one by name, inviting to come to the Altar for reconciliation with God. And the elder, seeing this, understood that their repentance was accepted and happily admitted everyone to the Altar.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

This was from Me...

Have you ever thought that everything that concerns you, concerns Me, also? You are precious in my eyes and I love you; for this reason, it is a special joy for Me to train you. When temptations and the opponent [the Evil One] come upon you like a river, I want you to know that This was from Me.

I want you to know that your weakness has need of My strength, and your safety lies in allowing Me to protect you. I want you to know that when you are in difficult conditions, among people who do not understand you, and cast you away, This was from Me.

I am your God, the circumstances of your life are in My hands; you did not end up in your position by chance; this is precisely the position I have appointed for you. Weren't you asking Me to teach you humility? And there - I placed you precisely in the "school" where they teach this lesson. Your environment, and those who are around you, are performing My will. Do you have financial difficulties and can just barely survive? Know that This was from Me.

I want you to know that I dispose of your money, so take refuge in Me and depend upon Me. I want you to know that My storehouses are inexhaustible, and I am faithful in My promises. Let it never happen that they tell you in your need, "Do not believe in your Lord and God." Have you ever spent the night in suffering? Are you separated from your relatives, from those you love? I allowed this that you would turn to Me, and in Me find consolation and comfort. Did your friend or someone to whom you opened your heart, deceive you? This was from Me.

I allowed this frustration to touch you so that you would learn that your best friend is the Lord. I want you to bring everything to Me and tell Me everything. Did someone slander you? Leave it to Me; be attached to Me so that you can hide from the "contradiction of the nations." I will make your righteousness shine like light and your life like midday noon. Your plans were destroyed? Your soul yielded and you are exhausted? This was from Me.

You made plans and have your own goals; you brought them to Me to bless them. But I want you to leave it all to Me, to direct and guide the circumstances of your life by My hand, because you are the orphan, not the protagonist. Unexpected failures found you and despair overcame your heart, but know That this was from Me.

With tiredness and anxiety I am testing how strong your faith is in My promises and your boldness in prayer for your relatives. Why is it not you who entrusted their cares to My providential love? You must leave them to the protection of My All Pure Mother. Serious illness found you, which may be healed or may be incurable, and has nailed you to your bed. This was from Me.

Because I want you to know Me more deeply, through physical ailment, do not murmur against this trial I have sent you. And do not try to understand My plans for the salvation of people's souls, but unmurmuringly and humbly bow your head before My goodness. You were dreaming about doing something special for Me and, instead of doing it, you fell into a bed of pain. This was from Me.

Because then you were sunk in your own works and plans and I wouldn't have been able to draw your thoughts to Me. But I want to teach you the most deep thoughts and My lessons, so that you may serve Me. I want to teach you that you are nothing without Me. Some of my best children are those who, cut off from an active life, learn to use the weapon of ceaseless prayer. You were called unexpectedly to undertake a difficult and responsible position, supported by Me. I have given you these difficulties and as the Lord God I will bless all your works, in all your paths. In everything I, your Lord, will be your guide and teacher. Remember always that every difficulty you come across, every offensive word, every slander and criticism, every obstacle to your works, which could cause frustration and disappointment, This is from Me.

Know and remember always, no matter where you are, That whatsoever hurts will be dulled as soon as you learn In all things, to look at Me. Everything has been sent to you by Me, for the perfection of your soul. All these things were from Me.

St. Seraphim of Vrilisia

Monday, December 3, 2018

St. Theodora's Journey Through the Aerial Toll-Houses

According to the teachings of the Church, the particular judgment of souls by God is preceded by their torments, or rather a series of tests; these take place in the regions of the air, where the evil spirits have their domain (Eph. 6. 12). They detain the souls and declare and make manifest all the sins which these souls perpetrated during their lives. We know about these torments in great detail because they were revealed to Gregory, the disciple of the holy monk St. Basil the New, who lived in the first half of the Tenth century. Gregory in his vision learned about the hour of death and the passing through torments of a woman known as the Blessed Theodora.

When Gregory asked her to tell him about her passing away and about the circumstances that attended her death and followed it, she told him in great detail the following. "My child Gregory," she said, "you have asked me about a terrible thing, which it is frightening even to recollect.

"When the hour of my death came, I saw faces such as I had never seen before, and heard words such as I had never heard. What shall I say? Cruel and hard to endure evils, of which I formerly had no idea, encountered me then because of my evil deeds. However, through the prayers and the assistance of our common spiritual father Basil I was saved from these hardships. But how shall I tell you about that physical pain, that stress and close feeling which the dying experience? Like a man who, entirely naked, falls into a great fire, burns, melts, and turns into ashes; so the dying are destroyed by their deathly illness in the bitter hour when the soul parts from the body.

"When I drew near the end of my life and the time of my departure hence had come, I saw a great multitude of Ethiopians who had surrounded my couch. Their faces were dark like soot and pitch, their eyes were like glowing coals, their entire appearance was as frightening and evil as the fiery hell itself. They began to grow indignant and to make noise like dogs; others howled like wolves. As they looked at me, they were full of anger; they threatened me, kept rushing at me and gnashing their teeth, and appeared ready to devour me. Yet they seemed to wait for a judge who had not yet come but would do so: they were making ready charts and unrolling scrolls on which were written all my evil deeds. My miserable soul was taken by great fear and trembling. Not only the bitterness of death tormented me but even more the terrible appearance and the cruel demeanor of the frightening Ethiopians; these were to me like another death, only a worse one. I kept turning away my eyes in all directions so as not to see their terrible faces, and wished not to hear their voices, but I was unable to be rid of them. They turned everywhere and there was no one to help me.

"When I was at the end of my strength I saw two radiant angels of God, who were like youths of inexpressible beauty. They were coming toward me. Their faces were shining, their gaze was full of love; their hair was like snow, white with a golden tinge; their garments glistened like lightning and were girded with gold. When they came near me, they stopped on the right side of my couch and entered into a quiet conversation between themselves. As I saw them I was filled with joy and looked at them with pleasure.

"The black Ethiopians shuddered and retreated some distance. One of the radiant youths, angrily addressing the black ones, said: 'O shameless, cursed, dark, and evil enemies of the human race! Why do you always come first to the dying and frighten and confuse every parting soul by your words? You have no reason to rejoice, for here you will find nothing. God is merciful to this soul, and you have no part and no allotment in her.' When the angel ceased speaking, the Ethiopians tottered, began to cry out, and mutter, and point to all my evil deeds, committed from my youth on. They exclaimed: 'We have no part in her, you say! Whose sins then are these? Did she not do such and such?' With such exclamations they kept their position and were waiting for death. When death came, it was roaring like a lion and was very frightening in appearance. It looked like a human being but had no body; instead it consisted of human bones. Death brought various instruments of torture, such as swords, arrows, javelins, sickles, saws, and others unknown to me. When I saw these, my humble soul trembled with fear. The holy angels said to death: 'Do not tarry, free this soul from its bodily ties, and do it fast and quietly, for she has but a small burden of sins.' Death stepped up to me, took a small axe and separated my legs, then my arms; then with its other instruments it weakened all the rest of my limbs, separating them joint by joint. I lost the use of my arms and legs, my whole body grew numb, and I no longer was able to move. Finally death cut off my head, and I no longer could move it, for it felt as if it belonged to someone else. Lastly, death dissolved in a cup some kind of mixture, and putting the cup to my lips, made me drink. The potion was so bitter that my soul was unable to endure it. It shuddered and went out of my body.

"The light-bearing angels immediately took it in their arms. When I looked back I saw my body lying breathless and immovable. I looked at my body like someone who has taken off his clothes and thrown them down; this was a strange feeling. Meanwhile, although the holy angels were holding me, the demons, in their Ethiopian guise, surrounded us and cried: 'This soul has a multitude of sins—let her answer for them!' They kept pointing to my sins, but the holy angels sought out my good deeds; and indeed, with God's help they found all that, by God's grace, I ever did of good. The angels gathered together everything that was good: all those instances when I gave alms to the needy, or fed the hungry, or gave the thirsty to drink, or clothed the naked, or brought into my house and rested there the homeless, or served the servants of God, or visited the sick, and comforted them or those who were imprisoned; and also when I went with diligence to God's house and prayed with all my heart and shed tears, or when I attentively listened to what was read and sung in church, or brought to church incense and candles, or filled with oil the church lamps before the icons, or kissed the icons with awe and reverence; or when I fasted and abstained on Wednesdays, Fridays, or during other fasts, or when I prostrated myself before God and spent nights awake in prayer, or when I sighed to God and wept for my sins, or confessed my sins before my spiritual father with great regret for what I had done, and then tried with all my strength to balance my sins with good deeds; or when I did anything good to my neighbors, when I bore no anger to my enemies, bore no grudges and meekly endured hurts and reproaches, did good in return for evil, humbled myself, felt sorry for those who suffered and commiserated with those to whom anything bad happened, comforted those who were weeping and rendered them assistance, supported any good beginning and tried to turn people away from what was bad; or myself turned my eyes away from vanity and kept my tongue from oaths, lies, or bearing false witness, or speaking without need—and all my other good deeds, even the least important ones, did the holy angels gather and make ready to put on the scale in order to balance my evil deeds.

"The Ethiopians, however, saw this and gnashed their teeth at me. They wanted to tear me instantly from the angels' arms and to carry me down to the bottom of hell. At this time holy Basil himself appeared unexpectedly and said to the holy angels. 'Holy angels! This soul did great service to ease my old age, and therefore I prayed for her to God, and God has given her to me.' Having said this, he took something out that appeared like a little bag of gold and gave it to the angels with the words: 'Here is the treasure of prayers before the Lord for this soul! As you pass through the torments of the air and the evil spirits begin to torment her, pay her debts with this.'

"He then disappeared, but the evil spirits, when they saw the gift of holy Basil, at first stood dumbfounded. Then they raised plaintive cries and became invisible. Then Basil, the man who had pleased God, came again. He bore many vessels of pure oil and precious myrrh, and all these, one after the other, he poured on me. I was filled with spiritual fragrance and felt that I had changed and become very light. Once more the holy man said to the angels: 'When, holy angels, you will have done for this soul all that is needed, lead her to the dwelling that the Lord has prepared for me, and let her remain there.' Then he once more became invisible. The holy angels took me up, and we went eastward through the air.

The First Torment. "As we were rising from the earth to the heights of heaven, we were first met by the spirits of the first torment. Here the souls are tormented for the sins of idle speech; this is, for speaking without thinking, or speaking what is vile and shameless, or speaking without need or order. We stopped, and many scrolls were brought out on which there were recorded all the words that I had uttered from my youth on, either needlessly or unreasonably; and especially when such words expressed anything unclean or blasphemous, as young people frequently bear on their tongue.

"There I saw recorded all my angry words, foul words, worldly shameless songs, wild cries and laughter. The evil spirits accused me of all this and indicated the time and place, when and where and in whose company, I spoke these vain words or evoked the wrath of God by my unseemly words, even though at the time I did not consider such things sinful; and paying no great attention to them did not confess them to my spiritual father, and never repented. Now I kept silent, as if I had lost my voice. I was unable to reply because the evil spirits accused me rightly. But while I was silent in my shame and trembled with fear, the holy angels offered some of my good deeds and, since these were not enough, they added something from the treasure given me by the holy man Basil; and thus they paid my debts at this station.

Second Torment. "Thence we ascended and drew near the torment of lying. Here is tested every lying word: failure to keep oaths, vain use of God's name, failure to keep vows given to God, insincere or false confession of sins, and the like. The spirits of this station are evil and ruthless. They stopped us and began to question us closely. However, I was accused of two things only: first, that I occasionally lied in matters of small importance—something that I did not even consider sinful; second, that, because of a false sense of shame, I sometimes insincerely confessed my sins to my spiritual father. As for false oaths or false witness, none of these, through Christ's grace, was found in me. Here the holy angels put down for my sins some of my good deeds, but the prayers of my spiritual father did even more to save me. We went on.

Third Torment. "We reached the station where souls answer for speaking evil of others and spreading rumors about them. When we were stopped here, I understood how heavy is the sin of speaking evil about one's neighbor, and how great an evil it is to spread bad rumors, judge the deeds of others, damage someone's reputation, slander, give bad words to people, or laugh at other's deficiencies. Such sinners are regarded as Antichrists, since even before Christ has judged their neighbors they already allow themselves this right of judgment. In me, however, through the grace of Christ, they did not find much of these sins, for all the days of my life I always diligently strove not to condemn anyone, never to spread falsehoods about people, never to laugh at anyone, and never to give anyone bad words. Only occasionally, when I heard how other people condemn, malign, or laugh, did I too happen to agree with them to some extent in thought, or even, in my carelessness, add my word to what they were saying; but even then I instantly caught myself and stopped. But here I was held responsible even for the inclination. Here also the angels freed me by means of the prayers of the holy man Basil, and we continued to ascend.

Fourth Torment. "We reached the station where gluttony is punished, and evil spirits immediately rushed out to meet us, for they hoped to find a victim. Their faces resembled those of sensuous gluttons and despicable drunkards. They walked around us like dogs and immediately showed their count of all the instances when I ate secretly from others, or without need, or when I ate in the morning before I had even prayed and put on myself the sign of the cross; or when, during the holy fasts, I ate before the church service was over. They also revealed all the instances when I was drunk and even showed us those very cups, goblets, and others vessels from which I became intoxicated at such and such a time, during such and such a feast, with such and such companions. And every other instance of my gluttony was pointed out to me, and the demons already rejoiced, as if they had put their hands on me. I was trembling at the sight of such accusations and did not know how to object. But the holy angels took out enough from what was given to us by the holy man Basil, balanced my sins with this and set me free.' When the spirits saw the ransom, they cried out: 'woe! our labors and hopes have perished!' and threw their records of my gluttony into the air. I, however, rejoiced, and we went on.

"As we were ascending, the holy angels talked among themselves and said words to this effect: 'Truly does this soul have great help from Basil, a man who has pleased God. If it had not been for his prayers, she would have suffered a great deal in those stations of the air.' I took courage and said to them: 'It seems, holy angels, that none of the earth dwellers knows what happens here and what the soul can expect after death.' 'But the angels replied: 'Does not the Divine Scripture testify concerning all of this? It is read in churches and preached by priests. Only those people who are passionately devoted to the vanities of earth take no heed of what they are told, and since they consider daily gluttony and drunkenness to be the greatest pleasure, they eat beyond measure and drink without thinking of the fear of God. Their belly is their God. They have no thought of future life and do not remember what is said in the Scripture: "Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger" (Luke 6. 25).

"'Still, even the gluttonous can be saved. Those of them that are merciful and kindhearted to needy and beggars and help those who ask for help—such men can easily obtain from God forgiveness of their sins, and because of their kindheartedness toward their neighbors, pass the stations of torment without stopping. It is said in the Scripture: alms save from death and cleanse every kind of sin; those who give alms and do justice will be filled with life (Tob. 12. 9). But he who does not strive to cleanse his sins by good deeds cannot escape the dark tormentors who lead the sinners down to hell and hold them bound until the terrible judgment at Christ's Second Coming. You too would not have escaped here your evil lot, were it not that you have received the treasure of holy Basil's prayers.'

Fifth Torment. "During this conversation we reached the station of sloth, where sinners are accused of all those days and hours which they spent in idleness. Here too are detained those who did not work themselves but lived by the labor of others; and those who were hired to work, took their wages, but did not fulfill the duties which they had taken upon themselves. And also are stopped here those who do not care to praise God and are too lazy to go to church on holidays and Sundays, either in the morning or to the Divine Liturgy, or to other church services. And here too people are accused of despondency and general carelessness about things that have to do with the salvation of their souls; and this happens to both laymen and those who are ordained. Many are thence led into the abyss. I too was accused there of much and could not have freed myself if the holy angels had not balanced my deficiencies by the gifts of the holy man Basil.

Sixth Torment. "Thence we came to the torment of stealing, and although we were briefly stopped there, we went on after we had given a small ransom only: for no stealing was found on my record, except some very unimportant occurrences in my childhood, and those stemmed from lack of reason.

Seventh Torment. "We passed without stopping through the station of avarice and love of money. By God's grace I never loved riches. I was content with what God gave me and never was avaricious; on the contrary, I diligently gave to the needy that which I had.

Eighth Torment. "When we rose still higher, we came to the station of usury, where those are accused who lend money for illegal interest; and here too are stopped those who gain riches by exploiting their neighbors; and those who take bribes, or by some other way stealing indirectly, acquire what really belongs to others. The tormentors, when they did not find me guilty of such sins, gnashed their teeth with annoyance, but we went on, praising God in the meanwhile.

Ninth Torment. "Now there lay before us the torment of injustice. Here are punished the unjust judges who acquit the guilty and condemn the innocent, all for the sake of gain; and also those who do not give the appointed wages to those whom they have hired, and the merchants who use false weights and measures; and all the others who are in some way or other unjust. We, however, by God's grace, passed this station without incurring any grief after we had given only a little bit for my sins in this regard.

Tenth Torment. "As for the torment of envy, we passed it without giving anything at all in payment, for I never had been envious. Here also people have to face the accusations of lack of love, hatred toward their brethren, unfriendliness, and other manifestations of hatred. Through the mercy of Christ our God, I was found innocent of all these sins; and although I saw the savagery of the demons, I no longer was afraid of them. Joyfully we went on.

Eleventh Torment. "We passed then the station of pride, where arrogant spirits make accusations of vanity, absolute reliance on oneself rather than on God, disdain of others, and bragging; and here too the souls are tormented for their failure to give proper honor to their parents, their government, or their other superiors appointed by God, and for failure to obey them. Here we put down very little for my sins, and I was free.

Twelfth Torment. "As we continued rising toward heaven, we encountered the torment of anger and ruthlessness. Happy is the man who never in his life felt anger. The eldest of the evil spirits was sitting here on a throne, and he was full of anger, ruthlessness, and pride. Ruthlessly and angrily he ordered his servants to torment and accuse me. They licked their chaps like dogs and began to point out not only all those occasions when I actually said something angry or unfeeling to anyone, or harmed anyone by my words, but even those instances when I merely looked angrily at my children or punished them severely. All these cases they represented vividly and even indicated the time when everything happened, the persons on whom I poured out my anger, the very words which I then used, and in whose presence I used them. The angels replied to all this by offering part of the treasure, and we went on.

Thirteenth Torment. "After this the torment of bearing grudges lay before us. Here merciless accusations await those who nurture in their hearts evil thoughts against their neighbors and return evil for evil. God's mercy saved me here too, for I did not tend to have such wicked designs and did not use to keep in mind offences of others toward me; on the contrary, whenever I could I displayed love and meekness toward those who offended me, and thus overcame their evil by my goodness. Here we paid nothing. Joyful in the Lord, we went on.

"Here I dared to ask my angel leaders: 'Tell me how can these terrible rulers of the air know in such detail all the evil deeds of men, and not only the open ones but even those that are secret?' The angels replied: 'Every Christian, as soon as he is baptized, receives from God an appointed guardian angel who guards him invisibly and inspires him night and day to every kind of good deed; he also records all his good deeds, for which that man later can hope to receive from the Lord grace and eternal recompense in the Heavenly Kingdom. The prince of darkness, who desires to draw into his own destruction the whole race of men as well, also appoints one of his evil spirits to walk in the man's steps and record all his evil deeds. It is his duty to inspire man to such deeds by any vile trickery in his power; and when he succeeds in his designs, he records all the wickedness of which the man has made himself guilty. Such an evil spirit spreads the report of every man's sins to all the stations of torment, and this is how the sins become known to the princes of the air. When the soul parts from its body and desires to go to its Creator in heaven, the evil spirits prevent the soul and show to it its sins. If the soul has done more good deeds than evil, they cannot keep it; but if the sins outweigh the good deeds, they keep the soul for some time, shut it up in the prison where it cannot know God, and torment it as much as God's power allows them, until that soul, by means of prayers of the Church and good deeds done for its sake by those who are still on earth, should be granted forgiveness.

"Those who believe in the Holy Trinity and take as frequently as possible the Holy Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ our Saviour's Body and Blood—such people can rise to heaven directly, with no hindrances, and the holy angels defend them, and the holy saints of God pray for their salvation, since they have lived righteously. No one, however, takes care of the wicked and depraved heretics, who do nothing useful during their lives, and live in disbelief and heresy. The angels can say nothing in their defence.

"When a soul proves to be so sinful and impure before God that it has no hope of salvation, the evil spirits immediately bring it down into the abyss, where their own place of eternal torment is also. There the lost souls are kept until the time of the Lord's Second Coming. Then they will unite with their bodies and will incur torment in the fiery hell together with the devils. 'Note also,' said the angels, 'that this is the way by which only those who are enlightened by the faith and by holy baptism can rise and be tested in the stations of torment. The unbelievers do not come here. Their souls belong to hell even before they part from their bodies. When they die the devils take their souls with no need to test them. Such souls are their proper prey, and they take them down to the abyss.'

Fourteenth Torment. "During our conversation we reached the torment of murder, where are accused not only men such as robbers, but even those who have in some way wounded another man, or given him a blow, or pushed him angrily, or shoved him. We gave a little and went on.

Fifteenth Torment. "We passed the torment of magic, sorcery, poisoning, and incantations. The spirits of this station resemble serpents, snakes, and toads. They are frightening and repulsive. By the grace of God they found nothing of the kind in me, and we went on, accompanied by the shouts of the demons: 'Soon you will come to the torment of fornication; let us see how you will free yourself from it!'

"As we were rising, I dared to question the holy angels once more: 'Do all Christians pass these torments? Is there no possibility to pass by the torments and not be tested in any of the stations?' The angels replied: 'There is no other way for the souls that rise toward heaven. Every one goes this way, but not everyone is tormented like you; only sinners like you incur the torments, for they have not confessed their sins fully, and moved by a false sense of shame, have kept their really shameful deeds secret from their spiritual fathers. When a man wholeheartedly confesses his evil deeds and repents and regrets them, his sins are invisibly wiped out by God's mercy. When a repentant soul comes here, the tormentors of the air open their books but find nothing written there; the soul, however, joyfully ascends to the throne of God.

"'The evil spirits open their records but find nothing written there, for the Holy Spirit has made invisible all the writing. The spirits see this and know that what they have recorded has all been obliterated because of the soul's confession, and they are very much saddened by this. If the man is still alive when his confession has wiped out his sins, the spirits once again try to have an occasion to record some new sins of his.

"'Indeed, there is a great source of salvation for man in his confession! Confession saves him from many misfortunes and much unhappiness and gives him the opportunity to pass all the torments with no hindrance and to approach God. Some people do not confess their sins because they hope to have time for salvation and for a remittance of their sins; others are simply ashamed of telling their spiritual father about their sins. They will, however, be severely tested when they pass the stations of torment. There are still other people, who are ashamed of telling everything to one spiritual father. Therefore they choose several and reveal some of their sins to one and others to another, and so on; they will be punished for this kind of confession and will suffer a great deal as they pass from one torment into another.

"'If you too had made a complete confession of your sins and had been granted remission of them, and had then done all you could to make up for them by good deeds—if you had done all this, you would not have been subjected to such terrible torments in the stations. You were, however, greatly helped by the fact that you have long ago ceased to commit deadly sins and have spent the rest of your life in virtue; and especially have you been helped by the prayers of God's holy man Basil, whom you have served much and diligently.'

Sixteenth Torment. "During our conversation we approached the torment of fornication, where souls are accused not of actual fornication only but also of amorous daydreaming, of finding such thoughts sweet, of impure glances, lustful touches and passionate strokings. The prince of this torment was clothed in a dirty and stenching garment befouled by a bloody foam, and there was a multitude of demons standing around him. When they saw me they marveled that I had already 'Passed so many torments. They brought out the records of all my deeds of fornication and accused me by pointing out the persons, the places, and the times: with whom, when, and where I sinned in my youth. I kept silent and was trembling with shame and fear. The holy angels, however, said to the devils: 'Long ago has she left her deeds of fornication and has spent the remainder of her life in purity, abstinence, and fasting.' But the demons replied: 'We too know that she has long ago ceased sinning, but she has not sincerely confessed to her spiritual father and has not received from him proper directions for the satisfaction which she should do for her sins. Therefore she is ours! Either leave her to us or ransom her with good deeds.' The angels put down many of my good deeds but even more did they take from the gift given us by the holy man Basil; barely did I save myself from great grief.

Seventeenth Torment. "We reached the torment of adultery, where are accused of their sins those who are married but do not observe marital fidelity toward each other and do not keep their marriage bed undefiled; and here too rapes are punished. Besides, here are strictly punished those who have devoted themselves to God and promised to live for Christ alone, but have fallen and failed to keep their purity. I too had a great debt here; the evil spirits already had accused me and were about to tear me from the arms of the angels, but the angels began to argue with them and show them all my later labors and good deeds. After some time they rescued me, but with difficulty, and not so much by my good deeds, all of which, down to the last, they deposited here—but rather by the treasure of my father Basil, from which they also took very much to put on the scale to balance my iniquities. Then they took me and we went on.

Eighteenth Torment. "We approached the station of the Sodomic sins; here souls are Accused of all unnatural sins, incests, and others revolting deeds performed in secret, shameful and frightening even to think about. The prince of this torment was more disgusting than any other devil; he was befouled by pus and full of stench. His servants were similar to him. The stench that came from them was not to be endured, their ugliness was unimaginable, their cruelty and ruthlessness not to be expressed. They surrounded us but by the grace of God found nothing in me and ran away from us in their shame. We, however, went on.

"The holy angels said to me: 'You have seen, Theodora, the frightening and disgusting torments of fornication! Know then that few are the souls that pass them without stopping and paying their ransom; for the whole world lies immersed in the evils of seductive foulness, and all mankind is sensuous. Few guard against the impurities of fornication and deaden the desire of their own flesh. And this is the reason why few pass here freely; many come as far as this place but perish here. The rulers of the torments of fornication boast that they more than any of the others fill the fiery abyss of hell with the souls of men. But you, Theodora, must thank God that you have already passed the torments of fornication by the prayers of the holy man Basil, your father. Now you will no longer fear.'

Nineteenth Torment. "Thereafter we came to the torment of heresies, where are punished those reasonings about faith which are not right, and also turning away from the Orthodox confession of faith, and lack of faith, doubts about it, denial of holy things or a negative attitude toward them, and other sins of the kind. I passed this torment without being tested; we were no longer far from the gates of Heaven.

Twentieth Torment. "But here we were met by the evil spirits of the last torment, the station that tests lack of compassion and cruelty of heart. Cruel are the tormentors of this place, and their prince is terrible, and dried-up and depressed is his appearance. Here the souls of the unmerciful are tormented without mercy. Even if a man performs the most outstanding deeds, mortifies himself by fasting, prays ceaselessly, and guards and keeps the purity of his body, but is merciless from this station he is cast down into the abyss of hell and will receive no mercy in all eternity. We, however, by the grace of Christ, passed this place without trouble, for we were helped by the prayers of the holy man Basil.

"Now we approached the gates of Heaven. We entered joyfully, for we had passed unharmed through the bitter tests of the torments. The gates resembled crystal, and the buildings that stood there glistened like stars. The youths who stood there were wearing golden garments. They joyfully received us, for they saw that a soul had escaped from the bitter tests of the torments of the air.

"As we were walking in heaven, joyful and glad to be saved, the water that was above the earth parted, and, then it closed again behind us. We came to a very awesome place where there were very beautiful youths in fiery garments. They saw the angels carrying me and met us with joy at the salvation of my soul for the kingdom of God. They went together with us and sang the Divine Song.

"As we continued walking, a cloud descended on us, and then another cloud; and when we had gone somewhat farther, we saw an inexplicable height on which was the throne of God; it was very white and enlightened all who stood before it. Around it stood very beautiful youths clothed in red and shining. Why should I, my child Gregory, tell you about it? There are things that cannot be either understood or explained. Reason is clouded by incapacity to understand fully, and memory vanishes there; I forgot where I was.

"The holy angels who had brought me there led me to the throne of God, and here I bowed before the Unseen God; and then I heard a voice which said: 'Go with her and show her all the souls of the blessed and of the sinners, all the dwellings of the saints that are in Paradise, and the dwellings in the nether regions of hell; then grant her rest wherever my follower Basil will indicate.'

"We went on a road unknown to me and came to the dwellings of the saints. What shall I say about them? I am in confusion. There are various chambers arranged artfully and beautifully. Of course they are created by God's hand and are what the Scripture calls 'the cool place, the fruitful place, the place of rest.'

"When I saw all this I marveled and was very joyous and happily looked at everything. A holy angel who was showing these things to me explained: 'This is the abode of the Apostles; that one—of the prophets and other martyrs; those others of the holy bishops, holy monks, and the holy righteous.' All these were in their breadth and length like a king's city.

"When we entered and found ourselves inside these lovely dwellings, the saints met us and kissed us in spirit and rejoiced in my salvation. Then they took me to the abode of the patriarch Abraham and showed me everything that was there. Everything was full of glory and of spiritual joy; of fragrant flowers, myrrh, and sweet odors.

"There were various chambers, which are made and upheld by God's Spirit alone. We saw there a multitude of infants who were happy and rejoicing. I asked my angel leaders: 'Who are these infants gathered here, bathed in light, rejoicing around this holy old man?' The angels replied that this was the patriarch Abraham, and that the multitude was composed of Christian infants.

"Then we went to see the surroundings of Paradise; but their beauty simply cannot be described. If I should begin to tell all that I saw and heard there, I should be filled with fear and trembling.

"Then I was led into the nether reaches of hell, where the Lord has bound and imprisoned Satan. There I saw frightening torments. Thence they led me westward, and there too I saw similar horrible torments, ready for sinners. As the angels showed all this to me, they said: 'Do you see from what misfortunes you have been saved by the prayers of the holy man?'

"The sinners in their horrible torments were shrieking and begging for mercy. I saw torments of such a kind that it is excruciating even to tell about them.

"When we had passed and examined all this, one of the angels who, accompanied me said: 'You know, Theodora, that in the world there is the custom to remember the dead on the fortieth day after their death; today the holy man Basil remembers you on earth in his prayers.'

"Yes, my spiritual child Gregory, forty days have now passed since the time when my soul parted from my body, and I am in the place which is ready also for our holy father Basil. You are still in the world, and so is holy Basil, but he shows the way of truth to all who come to him, and by compelling them to repent he makes many turn to the Lord.

"Come with me. We shall enter my inner chamber and you will look at it. Not long before you came, the holy man Basil was also here."

I went after her and we entered together. As we were walking along I saw that her garments were as white as snow.

We entered a palace decorated with gold. In its midst there were various trees that bore splendid fruit. When I looked east I saw luxurious halls, light and high. There was a large table on which stood golden vessels; they looked very expensive and were wondrous to look at. In the vessels were vegetables of all sorts, and fragrance issued from them.

The holy man Basil was there, sitting on a marvelous throne. Near the table there stood people, but they were unlike those who live on earth and have bodies: they were surrounded as if by the rays of the sun, but they still looked human.

As they ate the food that was on the table, the amount of the food became replenished of itself. Beautiful youths were serving them. When any of those who were at the table wished to drink, he poured a liquid into his mouth and experienced a spiritual sweetness. They spent long hours at this table. The youths who were serving them were girded with golden belts, and on their heads were crowns made from a precious stone.

Theodora approached the holy man and begged him for me. The holy man looked at me and joyfully called me to himself. I approached and bowed before him to the ground, as was our custom. He quietly told me: "God will be merciful to you and forgive you, my child! He is the All-merciful; He will reward you with all the heavenly goods." He lifted me from the ground and continued: "Here is Theodora. You very much wished to see her and asked me for this so intently: now you do see her, and you see where she is and of what destiny her soul has been found worthy in this our life beyond death. Look at her well."

Theodora looked at me and said: "My brother Gregory! Because you thought about me humbly, the merciful Lord has fulfilled your wish through the prayer of our father, the holy man Basil."

The holy man turned to Theodora and said: "Go with him and show him my garden. Let him see its beauty." She took me by my right hand and brought me to a wall in which there was a golden gate. After she had opened the gate, she led me inside the garden. There I saw trees of a marvelous beauty. Their leaves were golden, they were full of flowers and emitted an unusually pleasant fragrance.

There was a countless number of such lovely trees. Their branches were bowed to the ground because of the weight of the fruit. All this astonished me. Theodora turned toward me and asked: "Why do you wonder? How much would you marvel if you saw the garden called Paradise, which the Lord Himself planted in the East!? You would be astonished at its greatness and beauty. As compared to it, this garden is nothing."

I begged Theodora to tell me who had planted this garden, for I had never seen anything like it. She replied that it was obvious that I never had, for I was still living on earth; here, however, everything was other than earthly, and the life led here was other than earthly.

"God grants such dwellings in the life beyond death, but only to those who have led a life full of labors and sweat, such as the life of our holy father Basil has been from his youth to his deep old age. Such dwellings are granted to those who pray zealously and deny their desires, as he has done when he slept on bare ground, endured intense heat and frost, ate on occasion nothing except grass. This is the kind of life which he has led before he came to Constantinople, but this life was a source of salvation to himself, and through him, to many others. This kind of life, and prayers of holy men like Basil, enable the departed to enter the abodes of the blessed.

"He who during his earthly life endures many griefs and misfortunes; he who strictly keeps the Lord's commandments and does not swerve from them—he receives his reward and his comfort in the life beyond death. The holy author of the Psalms, David, said about the difficult life on earth that pleases God: 'Eat of the fruit of your labors'."

When Theodora told me that life in heaven is different from life on earth, I could not help touching myself, for I seemed eager to know if I was still in the flesh; as of course I was. My feelings and thoughts were pure, and my spirit rejoiced in all that I had seen. I wished to return to the palace by the same gate through which I had entered. When, however, I had returned to the palace, I no longer found anyone at the table.

I bowed to Theodora and returned home; and at that very moment I awoke and thought to myself: where have I been and what was all that which I have seen and heard?

I rose from my bed and went to the holy Basil in order to learn from him whether my vision was from God or from the devils. When I came to him, I, according to our custom, bowed to the ground. He blessed me, bade me to sit near him and asked me: "Do you know, my child, where you were this night?"

I pretended to know nothing and replied: "My father, I have been nowhere; I was sleeping on my bed." The holy man said: "This is true. Your body actually was asleep on your bed, but your spirit was elsewhere, and you still know everything that was revealed to you this night.

"You have seen Theodora. When you approached the gates of the heavenly kingdom, she met you joyfully, led you inside the house, showed you everything, told you about her death and about all the torments that she had passed.

"Was it not at my bidding that you went into the court where you saw a marvelous table and its wondrous arrangement? Did you not see the vegetables placed there, and did you not recognize their sweetness and see the flowers, and what the feasters drank, and what youths were serving them?

"Did you not stand still and look at the beauty of those halls? When I came, did I not tell you to look at Theodora, since you had so much wished to see her and learn from her how she had been rewarded for her saintly life?

"Did she then not lead you at my bidding within the sacred enclosure? Did you not see all this in your vision this night?

"How is it then that you are saying that you have seen nothing?"

When I heard the saint saying all this, I no longer doubted that this was no delusion, no dream, but an actual vision sent to me by the Lord God.

I said to myself: how great must this holy man be before God! He himself was there in both his body and his soul, and now he knows all that I have seen and heard there! My eyes filled with tears and I said: "It is true, my holy father; everything was such as you have said. I thank the Lover of Men, the Lord our God Jesus Christ, Who has granted it to me to see all this and has put it in my thoughts to take recourse to you, so that I can constantly be under the protection of your prayers and can be filled with the sweetness of my vision, in which such great marvels have been revealed to me."

The saint said to me: "If, my child Gregory, you will complete your earthly journey rightly and will not swerve from the Divine commandments, the evil spirits of the torments in the air will be unable after your death to harm you; you have heard this from Theodora: you will pass the stations of torment and will be blessed. Joyfully will you be met where you have been this night and have seen Theodora; and where 1, sinner that I am, also hope to be admitted to the abode which you have seen; for I place my hope upon Christ, Who has promised to give His grace to me.

"Listen, my child, to what I am saying to you, but keep the secret of your father. I wish to die before you, and you will follow me after a long time, when you will have perfected yourself in good works. This has been revealed to me by the Lord.

"Keep secret all that I have told you, while I am alive; let no one find out anything of what you have heard.

"When I am dead, if you should wish to undertake the labor and not to leave my humble life without remembrance, describe it as it is customary to describe the lives of those who have exerted themselves in virtue.

"Describe, that is, not so much my life as that divine grace which has led and strengthened me throughout my entire life, and give me the ability to perform not only good deeds but even miracles.

"Represent all that you seen and heard, and let it benefit those who will read or listen to your account. But be careful to state, first of all, that the Lord, when He so deigns, helps any man to do great wonders; and tell everything about these wonders witnessed by you, so that those who will learn about them from you may praise God, Who is generous with what is good.

"Beware of the traps of the evil one at all times of day and night until the Lord should call you." All this and many other things did the holy man tell me. Then he prayed and dismissed me. 
(Lives of the Saints for March 26th).

Friday, November 30, 2018

How did Christ chose his 12 Apostles ( St. Cyril of Alexandria )

"And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve, whom He also named apostles." (Lk 6: 13)

Choosing the Twelve Apostles

Our Lord Jesus Christ spent the night in prayer, conversing with His Father and God in heaven in a way indescribable and beyond our powers of understanding, a way which is solely known to Himself. He thus makes Himself an example to us of that which is necessary for salvation, for He taught us in what way we too may rightly and blamelessly offer our prayers. He then came down from the mountain, and appointed those who were to be the world’s teachers, according to the words He spoke, "You are the light of the world." (Matt. 5: 14) Of this appointment of the holy Apostles, the blessed David also makes mention addressing himself, as it were to Christ, "You shall make them princes in all the earth; I will make Your name to be remembered in every generation." (Ps. 45:16) For truly, while they were in the body, they make mention of the glory of Christ, telling His mystery both in cities and villages. Now that they have been called to the mansions that are above, they still converse with us about Him, by the most wise history which they have written concerning Him.

Gifts given to the Apostles

Indeed, those who were appointed priests according to the law of Moses, even Aaron and his company, were made beautiful to the senses by vestments suitable to their priestly dignity. But the divine disciples, being adorned with spiritual gifts, had entrusted to them the ministry of the Gospel oracles. For it was said to them, "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons." (Matt. 10:8) Being thus invested with Christ’s power, they filled the whole world with astonishment. But notice the extreme moderation of the Evangelist. He does not simply say that the holy Apostles were appointed, but rather, by introducing the record of these chief ones each by name, takes care that no one should venture to enroll himself in the company of those that were chosen. For as Paul said, "No man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God." (Heb. 5: 4) Though the holy Apostles were called by name to this great and splendid dignity, yet from time to time, some men have gone to such a pitch of madness and audacity, as even to name themselves Apostles of Christ, and to seize an honor not granted unto them. Of these the divine disciples made mention, for they said, "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder; for Satan even transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness." (2 Cor. 11: 13-14) However, we neither acknowledge nor will receive any one, except those only so named in the Evangelic writings, and also the one who was appointed after them, the most wise Paul. The Savior Himself bore witness to him saying, "He is a vessel of Mine, to bear My name before all the gentiles." (Acts 9: 15)

Symbols of the Holy Apostles

The law pointed them out before in type, and the prophets also proclaimed them. As for instance, it is written in the Mosaic record, "And you shall take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes with it; and you shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial." (Lev. 24: 5-6) Who else can be the bread that came down form heaven and gives life to the world, except Christ, the Savior of the universe? In a similar manner the blessed disciples also are named loaves. Having been made partakers of Him, Who nourishes us unto life eternal, they also nourish by their own writings those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. As the Savior is the true light, He also called His disciples, "You are the light of the world."(Matt. 5: 14) Also being Himself the bread of life, He has bestowed upon His disciples to be ranked as loaves. Please, observe the marvelous art of the law: for you shall put, it says, upon the loaves of frankincense and salt. Now the frankincense is the symbol of a sweet odor; and the salt that of understanding and good sense. Both of them existed in the highest degree in the holy Apostles. Their life was one of a sweet savor, as they also said, "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ." (2 Cor. 2: 15) More over, they were also full of understanding, so that the prophet David sang of them in the Psalms, "There is Benjamin, their leader, the princes of Judah and their company, the princes of Zebulun and the princes of Naphtali." (Ps.68: 27) The blessed disciples were chosen out of almost every tribe of Israel, and were the bearers of light to the world, holding up the word of life. Indeed, the wonder is that the sages of the Greeks possessed eloquent speech, and an admirable beauty of language, but the disciples of our Savior were mere artificers (skilled craftsmen), boatmen, and fishermen, having no boast of words and no fluency of picked phrases. In expression they were indeed simple men, but rich in knowledge. The literature of the Greeks, with it eloquent phrases, is silent, while the power of the Evangelic preaching has possession of the world. God also make mention of them by the voice of Jeremiah, say of the enemy of all, Satan, "Woe to him who increases. What is not his-how long? And to him who loads himself with many pledges? Will not you creditors rise up suddenly? Will they not awaken who oppress you? And you will become their booty." (Hab. 2: 6-7) Satan gathered unto him all the inhabitants of the earth, though they were not his, and had caused them to be his worshippers, making his collar heavy. But those who were to plunder his goods woke up; for the net of the apostolic teaching caught all those that were in error, and brought back unto God the whole world.

St. Cyril of Alexandria

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Suffering is Part of Our Life ( Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos )

The Problem of Suffering

by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
In today’s turbulent society there is no one who does not face suffering in his life and taste the bitter cup of afflictions. We see people in distress, miserable, tormented, prostrate under the heavy burden of suffering. Their faces are downcast, but their hearts even more so. They are tormented and afflicted. Because of this suffering, or rather, because they handle suffering in the wrong way, they suffer various illnesses of body and soul. We shall therefore look at some aspects of this vast subject of suffering and pain in our lives.

1. Suffering is Part of Our Life

It is well known that suffering is closely linked with human life. Christ declared to His Disciples that they would have much suffering in their lives. “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). We encounter this truth throughout Holy Scripture and the teaching of the holy Fathers, who are successors to the holy Apostles. The Apostles Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra, Iconium and Antioch together, “confirming the souls of the Disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). St Paul testified to the Christians of Corinth, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed” (2 Cor. 4:8). The necessary comments on the phrase “yet not distressed” will be made later in the chapter. Here we insist on the fact that the Christian life is closely linked with suffering and pain.

The saints lived through many sufferings, trials and difficulties. St Nikitas Stithatos, a disciple of St Symeon the New Theologian, says, “The present life is full of suffering and pain for the saints. They are afflicted by other people and by demons.” We encounter the same testimony in St Isaac the Syrian: “For it is impossible, when we are travelling along the path of righteousness, for us not to encounter gloom, and for the body not to suffer sickness and pain, and to remain unaltered, if indeed we desire to live in virtue.”

The Apostles and saints insist on this fact, because many Christians, like many of our contemporaries, wrongly think that, provided we live Christian lives, we shall be joyful all the time. To be sure, as we shall see below, we have joy and consolation, but this consolation, joy and comfort come through experiencing the Cross. “Through the Cross joy has come into the whole world.” First come trials, then joy follows, and we rejoice inwardly, in spite of external temptations.

2. The Causes of Suffering

It ought to be made clear that suffering has many causes. The holy Fathers, speaking from experience, teach that the three main causes of suffering are the devil, other people and fallen human nature, with all the passions that exist in our heart. Suffering that comes from the devil is very painful, and is experienced by those who do good and attempt to keep Christ’s commandments. Abba Dorotheos describes a case of this sort of unendurable suffering caused by the devil:

“While I was still living in the monastery, on one occasion I was afflicted by an intense and unbearable sadness, and I was in such a state of grief and distress that I was almost on the point of dying. That suffering was due to an attack by the demons; this sort of temptation comes about through their envy. It is extremely severe, but short lived; heavy, dark, inconsolable, with no respite. Distress is all-embracing, and we are hemmed in on all sides. The grace of God, however, comes swiftly to the soul, as otherwise nobody could endure it.”

Suffering is also caused by other people slandering and maligning us. This often provokes us to complain about those who, in spite of being well treated, behave in this fashion. Sometimes people persecute God’s servants, as happened in the case of the Prophets and the holy Apostles, thus creating problems and sufferings. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8)

Then there is the suffering that results from our fallen nature and the passions that exist in our heart, as mentioned earlier. Abba Dorotheos writes that it is possible for us to be in a good state and have inner peace and calm, then our brother says something to us and we become agitated, turn on him, and accuse him of causing us distress. “This is ridiculous, completely unreasonable. Did the person who spoke implant the passion in him? Quite the opposite: he [the speaker] revealed the passion in him [the hearer], so that the latter could repent of it if he wished.

So these are the three basic causes of the suffering that befalls us in life: the devil, other people and our fallen nature. The first two types of suffering are experienced by the saints, whereas the third type usually affects those of us who have not yet been purified from passions. Sufferings due to the first two causes do not touch the inner state of the soul, so with a little patience the sufferer receives abundant grace. The third cause, however, can, if we are not careful, create a dreadful state. There are therefore two types of suffering: external and internal.

Obviously spiritual fathers [and mothers] who have been granted the gift of discernment can distinguish which suffering is caused by the devil, which by other people and which by us ourselves; which is according to God’s will or permitted by Him. They will then help us accordingly. This is why spiritual fathers [and mothers] can heal us more effectively than psychiatrists, who cannot make this distinction and regard everything as due to a person’s poor psychological state.

3. The Benefits Derived from Suffering

Suffering and pain are essential in our lives because they are a participation in Christ’s Passion. In Orthodox teaching much is said about imitating Christ. This imitation, however, is not external or ethical but mystical. We have to go through what Christ went through, including of course the temptations and afflictions that He suffered. The Apostle Paul writes, “I…rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh” (Col. 1:24). According to the commentary of St Theophylaktos, Archbishop of Bulgaria, “This statement means: If perhaps Christ needed to suffer still, but He died before paying the whole debt of His suffering, I, Paul, pay off this debt of Christ’s and undergo those sufferings which Christ had to undergo for your sake and for the sake of the whole Christian Church.” This whole theology of our participation in the sufferings and death of Christ is set out again by St Paul in one of his Epistles: “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:10-12).

The sufferings and trials in our lives bring many benefits. Pain is a new revelation of Christ to man. Through pain a new being is born. Pain creates the right conditions for another world, previously invisible to us, to open up.

St Maximos the Confessor repeatedly speaks in his writings of the beneficial presence of suffering and pain, or, as he describes them, “involuntary afflictions”. For St Maximos these “involuntary afflictions” are a powerful means of purification from “voluntary passions”. This pain of “involuntary afflictions”, which comes from sufferings and trials, defeats the power of the passions. “All suffering, whether voluntary or involuntary, brings death to sensual pleasure, the mother of death”, provided the sufferer accepts it gladly. Apart from the patient endurance of involuntary afflictions, we can equally well fight voluntary passions by means of godly suffering.

The same Saint writes, “Trials are sent to some in order to take away past sins, to others so as to eradicate sins now being committed, and to yet others so as to forestall sins which may be committed in the future. These are distinct from the trials that arise in order to test men in the way that Job was tested.

St Gregory Palamas shares this same perspective when he says “Misfortunes help the faithful to put right sins, to become trained and experienced, to apprehend the wretchedness of this life, and to desire fervently and seek diligently the eternal adoption as sons, redemption and truly new life and blessedness.”

David the King and Prophet says in one of his Psalms, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (Ps. 4:1). According to St Nicodemus the Hagiorite, “The more troubled and distressed a person is in the present world, the more his nous transcends the narrow confines of this world. He goes beyond the height of heaven and finally arrives at an immeasurably wide open space. Once there, he rejoices and finds repose in the sweet theoria of God. Even before the dissolution of his body, he lives a blessed and happy life. The Lord indicated this when He said ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). And Habakkuk, revealing the repose that comes from suffering, sang in his song, ‘that I might rest in the day of trouble’ (Hab. 3:15).”

Through suffering we remember God, we turn to Him and thus the precious gift of prayer develops, provided that we con-front suffering with the appropriate seriousness and within the at-mosphere described by the Orthodox Tradition.

The saints were aware of the benefits derived from suffering. That is why, according to St John Climacus, they thirsted for afflictions. St John Climacus says that the characteristic of those who have reached perfection in godly mourning is “thirst for dishonour, voluntary craving for involuntary afflictions…blessed are those who hunger for hardship and thirst for dishonour, for they shall have their fill of food that does not cloy.” They longed for suffering because the greater the suffering, the greater the consolation. The Apostle Paul writes, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ” (2 Cor. 1:3-5).

4. Dealing with Suffering

It was stated earlier that the important thing is not so much the presence or absence of suffering, as whether we deal with it well or badly.

If we are spiritually healthy, we shall do what the Apostle Paul himself did and recommended to Christians: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:3-5). We should glory in the Lord because we have been counted worthy to endure every kind of suffering and misery, whether it comes from demons because we are striving for virtue, or from evil men because we want to walk in the path of God’s commandments.

We should also consider that we deserve not only the suffer-ings that afflict us, but even more and greater sufferings. This is part of repentance. “A sign of true repentance is the acknowledgement that we deserve all the troubles, visible and invisible, that come to us, and even greater ones” (St John Climacus). Repentance remedies the distress that may be caused by external pressures and suffering.

As for suffering due to other people, we ought not to turn against those concerned, but patiently endure the suffering, in the knowledge that much good will come of it.

Unfortunately we behave like the dog that Abba Dorotheos describes:

“Someone throws a stone at him, and he leaves the person who threw it and goes off to bite the stone. We do the same. We leave God, Who permits these calamities to befall us for the purification of our sins, and we turn against our neighbour saying, ‘Why did he say that to me? Why did he do that to me?y Although we could derive great benefit from such troubles, we work against our own interests, ignoring the fact that by God’s providence everything happens for the good of each of us.”

Self-accusation is also linked with repentance. Each of us should blame himself, reproach himself and regard himself as deserving his suffering and as being its sole cause. Because we do not reproach ourselves we suffer inwardly and inflict suffering on others. As for the man of God, whatever should befall him, “whether harm or dishonour or any kind of suffering, he immediately regards himself as deserving it and is not at all disturbed. Is there any greater freedom from anxiety than this?” (Abba Dorotheos).

Suffering is not the same as sorrow. Outward affliction is different from inner depression. The sadness and depression that often engulf us are a substitute for godly sorrow, which is repentance. Nowadays we suffer not so much because we have temptations great or small, but because we lack repentance. We are obsessed by a sense of self-sufficiency. This is the source of many psychological illnesses and even physical sufferings.

We should always bear in mind the Apostle’s words: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

"The science of Spiritual Medicine" by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos