Thursday, May 24, 2018

Filled with love, the holy Apostles went into the world, preaching salvation to mankind and fearing nothing, for the Spirit of God was their strength. ( St. Silouan the Athonite )


“Filled with love, the holy Apostles went into the world, preaching salvation to mankind and fearing nothing, for the Spirit of God was their strength. When St. Andrew was threatened with death upon the cross if he did not stay his preaching he answered: ‘If I feared the cross I should not be preaching the Cross.” In this manner all the other Apostles, and after them the martyrs and holy men who wrestled against evil, went forward with joy to meet pain and suffering. For the Holy Spirit, sweet and gracious, draws the soul to love the Lord, and in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit the soul loses her fear of suffering.”


St. Silouan the Athonite

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The source of all sins - Pride ( St. Justin Popovich )



The 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

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Crossing One’s Legs ( Church Etiquette )

In many cultures throughout the world, crossing one's legs is taboo and considered very disrespectful. In North America there are no real taboos against such action, rather, we tend to cross our legs to get comfortable. Should we do so in church? No. Not because it is “wrong” for us ever to cross our legs, but because it is deemed too casual—too relaxed—for being in the presence of God. 
When we get settled in our favorite chair at home, we lean back, kick up our legs, and allow our minds to wander. Remember, sitting in church is a concession, not the norm of prayer. We strive to remain attentive (i.e.: “Let us attend”) at all times as a soldier prepared for (spiritual) battle before his commander. Should we sit, we do so attentively, that our minds not wander from the “one thing necessary.”

Sunday, May 13, 2018

On control of the tongue (St Nicodemos)

The greatest necessity of all is to control and curb our tongue. The mover of the tongue is the heart: what fills the heart is poured out through the tongue. And conversely, when feeling is poured out of the heart by the tongue, it becomes strengthened and firmly rooted in the heart. Therefore the tongue is one of the chief factors in building up our inner disposition.


Good feelings are silent. The feelings which seek expression in words are mostly egotistical, since they seek to express what flatters our self-love and can show us, as we imagine, in the best light. Loquacity mostly comes from a certain vainglory, which makes us think that we know a great deal and imagine our opinion on the subject of conversation to be the most satisfactory of all. So we experience an irresistible urge to speak out and in a stream of words, with many repetitions, to impress the same opinion in the hearts of others, thus foisting ourselves upon them as unbidden teachers and sometimes even dreaming of making pupils of men, who understand the subject much better than the teacher. ‘ This refers, however, to cases when the subjects of conversation are more or less worthy of attention. But in most cases loquacity is a synonym of empty talk, and then there are no words to express the many evils, which arise from this ugly habit. In general, loquacity opens the doors of the soul, and the devout warmth of the heart at once escapes. Empty talk does the same, but even more so. Loquacity distracts one’s attention out of oneself, leaving the heart unprotected. Then the usual passionate interests and desires begin to steal into it, at .times with such success that at the end of such empty talk the heart has not only consented, but has decided to commit passionate deeds. Empty talk is the door to criticism and slander, the spreader of false rumours and , opinions, the sower of discord and strife. It stifles the taste for . mental work and practically always serves as a cover for the absence of sound knowledge. When wordy talk is over, and the fog of self-complacency lifts, it always leaves behind a sense of frustration and indolence. Is it not proof of the fact that, even involuntarily, the soul feels itself robbed’?

Wishing to show how difficult it is for a loquacious man to refrain from saying something harmful, sinful and wrong, the Apostle James said that keeping the tongue within its rightful bounds is the property only of the perfect: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body’ (James iii. 2). As soon as the tongue begins to speak for its own pleasure, it runs on in speech like an unbridled horse, and blurts out not only the good and seemly, but also the bad and harmful.

This is why the Apostle calls it ‘an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James iii. 8). Long before him Solomon too said: ‘In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin’ (Prov. x. 19). In general, let us say, like Ecclesiastes, that a loquacious man shows his folly, for as a rule only ‘a fool . . . is full of words’ , (Ecclesiastes x. 14).

Do not prolong your conversation with a man, who is not listening to you with a good heart, lest you weary him and make your-self abhorrent, as is written: ‘He that useth many words shall be abhorred” (Ecclesiasticus xx. 8). Beware of speaking in a severe or superior manner; for both are highly disagreeable and make people suspect you of great vanity and a high opinion of your self. Never speak about yourself, about your affairs or your relatives, except when it is necessary, and even then be brief and say as little as possible. When you see that others speak too much of themselves, force yourself not to imitate them, even if their words appear humble and self-reproachful. As regards your neighbour and his affairs, do not refuse to discuss them, but always be as brief as you can, even when you have to speak of such things for his good.

While conversing, remember and try to follow the precept of St. Thalassius who says: ‘Of the five attitudes in conversation with others, use three with discrimination and without fear; use the fourth infrequently and refrain from using the fifth altogether”

(Philokalia, the first century, 69). One writer understands the first three as follows: ‘yes”, ‘no”, ‘ of course” or ‘this is clearly so”; by the fourth, he understands doubtful things and by the fifth, things totally unknown. In other words, about things you know for certain to be true or false, or self-evident, speak with conviction, saying that they are true, or false, or evident. About doubtful things better say nothing, but when necessary, say that they are doubtful and reserve your judgment. Of what you know nothing, say nothing. Someone else says: we have five forms’ Or modes of speech: the vocative, when we invoke someone; the interrogative, when we ask a question; the desiring or soliciting form, when we express a desire or request; the defining, when we express a decisive opinion on something; the commanding, when masterfully and authoritatively we express a command. Of these five, use the first three freely; the fourth, as rarely as possible; the fifth, not at all.

Speak of God with all homage, especially of His love and goodness; at the same time be fearful lest you commit a sin by speaking wrongly, confusing the simple hearts of the listeners. Therefore, listen rather to others on this subject, collecting their words in the inner treasure-house of your heart.

When the conversation is of other things, let only the sound of the voice enter into your ear, but not the thought into your mind, which must remain unwaveringly directed towards God. Even when it is necessary to listen to the speaker, in order to understand what he speaks of and to give a suitable answer, do not forget, in the midst of listening and speaking, to raise the eye of your mind on high where your God is, thinking of His greatness and remembering that He never loses sight of you and looks at you either with approval or disapproval, according to what is in the thoughts of your heart, in your words, movements and actions. When you have to speak, before expressing what has entered your heart and letting it pass to your tongue, examine it carefully; and you will find many things that are better not let past your lips. Know moreover that many things, which it seems to you good to express, are much better left buried in the tomb of silence. Sometimes you will yourself realise this, immediately the conversation is over.

Silence is a great power in our unseen warfare and a sure hope ‘of gaining victory. Silence is much beloved of him, who docs not rely on himself but trusts in God alone. It is the guardian of holy prayer and a miraculous helper in the practice of virtues; it is also a sign of spiritual wisdom. .St. Isaac says: ‘ Guarding your tongue not only makes your mind rise to God, but also gives great hidden power to perform visible actions, done by the body. If silence is practised with knowledge, it also brings enlightenment in hidden doing” (ch. 31 in Russian edition). In another place he praises it thus: ‘ If you pile up on one side of the scales all the works demanded by ascetic life, and on the other side—silence, you will find that the latter outweighs the former. Many good counsels have been given us, but if a man embraces silence, to follow them will become superfluous” (ch. 41). In yet another place he calls silence ‘the mystery of the life to come; whereas words are the instruments of this world” (ch. 42). St. Barsanuphius places it above preaching the word of God, saying: ‘•’If you are just on the very point of preaching, know that silence is more worthy of wonder and glory.” Thus, although one man ‘holdeth his tongue because he hath not to answer”, another ‘keepeth silence, knowing his time” (Ecclesiaaticus xx. 6), yet another for some other reasons, ‘for the sake of human glory, or out of zeal for this virtue of silence, or because he secretly communes with God in his heart and does not want the attention of his mind to be distracted from if (St. Isaac, ch. 76). It can be said in general that a man, who keepeth silence, is found wise and of good sense (Ecclesiasticus xx. 5).

I shall indicate to you the most direct and simple method to acquire the habit of silence: undertake this practice, and the practice itself will teach you how to do it, and help you. To keep up your zeal in this work, reflect as often as you can on the pernicious results of indiscriminate babbling and on the salutary results of wise silence. When you come to taste the good fruit, of silence, you will no longer need lessons about it. […]


St. Nicodemos

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Bored or Lonely? ( Saint Theophan the Recluse )

Boredom can easily lead to loneliness and loneliness to depression. Saint Theophan gives us some good advice how to avoid boredom. He says that each time you feel yourself alone, think of God and your guardian angel who is with you at all times. Take advantage of all such opportunities for a moment of solitude with God and have a conversation with Him. Then learn to fill your day with meaningful activities.


He shares advice a father gave to his daughter.


Everyone has a number of daily chores, which they work off like some sort of quitrent. There are many people, however, for whom these quitrent chores are simple and do not take much time. there is a lot of time left over whereby, if it is not filled with anything, there is no way to avoid boredom. Here is the most reliable way for you to avoid it: Arrange things so you do not have a single moment and al your time is filled with suitable occupations so that , upon completion of one activity, you have another one ready to begin.
What kind of activities should these be? 1) Aesthetic occupations: music, singing, painting. 2) Some sort of handicraft: knitting, needlework and the like. 3) The best remedy for boredom, however, is to acquire a taste for serious reading and the study of subjects that you are unfamiliar with. It is not so much the reading that drives away boredom as the study. If you follow this smile advice you will find shortly you will not a enough time to do everything you want to do. You will lose that feeling of loneliness and avoid the terrible problem of depression. Even one who lives alone and rarely has guests will have a life filled with activity, one without boredom or loneliness.


Take up the reading of spiritual books and avoid frivolous novels and such. Dig into something that will engage your mind fully. Avoid the trap of TV which can dumb the mind. If you do go to the TV when bored then seek out something that will give you new insight about our world and that will engage your mind in an active way.


You can also seek out regular activities such as volunteering at Church or with another agency in town. But it's not necessary to become over active in social activities as these for many create to many tensions and often includes engaging with people who distract you spiritually. Each person has a different makeup so you need to seek activities that fit your personality, especially those that keep you learning. To be alone does not mean to be lonely. In reality we are never alone. God is always with us along with our guardian angel.


The more you study spiritual matters, including the Church history, teachings of the Fathers, as well as Holy Scripture, you will discover forever new topics which you are not aware of. Each one will broaden your world view and open you to greater and greater spiritual awareness at the same time. Your desire to learn will never be satisfied. Read and keep busy and you will become wise, devoid of loneliness. You will become more aware of God's ever presence.

Saint Theophan the Recluse
Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 265-266

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A paralyzed boy healed by St. John the Russian



St. John the Russian, depicted with St. Seraphim of Sarov and St. John of Kronstadt


In one of the two children's hospitals of Athens, a mother lied at the head of her child day and night. She brought the child from Patras, because the child's chronic affliction, paralysis of the lower extremities, had worsened in the last few days...

One evening, while the sun was setting, and the last few sunbeams lit up the hospital room, the mother remembered how she would go to a chapel of the Panagia high above Patras, and prayed, lighting the vigil lamps, sometimes with her husband, other times with her children. Her nous was fixed on that chapel. She prayed noetically: “My Panagia, my sweetest Mother who feels our pain, help my child. My Panagia, send me a Saint, look at my poor child, how in his life, he is struggling to stand on his feet. Help, my poor little boy.”

“Mother,” the child said, “who are you talking to?”

“My Georgie, remember when you read in your church book how our Lord lived in Palestine, and healed demoniacs, opened the eyes of the blind, lifted up Paralytics and made them to walk, and raised the dead? Tell him, my Georgie, and He will hear you, my good boy, tell Christouli to make you well.”

The helpless child, with his innocent gaze, looked at his mother, and at the sun which was setting. He looked on high towards the heavens.

That midnight, George saw a dream of a beautiful horseman, on a glorious horse. He stopped before him and said:

“Get up, Georgie, jump up on my horse!”

“But I am a paralytic, my feet don't move and hold me up.” he replied.

“Give me your hand, Georgie, get up on my horse. I am St. John from Russia, and our Lord sent me to bring you His grace and His healing power!"

The child, half awake, then awoke his mother, who picked him up so that he wouldn't fall out of bed.

“Mother, hold me, St. John from Russia told me to get up.”

In the morning when the night resident told the professor that the paralyzed child from Patras began walking that night, went with a hammer in hand, checked the child's reflexes, and plucked his feet with a sharp instrument, and he saw that his body was functioning normally.

“Go,” said the professor, “God had something to do with you."

Friday, May 4, 2018

St. Ephraim and the Greek-American Drug Addict

The following account is a timely story which occurred in 1990 to a young Greek-American teenager, heavily addicted to drugs. The Athenian taxi driver wrote this word-for-word as the young man in the story told it to him while being driven to a drug rehabilitation center after an encounter with Saint Ephraim of Nea Makri, who is the patron saint of those suffering from drug addiction. The taxi driver then had the story published in the Greek newspaper Orthdoxos Typos.
It was afternoon, one of the usual tumultuous afternoons in downtown Athens. There was a line of people at the Omonia taxi-stop.

“To Koukaki, please!”

“With pleasure,” I answered. And that was the extent of our dialogue until the end of the drive, because my passenger’s expression and manner did not leave any room for conversation.

He got out at the summit of Agios Ioannis (in Gargareta) on Veikos Street and, a few meters further on, another hand stopped me with the characteristic wave.

My new passenger was young — around twenty-five to twenty-seven years old — and of medium height, and he was holding a suitcase. As I put his things in the trunk, the young man sat down in the front passenger seat.

And with a poetic phrase that I infrequently used to use in the past: “While departing on your journey to Ithaca, I wish that your road be long and your voyage great.” I meant: “Where to?”

“Yes, my friend, to Ithaca, but not to the island, as you would imagine, but to the Ithaca Detoxification Center,” was his answer, which left me speechless for a few seconds. “To the Larisa train station, please,” he added.

My young passenger’s reply was truly unexpected, because nothing about his outward appearance (eyes, expression, clothing, behavior) betrayed the accursed passion of his addiction to drugs. A multitude of feelings (pain, sorrow, sympathy, love) came over me one after another, an intense wringing of my heart made it move irregularly in my chest, and a tear rolled down my cheek over the plight of my brother, God’s creature. I tried to contain myself, as I wanted to learn under what circumstances he had ended up where he did, because I was also a father with children approaching adolescence.

After we introduced ourselves to each other, I asked Paul if he could tell me something about his life and his addiction, if recalling such events would not hurt or tire him. He readily agreed to my request, for which I thank him.



"To begin with, it has been two months since I’ve taken that poison, and I now feel like any other normal person. I have no desire whatsoever to put it into my bloodstream again, and I owe this not to any effort of my own, but entirely to the wondrous power of God and His Saints. But let me take it from the start, since you so wish to hear about it.

I was born in Athens, in Koukaki to be precise, where you picked me up, and lived there until I was eight years old. I am an only child and my parents love me pathologically and indulge my every whim. When I was eight, my parents and I left for America for a better life.

My relatives there helped my parents find work and I attended school. As I grew up, however, my senseless desires and vices also grew along with me. On account of my character, I easily got mixed up in bad company and very soon tried marijuana and hashish. As the years went by, the light drugs no longer satisfied me or my friends. So we all threw ourselves into the heavy drugs, which we found in the same surroundings and just as easily as the light drugs. These, however, were expensive, and I did not have a job. At first, I stole from my parents’ pockets and wallets. But when, with time, I was in need of greater doses, and when my parents had found me out, it reached the point that I even beat them to take the money. I understood that my condition was critical, but there was no way I could turn back. My parents rushed me to doctors and psychologists in the hope that they could do something, but to no avail; there was no light from anywhere. Some of them, and eminent scientists at that, told them that if I did not soon get out of that environment, I would not have long to live.

During that time, as I was home alone one day in a state of despair, a strange visitor, whom I had never seen before, appeared in front of me. He was of medium height, had large round eyes that rolled about, and black bushy fur that was over fifteen centimeters in length. He also had horns and a tail. His booming, firm voice and fearsome persuasiveness left no room for objections.

He began to make a thoroughly detailed account of my life from the time that I was born up until that very moment, while I simply said, ‘yes.’ ‘You have enjoyed every-thing,’ he said to me at the end, ‘there is nothing more left for you but to come with me....’ ‘How?’ I asked.

'You will take the car,’ he said, ‘and you will follow such-and-such a road. You will speed along so many miles an hour (I don’t remember the number), and I will be waiting for you there....’ The road in question was straight for many miles and at a certain point it had a slight bend, so that whoever was driving at too great a speed would go off the road and crash into a wall and be killed. I had heard about many such accidents at that spot in the past. Doing exactly as he told me, I, too, ended up smashing into the wall. The car was left almost unrecognizable, but they took me out with only minor injuries. After they gave me first aid, I went home.

About ten days had passed since the accident, when the same strange visitor appeared in my house again, in the kitchen this time. A grimace of displeasure was on his wild and imposing face. With a nod of his head backwards, he said to me in the same distinctive voice, ‘You didn’t accomplish anything.’

I was sitting there staring at him, petrified, and could just barely ask, ‘What should I do?’

‘Now you will take triple your usual dose, and you will surely come with me.’

He disappeared, and I did not even ask myself how he had entered the house or who he was.

I immediately put the plan into action.

I prepared the drug in the syringe and tried to find a place on my much-pierced body. The dose was a large one and I immediately fell unconscious. While I was in this condition, I saw a tall man wearing a cassock and a black monastic cap with a Cross engraved on the front. ‘Do not be afraid,’ he told me. ‘You will get well, and when you return to Greece, come to my house. I am Ephraim.’

I got up as if I had not taken the accursed poison at all. I felt a desire to leave for Greece and, when I told my mother of this desire, she marvelled and considered it a miracle, because my parents had many times before unsuccessfully tried to get me out of that environment.

I related to my mother all that had happened to me, and she wanted to accompany me on my journey. When we arrived in my old neighborhood, we went to the Priest of the parish there, and I learned from him who the strange visitor had been and what he had wanted from me. It was the Devil and he wanted my immortal soul. I thank God from the depths of my soul. Fifteen days after I had confessed and fasted, the Priest gave me Holy Communion. When I saw the Icon of St. Ephraim, I understood that it was he who had delivered me from my terrible addiction.

I went to Nea Makri and had Liturgy served and thanked the Saint. Now I am going to this institution to get away from the world for a while and to make sure that I do not need the drugs anymore."




***

Overdose
I. Monk Ephraim

In the year of 1425 a monk was taken captive and tortured to death in his monastery in Greece for being a Christian. He was slowly tortured to death over a period of a year. After each episode his wounds were allowed to heal, and then he was subjected to new and worse punishments. Finally they executed him. He was hung upside down from a tree in his monastery grounds and run through with a pole which had been sharpened to a point and set on fire. All traces of his life and martyrdom were forgotten until this century, when he appeared to the abbess of a convent and told her of his life and sufferings. He also revealed the spot where his bones, which had never decomposed, were buried. They dug up the bones for the glory of God.

II. The Addict and the Saint

Some years later an American teenager in the Midwest was grappling with his own life. He was heavily using drugs (cocaine and heroin) and was quickly sliding to destruction. He had neither a stable family life nor a religious upbringing, and though still young was in serious trouble.

One night an ugly old man appeared to him and said, "I am your friend, I want to make an appointment with you to meet me." He directed him to get into his car and drive as quickly as he could down a certain road which had a hairpin turn at the end with a sheer cliff at the bend. The young man did as he was told, got into his car and drove as fast as he could down the road. Losing his nerve at the last minute he managed to slam on his brakes and barely made the turn. He arrived home shaken.

Two nights later, the old man appeared again and said with anger and indignation, "I am very disappointed that you didn't meet me. Get into your car again and drive as fast as you can and this time don't put on the brakes." The young man felt strangely compelled to do this. Once again he got into his car, drove as fast as he could and this time didn't stop but drove at high speed off the cliff. The car was demolished but, surprisingly, he escaped with only cuts and bruises, and with a concussion.



A few weeks after he was out of the hospital, the ugly man appeared to him once again and said, "I am furious with you for not keeping our appointment. Tonight without fail you will meet me! Put a double dose of the drug in your needle." Again the boy felt compelled to do this, and after injecting himself went into a coma from the overdose. He was taken to the hospital where doctors told his family that he probably wouldn't live. And if by chance he did live he would only be semi-conscious - in a vegetative state. There was almost no chance of recovery. In two weeks, however, the young man did awake, fully conscious. He told those around him that he had seen a man which looked like some sort of radiant monk. He came to him and said, "I have been praying for you.... God has given you another chance. You will live, but you must correct your life. You are to go to Greece so as to visit the resting place of my bones, giving thanks to God for your salvation. My name is Ephraim".

A spiritual resurrection by St. Ephraim of Nea Makri

 

“O honored Abbess and Holy Mother, with respect I kiss your hand, the servant of God, A.

To begin, I ask for great forgiveness from St. Ephraim, because I was slow in relating the miracle that I was made worthy of (in order for it to be included in the books of miracles), due to many problems, after roughly nine years, when the Saint visited me the sinner.

I hope unshakably that our Lord, the Most-holy Theotokos, and our Saint will forgive me. I had very many family troubles, sicknesses and deaths, which absorbed me such that I forgot to write of the miracle. But I will never forget the great benefaction of our Saint, and I will not cease thanking him and praying to him.

It was an afternoon in November 1990, when my phone rang. It was one of my friends, who told me: “A., I learned that in Nea Makri there is a Monastery, where there is a Saint named Ephraim. Do you want to go venerate?”

Here I should say as an aside that then I was very far from God, not that I didn't believe, but I had so many family troubles, as I mentioned above, that my faith was shaken, it was lukewarm, I was going backwards, nothing was going right. I was indignant and burdened therefore, and I blasphemed with very evil words, like those used by lower classes of society [spiritually], who might be far from God, like I was.

I was working in Athens, and for 25 years, I did not go to Church of Sundays or take Holy Communion.

I would only go to Church on Pascha, along with everyone else, without understanding the deep sentiments of the faith.

I was very greatly influenced by the Killer of Man (the Devil), and he did with me whatever he wished...

Thus, that afternoon when my friend called me and told me to visit the Saint, I was still very lukewarm. My friend, in contrast, believed in God together with her family, and performed all of their religious duties. They were people of God...

Because, therefore, she was a very good friend who helped me psychologically and morally, I didn't want to hurt her feelings, and I agreed to go, myself the sinner, when I was talking on the phone. When I understood what she wanted to tell me, I groaned within myself, saying:
“Oh...now she's going to tell me to go to the Monastery, like I would ever run to Monasteries!” (I was very far away them then).

How mistaken was my thought, however. Without my knowing that this was my first visitation to the Saint, whom I had never even heard of before.

When she told me his name, and I heard it for the first time, I asked:
“What did you say the Saint was called?”

“St. Ephraim” she told me.

“What did you say? Ephraim? That's the first time I heard the name. What is it, Turkish? Egyptian? What is it?”

She told me, “No, it's Greek...”

Ultimately, we came to his grace, and venerated with reverence, because he is a Saint, but not with deep religious sentiments as every faithful person. When we exited the Holy Monastery into the courtyard, I saw the tree on which they hung our Saint, but I did not think much of this, I was very lukewarm.

In the courtyard was a bookstore. I went in alone, while my friend was likely giving priority to the Saint. There, I was reading some of the book covers:
“Visions and wonders of the Holy Great Martyr Ephraim the Wonderworker."

At that instant, I murmured:
“Ok, now we are talking about miracles? What are they saying? What miracles occur in the 20th century? Why are you talking about miracles?”

I was utterly curious and doubtful, I had darkness in my soul, and I mocked what I read at that instant.

However, at the same time that I was mocking, I was intrigued by the book, and something within me told me: “Get it...get it...”

With great hesitation and without knowing what I was doing, I stretched out my hand and bought it, as if someone was pulling my hand and telling me: “Get it...”

Ultimately, I made the decision: “I will get it out of curiosity, to see what they write...” How would I have known that the sinner, at that instant, began to experience the salvation of my soul from our Lord, while naturally, at that instant, I did not understand all the depth, but only later I understood...

I don't wish to tire you, and I ask forgiveness, but I should write this in detail. When I ultimately bought the book, I began to read it every day during my afternoon nap, and slowly I began to read more and more.

The 2-3 chapters increased, and I soon wasn't sleeping at all at noon in order to finish the book. It began to please me, and it was something that interested me, and by the time I reached the middle of the book, I greatly began to love our Saint, and I sensed that I had known him for many years, while in reality, I had never known a Saint At that instant I sensed that noetically, I was very near the Saint.

Those hours when I was reading the book, I sensed that I knew the Saint well, and I thanked him for healing all of those sick people, as if I had sent him. I sensed this joy, and wholly thanked him.

At one point, I sensed how I had been affected by those 25 years that I had not gone to Church. I had never gone to Confession, and naturally I did not take Holy Communion, and straightaway, as I was sitting on me bed, I lifted up my eyes to heaven and said:

“My God, my Christ, thank You for healing those sick people, and forgive me as well...I, O Lord, have not walked in Your Church for 25 whole years...” (even though there were four churches in my neighborhood).

And later, I began to thank our Saint again, and said:
“My Saint Ephraim, I embrace you and kiss you, for you healed those sick people through the Lord...”

And, O the wonder, at that instant, as I put in the bookmark, I turned over the book, and kissed the icon on the cover, and thanked the Saint with indescribable joy and exaltation...

Before I kissed the icon of the Saint, within me passed a very beautiful smell, like cologne.

At that instant, I did not understand that this smell was called divine fragrance, because as I wrote above, I was far from the Church and did not know these things...

At that same instant, I began to have great curiosity and I asked within myself what that beautiful smell was, and I smelled the book to understand what was that beautiful smell. The clothes that I was wearing smelled, along with the air in my room. It did not leave me thus, but my whole studio smelled beautiful. And I asked, what was this?

My ignorance, my curiosity and my intrigue was solved by my friend who had called me before, who told me: “A., St. Ephraim visited you!”

On the phone I asked: “Where is the Saint? I didn't see him enter my house.”

My friend replied: “The Saint visited you through his divine fragrance, because we went to venerate him. The smell that you sensed is called divine fragrance, and this is the presence of the Saint, because the Saint wanted to visit you...”

My friend then asked me: “Did you light your vigil lamp?”, and I responded: “Paradoxically, yes.”

In reality, I don't know how, but I had lit my vigil lamp, and all that I remember was that I was kneeling and thanking God and the Saint who enlightened me, and entreating that I be forgiven, who had been so many years away from them.

O my honored Abbess, there when I was kneeling and crying, without any depression, I felt an internal change within me, and I put my head to the ground, and sought forgiveness for all my sins, for all of the years that I was very far away from God.

At that instant I asked myself, and had the thought: how could I learn all that is read within the Church, and come to know Christ better. How could I learn that which the priest and the chanters chant, and how could I learn about our Saints?

And again a divine illumination came to me! I should go purchase the Lives of the Saints, and other Christian books, in order to learn the Divine services, and everything that has to do with the Church, along with the hymns and apolytikia of the Saints. This is what happened.

During my first Holy Confession, I said this all to my Spiritual Father, and when I left for my home, I couldn't relate to you what a weight had fled from on top of me, and I walked as if I wasn't walking at all, but like a bird in the air (I became free in reality)...

From then when I was enlightened and as if re-baptized by St. Ephraim, I entered again to a religious road, and this I attribute to our Lord and to the Most-holy Theotokos, who intervened, sending our Saint Ephraim to enlighten me. Therefore, I owe a great thank-you to the Holy Great Martyr Ephraim.

From then on, I go to Church every Sunday and Great Feast, I confess and I commune.

Because of the wonder which St. Ephraim worked for me, I glorify and thank him every day, and confess his wonder to the world, and I give people his Paraklesis, his icons and his books to read. O my honored Mother and Abbess, I ask forgiveness from the Lord and our Saint for neglecting to write of the good that he did, and I ask forgiveness for tiring you...

I hope and pray that our Saint will protect your Holy Monastery, together with the sisters, and that you might pray for me, the sinner.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

How to Recognize the Holy Apostles in Icons...


Icons are painted as windows into Heaven, and therefore to show the Heavenly, rather than earthly, reality. Nevertheless, Icons are made of the people we love: of the heroes of the faith who are remembered and whose earthly lives are considered instructive and worthy of imitation. Therefore it is natural that, as well as depicting them in a stylized “spiritual” way, the Saints are also depicted as recognizable people, with distinct features. This guide is just a brief description of how the Holy Apostles are depicted in Icons, so that they can be more easily recognized when encountered in churches, monasteries, or wherever else an icon is found.
St. Peter



The fiery and impulsive Leader of the Twelve, Peter is easily recognizable by his white, short, curly hair and beard. He is often shown holding a scroll, which may have words taken from one of his Epistles written upon it. In some icons he may also be shown with keys hanging from his belt, a reference to the words Jesus said to him: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He is often found in Icons with St. Paul, who were both martyred in Rome, holding together the Church, and showing their shared pre-eminence among the Apostles.

St. Paul



Though not one of the original Twelve, St. Paul has always been known as an Apostle (literally meaning “one who is sent out”), and moreover a leader of the Apostles. As such, he is often shown in Icons of the Apostles, including the one at the top of the page. Paul is always depicted with brown hair and beard tapering to one or two points. He is balding with a high forehead (signifying great wisdom and learning) but with a tuft of brown hair in the centre. He is often shown carrying a large Gospel book, an affirmation of the number of epistles he contributed to what became the New Testament. In addition, the Evangelist Luke was a physician who followed St. Paul on his missionary trips, so it is fair to say that Paul would also have had an influence upon the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

St. John



John the “Beloved Disciple”



St John theTheologian
There are two common depictions of the Apostle John: as the “Beloved Disciple” and as “the Theologian”. The former Icon is of the young Apostle John – the John who rested upon the breast of Christ during the Last Supper. In any icon showing scenes from the life of Christ (e.g. the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion) or those depicted in the Acts of the Apostles (e.g. the Ascension or Pentecost) then St. John is shown as the beardless brown-haired youth, little more than sixteen years of age.

When John is painted in a “portrait”, rather than as part of a Biblical scene, then he is usually shown as the elderly John “the Theologian”. This is the John who, sixty years or so after the Resurrection of Christ, is exiled upon Patmos and writing both the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. He is shown with long white beard and high forehead, holding the Gospel book which led to his title “the Theologian”, often shown open to reveal some verses from the book. He may also be shown with an Eagle, the symbol of both John and his Gospel.

St. Matthew


Like John, St. Matthew also authored a Gospel account, and so likewise is usually depicted holding a large Book. Whether in portrait or in Icons depicting Biblical scenes, Matthew has long, wavy, white beard and closer-cropped hair. As a deliberate anachronism to aid identification, he may also be shown holding the Gospel Book in Icons with Christ depicting Biblical scenes. Matthew may sometimes be shown with a winged man, the symbol associated with his Gospel.

St. Andrew “the First Called”


Andrew, the brother of the Apostle Peter, was formerly a disciple of St. John the Baptist. Because of this, Andrew is depicted with long unkempt hair, in the manner of the prophet he followed. This makes him one of the most recognizable of Apostles when depicted in scenes showing Jesus’ earthly ministry. Andrew holds a small scroll not to indicate he authored any famous works, but to identify him as a preacher of the Gospel, “one who is sent out”, i.e. an Apostle.

St. Bartholomew


Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, is shown as a middle-aged man, with short beard and hair. He is also shown holding the scroll of an Apostle. After his martyrdom, St. Bartholomew has appeared to a number of people in vision and dream, so his appearance can be deduced. He has appeared to St. Joseph the Hymnographer, blessing him that he might be able to sing spiritual hymns, saying, “Let heavenly water of wisdom flow from your tongue!” He also appeared to Emperor Anastasius I (491-518) and told him that he would protect the new town of Dara.

St. Simon theZealot



Not to be confused with St. Peter, who was previously named Simon bar-Jonah, the Apostle Simon was from Cana, and is the bridegroom of the famous Wedding at Cana. He is always shown with grey curly hair and beard, though with a higher forehead than St. Peter.

St. Thomas


The Apostle Thomas is most famously known as “Doubting Thomas”, on account of his refusal to believe the accounts of the other disciples that Christ had risen. Often maligned for this, in Orthodox teaching it is recognized that through his initial doubts, Thomas came to confess Jesus Christ as “Lord and God” – a greater confession of faith than any of the Apostles had previously uttered. Sometimes this confession of faith is held in Thomas’ hands in icons depicting him, though more commonly it is the scroll denoting his rank of Apostle that is shown. The most striking thing about the Icons of Thomas is that he is shown as a beardless youth, a teenager as John was. This is a consistent feature of how Thomas is shown in icons, as in this Icon of Thomas touching the wounds of Christ.




The youthfulness of the Apostle Thomas is something worthy of consideration when thinking about his “doubts”.

St. James, Son of Zebedee




There are two Apostles named James. The son of Zebedee is the James often nicknamed “the Greater” in the West. This is largely because among the Twelve he was part of the “inner-circle” which also contained St. Peter and St. John. The Apostle John is also the brother of James and together they were known as the “Sons of Thunder”. James is shown with medium length brown hair and beard. Though often difficult to identify by sight alone in Icons of the Twelve, he is recognizable in the bottom-right of this Icon of the Transfiguration,which along with the young John and curly-haired Peter, James was privileged to witness.




He is depicted as a young man (short beard, not white) in all icons, as he never got to live to an old age, being martyred a little over 10 years after the Resurrection.

St. Jude



St Jude Thaddeus
Jude is also sometimes called Levi or Thaddeus, and “Jude” is sometimes rendered Judas. Nevertheless, he is not to be confused with the Apostle Matthew (also called “Levi”), St. Thaddeus one of Jesus’ seventy disciples, or especially Judas Iscariot. The author of the Biblical Epistle which carries his name, the “Apostles’ Scroll” in his hand may sometimes show a quote from his own writing. Otherwise, St. Jude is identified as a mature man with curly brown (sometimes grey) beard and hair. As he was related to Jesus Christ through Joseph, husband of Mary, the appelation “brother of the Lord” (or “adelphos” in Greek) may be found on Icons.

St. James Alphaeus


The son of Alphaeus and the brother of the Apostle Matthew, James is shown with brown wavy or curly hair and a pointed beard. He is not to be confused with St. James “Adelphos”, which means “brother of the Lord”. In iconography, the two Jameses are easily distinguished, as “the brother of the Lord” is always shown in the robes of a bishop, being the first bishop of Jerusalem. Here is an Icon of James Adelphos.

St. Phillip



Holy Tradition and Scriptures maintain that the Apostle Philip was well versed in the Old Testament prophecies, and eagerly awaited the coming of the Saviour. He immediately responded to the call of Jesus, and recognized him as the Messiah (John 1:43); and subsequently led Nathaniel (the Apostle Bartholomew) to become a follower of Jesus too. Therefore it is remarkable to come into contact with icons of the Apostle Philip – who is always shown as beardless youth. Like the youthfulness of Thomas, it is something worthy of consideration.

St. Matthias




Matthias is the disciple of Christ who replaced Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve Apostles after the latter’s betrayal and suicide. His appearance in icons is entirely in keeping with what is known about him. Schooled in the Law by the Prophet Simeon, who received the infant Christ in the temple, Matthias was already a man of maturity before becoming a disciple of the adult Christ. By the time of his martyrdom in 63A.D., Matthias would be the elderly man depicted in Icons of him.

Judas Iscariot



Judas Iscariot at the LastSupper




Whilst Judas is obviously not a saint, and isn’t shown in icons of “the Twelve”, he is nevertheless depicted in icons of the Last Supper or else kissing Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. In icons of the Last Supper he is easily recognizable as the one dipping his hand into the dish, thus revealing his future betrayal of the Lord. Often, the Apostles are not shown with halos in scenes prior to Pentecost, but needless to say when they are shown with halos, Judas is conspicuous by not having one.

Whatever it may be worth – and it may be worth nothing – in Orthodox Iconography Judas is almost always shown beardless, like John, Philip, and Thomas; thus, like them, he was perhaps still a teenager at the time he betrayed his Saviour.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Are they from God or from the spirit of evil? ( St. John Maximovitch )

Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation.
 Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they from God or from the spirit of evil?

St. John Maximovitch

Monday, April 23, 2018

Prayer is the elevation of one’s mind and heart to God. ( Saint John of Kronstadt )

Prayer is the elevation of one’s mind and heart to God. From this it becomes apparent that if a person’s mind and heart are attached to something carnal, for example, money, esteem, or has hatred or envy toward others, he is unable to pray. This is because passions bind the heart, whereas God gives it genuine freedom.

Attempt to acquire a child-like simplicity in your dealings with people and in your prayers to God. Simplicity is the greatest blessing and attribute in a human being. God is totally simple because he is totally spiritual, totally good. And don’t let your soul be divided into good and evil.

During prayer, remind yourself of the simplicity of truth and say: "Everything is simple!"  "I believe simply and request simply; but your deceptions, my enemy, your doubts and desires , I reject." May the basis and source of all your words and deeds be the humble realization of your personal insignificance and the greatness of God , Creator and controller of everything (1 Cor 12:) He who is infected with pride is inclined to be contemptuous of everything. By its very nature, pride defiles every decent thought, every word and act. It is the death-dealing breath of Satan.


Saint John of Kronstadt

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Why did God not make the path to the Kingdom of Heaven light and pleasant? ( St. Innocent - Bishop of Alaska )

Why did God not make the path to the Kingdom of Heaven light and pleasant? Only God knows. Who would question His divine wisdom? He saw that the narrow path is what we need! We who are below see only bits and pieces, but He, Who is above all creation, sees our lives from the standpoint of eternity. However, though not completely understanding the plans of our Creator, let us consider the following:

1. The Kingdom of Heaven is the highest beatitude and inexhaustible wealth. If great efforts are necessary to obtain meager and temporary earthly advantages, then how can it be possible to obtain such a great and eternal treasure without any effort?

2. The Kingdom of Heaven is the most coveted reward. Where else are rewards given freely and for nothing? If we struggle to get temporary benefits, so much more should we struggle to obtain the eternal reward.

3. We must bear our cross because we want to be with Christ and to participate in His glory. If Jesus Christ, our Master and Teacher, gained heavenly glory through suffering, would it not be shameful for us to share His glory when we faintheartedly shun any trials or sorrows?

4. Besides, lifelong crosses are not the lot of Christians alone. Everyone carries their own cross, both Christians and non-Christians, believers and pagans. The difference is that for some, their crosses serve as a means of attaining the Kingdom of Heaven, while for the others they bring no such value. For the Christian, the cross gradually becomes lighter and more joyful, while for the nonbeliever it becomes heavier and more burdensome. Why is this so? Because where the one carries their cross with faith and devotion to God, the other carries it with grumbling and anger.

Therefore, Christian, do not shun your lifelong cross, but, on the contrary, thank Jesus Christ that He honored you to follow and imitate Him. If Christ had not suffered and died, then none of us, no matter how much we suffered and struggled, would enter the Kingdom of Heaven, for then we would have had to suffer as slaves, and slaves deserve no rewards. Now, however, we suffer as sons for our own salvation. O merciful Lord! How great is Thy love for us. How great are Thy benefits to us. Thou bendest evil itself for our benefit and salvation!

Christian! Gratitude alone to Jesus Christ, your benefactor, obliges you to follow Him. Christ came down to earth for you. Can it be possible that you would prefer some worldly thing to Him? For you Jesus drank the cup full of suffering; can it be that you would refuse to suffer a little for Him?

5. Jesus Christ redeemed us by His death, and, therefore, by the right of redemption we belong to Him and must do all that He wills. Christ wills only one thing: that we should attain eternal bliss.

6. Finally, we cannot avoid the narrow path into the Kingdom of Heaven, since every man has sins and sin in itself is an ulcer that cannot be cured without strong medicine. Suffering is the medicine with which God cures our souls. When somebody is ill, then, regardless of his surroundings — even though he is in the most magnificent of palaces — he will still suffer. Such is the fate of every sinner; no matter where he settles, even in Paradise itself, he will suffer because the elements of hell reside within him. Similarly, a righteous person can be as happy in a shack as in a palace. When our heart is filled with the Holy Spirit, wherever we may find ourselves, there we will always feel joy, since Paradise is within us.

And so, brethren, if you wish to attain the Kingdom of Heaven, you cannot bypass the path taken by Jesus Christ. Indeed, all the prophets, the Apostles, the martyrs, the saints and countless other righteous ones walked along this path. There is no other.

Some might object, saying, how can we who are sinful and weak be like Jesus Christ or the saints! We live in the secular world and have families and many responsibilities. Oh, brethren! This is a cunning excuse and an insult to our Creator. To justify our carelessness by such reasoning means to accuse our Maker of being unable to create us properly. After all, the saints, like us, were not sinless at first but participated in worldly affairs, labored and had various obligations and families to care about. Surely they were not perfect in everything. They had their share of temptations and low moments. Notwithstanding this, living in circumstances similar to ours and having their ups and downs, they steered toward the main objective of their life: the Kingdom of Heaven. Undoubtedly, we also, if we truly desire to, can be good citizens, faithful spouses, loving parents, and simultaneously good Christians. Our faith will not be an obstacle but, on the contrary, will aid all our good undertakings. The essence of Christianity is pure and selfless love, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, brethren, if you wish to attain the Kingdom of Heaven, follow the path which Jesus Christ took, and He, the all-merciful one, will help you every step of the way.
 
St. Innocent - Bishop of Alaska

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Our intercessors in Heaven - the Orthodox Veneration of Saints ( Bishop Alexander Mileant )


During baptism a person receives a name in honor of a saint, who from that time becomes his heavenly protector. Every Orthodox Christian should be acquainted with the life of his heavenly protector and should appeal to him in prayer for help and guidance. Our righteous ancestors always tried to mark the day of commemoration of their saint – their “Namesday” – by partaking of the Holy Mysteries, and celebrated this day with greater ceremony than their birthday.

What is the reason for the Orthodox worship of God’s saints? Do the saints in heaven know of our needs and difficulties, and do they show any interest in us? Do they hear our prayers and do they try to help us? Should we appeal to the saints for help at all, or does it suffice to pray only to God? Members of sects, who have lost the apostolic tradition, do not understand the essence and the purpose of Christ’s Church and, therefore, reject the need to pray to the saints in heaven. We will briefly expound the Orthodox teaching on the subject.

The Orthodox veneration of God’s saints stems from the belief that all of us, both those who are working on their salvation and those who have already achieved salvation, both the living and the reposed, make up a single divine family. The Church is a great society which encompasses both the visible and invisible worlds. It is a huge, universal organization, built on the principal of love, in which each individual must not only take care of himself, but also be concerned with the benefit and salvation of other people. The saints are those people who, more than others, showed love for their neighbors during their life on earth.

We, Orthodox Christians, believe that when a righteous person dies, he does not break off his tie with the Church, but enters its higher, celestial domain – enters the triumphant Church. Having attained the spiritual world, the soul of a righteous person does not cease to think, desire, feel. On the contrary, these qualities of the soul unfold here more fully and perfectly.

Contemporary non-Orthodox Christians, having lost their living tie with the heavenly-earthly Church, have the vaguest and conflicting notions of the other world. Some of them believe that a man’s soul goes to sleep after death and becomes disconnected from everything; others believe that even if a man’s soul continues its activity after death, it no longer has any interest in the world which it has left. Still others believe that one should not pray to the saints in principle, since Christians are in direct communion with God.

What is the teaching of the Holy Scriptures in regard to the righteous ones who have departed from this world and the power of their prayers? In apostolic times the Church was regarded as a single heavenly-earthly spiritual family. Apostle Paul wrote to newly-converted Christians: “But ye are come unto mount Sinai, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23). In other words, you, having become Christian, have merged with a great family and have come into close contact with the heavenly family and the righteous ones therein. Apostle Peter’s words of farewell to the Christians of Asia Minor – “Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (2 Peter 1:15) – clearly confirm that he promises to continue to take care of them when he departs for the other, spiritual world.

The ancient practice of appealing to the holy martyrs and saints for help is based on the realization of live contact between the heavenly and the earthly Church and on belief in the power of their prayers.

We know that the most earnest and righteous people were still in their lifetime called by God His friends and were glorified by Him with gifts of the Holy Spirit and with miracles. Thus, Christ said to His apostles at the Mystic Supper: “Ye are My friends!… For whosoever shall do the will of My Father Who is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother” (John 15:14; Matt. 12:50). The Holy Scriptures provide many examples of the saints’ spiritual nearness to God and power of intercession before Him. Thus, for example, Abraham asked God to have mercy upon the denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God was ready to fulfill his request if at least ten righteous people could be found in those cities. Another time God refrained from punishing Abimelech, king of Gerar, because of Abraham’s prayers for the latter. The Bible tells us that God spoke with the Prophet Moses face to face, “as a man converses with his friend.” When Miriam, Moses’ sister, sinned and was punished with leprosy, Moses was able to obtain forgiveness for her from the Lord. There are many other examples of the special power of the saints’ prayers.

The saints do not replace God and do not decrease the need to appeal to the Heavenly Father. After all, adult members in a family do not lessen the authority of the parents when they take care of their children together with them. Moreover, nothing gives greater joy to parents than to see older brothers taking care of younger ones. In the same manner our Heavenly Father rejoices when the saints pray for us and try to help us. God’s saints have a stronger faith than we do and are closer to God because of their righteousness. Therefore, let us appeal to them as to our older brothers who intercede for us before the throne of the Almighty.

It is noteworthy that the righteous ones, while still living on earth, saw and knew much of what is inaccessible to general comprehension. Even more so are these gifts inherent to them in the celestial realm, where they have gone after shedding their mortal flesh. During their life on earth, the saints were able to penetrate into the celestial realm by means of their spirit, and some saw hosts of angels, others were worthy enough to contemplate the image of God, still others were raised up to the third heaven and heard mysterious indescribable words there, as, for example, Apostle Paul. Now, residing in heaven, they are even more capable of knowing what takes place on earth and of hearing those who appeal to them, because the saints in heaven are “equal to angels.” From the Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus we learn that Abraham, while being in heaven, could hear the cry of the rich man suffering in hell, despite the “great abyss” which divided them. Abraham’s words: thy brothers have Moses and the prophets, let them heed them, – clearly show that Abraham knew of the life of the Jewish people after his repose, knew of Moses and his law, of the prophets and their writings. The spiritual vision of the righteous ones’ souls in heaven is, undoubtedly, greater than it was on earth. Apostle Paul writes: “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

The saints’ nearness to the throne of God and the power of their prayers for the faithful living on earth is evident in the book of Revelation, in which Apostle John writes: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” Further on he describes a vision of the righteous ones, praying in heaven for people suffering on earth: “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand” (Rev. 5:11; 8:3-4).

Great is the power of prayer! “Pray for each other, so that ye may be healed: the earnest prayer of the righteous can do much,” – instructs us Apostle James. Prayer for others is an expression of love for them; thus, by praying for us, the saints in heaven show their brotherly love and care for us.

In the Gospel and in other New Testament books we find numerous instances which testify to the power of prayer for others. Thus, for example, the Lord healed the son of a courtier in response to the latter’s plea; the entreaty of the woman of Canaan resulted in her daughter being freed from possession by demons; at the request of a father the Lord healed his possessed son, while at the request of friends He forgave and healed a man sick of the palsy, whom the friends had lowered down from the roof on ropes; the faith of the Roman centurion led to the healing of his servant. Moreover, the Lord performed the majority of His miracles from afar, without actually seeing the sick person.

Thus, if the prayers of plain people had such power, then even more powerful are the prayers of saints who stand before the throne of God. “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us,” – assures us Christ’s beloved disciple (1 John 5:14).

For this reason from ancient times the Church expounded a teaching on the benefit of prayerful appeals to saints. We see this, for example, in ancient liturgies and other written testimonials. In the liturgy of the Apostle James we read: “We especially commemorate the Holy and Glorious Virgin, the blessed Theotokos. Remember Her, Lord God, and by Her pure and holy prayers have mercy upon us and save us.” In commenting on the liturgy of the church of Jerusalem, St. Cyril of Jerusalem remarks: “We also commemorate (at the liturgy) the previously reposed – primarily the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, – in order that by their prayers and intercession God would accept our own appeal.”

The testimonies of the Church Fathers and teachers on the Church’s veneration of the saints are numerous, especially starting with the 4th century. But even from the beginning of the 2nd century there is direct written testimony of early Christians on their faith in the prayers of saints in heaven for their brothers on earth. Witnesses of the martyric end of St. Ignatius the God-bearer (early 2nd century) say: “Returning home in tears, we served an all-night vigil… Afterwards, having slept a bit, some of us saw the blessed Ignatius arising and embracing us, while others also saw him praying for us.” Similar records referring to the martyrs’ prayers and intercession for us can also be found in other narratives dating from this epoch of the persecution of Christians.

Belief in the holiness of a departed person can be confirmed by special testimonials, such as: martyrdom for Christ, a fearless confession of one’s faith, selfless service to the Church, the gift of healing, etc. This is especially true when the Lord affirms the holiness of a departed person through miracles occurring after the latter’s death and upon prayer to him.

Besides the assistance of prayer, the saints help us achieve salvation by the example of their lives. An acquaintance with the lives of the saints enriches a Christian through the spiritual experience of those who had embodied the Gospel in their lives more earnestly than others. We see here so many vivid examples of living faith, courage, patience. Being people just like us, and having overcome most difficult temptations, they encourage us to travel along the path of our life with patience and humility.

Apostle James urged Christians to imitate the patience of the ancient prophets and of Job the Long-suffering, and to acquire the strong faith of people like the prophet Elias. Apostle Peter instructed Christian wives to take an example of modesty and obedience from the righteous Sarah, wife of Abraham. The holy Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to imitate the spiritual labors of ancient saints, beginning with Abel and ending with the Maccabees. At the end of a detailed instruction on this subject he writes: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

The Lord says: “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:15-16). The saints are the bright stars which show us the way to the Heavenly Realm.

Let us treasure the saints’ nearness to God and let us appeal to them for help, bearing in mind that they love us and are concerned for our salvation. An acquaintance with the lives of the saints is especially important in our times, when the concept of the Christian ideal has become so shallow and distorted among the wide mass of “Christians” of the most different varieties.

Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Upbringing of Children .. ( St.Porphyrios )


A large part of the responsibility for a person's spiritual state lies with the family

A child's upbringing commences at the moment of its conception. The embryo hears and feels in its mothers womb. Yes, it hears and it sees with its mother's eyes. It is aware of her movements and her emotions, even though its mind has not developed. If the mother's face darkens, it darkens too. If the mother is irritated, then it becomes irritated also. Whatever the mother experiences — sorrow, pain, fear, anxiety, etc. — is also experienced by the embryo.

If the mother doesn't want the child, if she doesn't love it, then the embryo senses this and traumas are created in its little soul that ac­company it all its life. The opposite occurs through the mother's holy emotions. When she is filled with joy, peace and love for the embryo, she transmits these things to it mystically, just as happens to children that have been born.

For this reason a mother must pray a lot during her pregnancy and love the child growing within her, caressing her abdomen, reading psalms, singing hymns and living a holy life. This is also for her own benefit. But she makes sacrifices for the sake of the embryo so that the child will become more holy and will acquire from the very outset holy foundations.

Do you see how delicate a matter it is for a woman to go through a pregnancy? Such a responsibility and such an honour!

I will tell you something about other animate and non-rational be­ings and you will understand what I mean. In America the following experiment was carried out: in two identical rooms which were kept at exactly the same temperature flowers were planted in identical soil and watered in exactly the same way. There was, however, one differ­ence: in the one room gentle, soothing music was played. And the re­sult? The flowers in that room displayed an enormous difference in relation to the flowers in the other room. They had a quite different vitality, their colours were more attractive and they grew incompara­bly better.



What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home

What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home. The parents need to devote themselves to the love of God. They need to become saints in their relation to their children through their mildness, patience and love. They need to make a new start every day, with a fresh outlook, renewed enthusiasm and love for their children. And the joy that will come to them, the holiness that will visit them, will shower grace on their children. Generally the parents are to blame for the bad behaviour of the children. And their behaviour is not improved by reprimands, disciplining, or strictness. If the parents do not pursue a life of holiness and if they don't engage in spiritual struggle, they make great mistakes and transmit the faults they have within them. If the par­ents do not live a holy life and do not display love towards each other, the devil torments the parents with the reactions of the children. Love, har­mony and understanding between the parents are what are required for the children. This provides a great sense of security and certainty.

The behaviour of the children is directly related to the state of the parents. When the children are hurt by the bad behaviour of the parents towards each other, they lose the strength and desire to progress in their lives. Their lives are constructed shoddily and the edifice of their soul is in constant danger of collapsing. Let me give you two examples.

Two sisters came to see me. One of them had gone through some very distressing experiences and they asked me what was the cause of these. I answered them:

'It's because of your home; it stems from your parents.' And as I looked at the girl I said:

'These are things you've inherited from your mother.'

'But,' she said,' my parents are such perfect people. They're Chris­tians, they go to confession, they receive Communion and we had a re­ligious upbringing. Unless it is religion that is to blame...'

I said to them:

'I don't believe a word of all that you're telling me. I see one tiling only, and that is that your parents don't live with the joy of Christ.'

On hearing this, the other girl said:

'Listen, Maria, the Father's quite right. Our parents go to confession and receive Holy Communion, but did we ever have any peace at home. Our father was constantly complaining about our mother. And every day either the one refused to sit at the table or the other refused to go out somewhere together. So you see what the Father is saying is true.

'What's your father's name?' I asked her,

She told me.

'What's your mother's name?'

She told me.

'Well,' I said,' the feelings you've got inside you towards your moth­er are not at all good.'

You see, the moment she told me her father's name I saw his soul, and the moment she told me her mother's name, I saw her mother and I saw the way her daughter looked at her.

Another day a mother came to visit me with one of her daughters. She was very distressed and broke down in tears.

'What's the matter?' I asked.

'I'm in total despair over my older daughter. She threw her husband out the house and deceived us all with a pack of lies.'

'What kind of lies?' I inquired.

'She threw her husband out the house ages ago and she didn't tell us anything. We would ask on the phone, "How's Stelios doing?1', and she would reply, "Oh, he's fine. He's just gone out to buy a newspaper." Each time she would think up some new excuse so that we wouldn't suspect anything. And this went on for two whole years. A few days ago we learned the truth from Stelios himself when we bumped into him by chance.'

So I said to her:

'The fault's your own. It's you that's to blame, you and your husband, but you most of all.'

'What do you mean!' she said indignantly. 'I loved my children to the point that I was never out of the kitchen. I had no life of my own at all. I took them to the church and I was always telling them the right thing to do. How can you say that I'm to blame?'

I turned to her other daughter who was with her and asked:

'What do you think about the matter?'

'The Father's right, Mom,' she said. 'We never ever enjoyed a single day when you weren't quarrelling with Dad.'

'Do you see then, how I'm right? It is you that are to blame. You traumatized the children. They are not to blame, but they are suffering the consequences.'

A psychological state is created in a child as a result of its parents that accompanies it throughout its life. Its later behaviour and its relationships with others are directly connected with the experiences that it carries with it from its childhood years. The child grows up and develops, but at bot­tom it does not change. This is manifested even in the smallest expressions of life. For example, you get a craving for food and want to eat. You take something and eat it, then you see something else and you want that. You feel hungry and think that if you don't eat you'll feel faint and you'll start to tremble. You're afraid you'll lose weight. This is a psychological state that has its explanation. Perhaps you never knew your father or your mother, and you feel deprived and hungry, poor and weak. And this psy­chological reality is expressed by way of reflex as a weakness of the body.

A large part of the responsibility for a person's spiritual state lies with the family. For children to be released from their various inner problems it is not enough for them to receive good advice, or to be compelled by force; nor do logical arguments or threats do any good. These things rather make matters worse. The solution is to be found through the sanctification of the parents. Become saints and you will have no problems with your children. The sanctity of their parents releases the children from their problems. Children want to have saintly people at their side, people with lots of love who will neither intimidate them nor lecture them, but who will provide a saintly example and pray for them. You par­ents should pray silently to Christ with upraised arms and embrace your children mystically. When they misbehave you will take some discipli­nary measures, but you will not coerce them. Above all you need to pray.

Parents, especially the mother, often cause hurt to a child for some act of misbehaviour by scolding it excessively. The child is then wounded. Even if you don't scold the child outwardly but bristle with anger in­wardly or look fiercely at the child, the child understands. The child be­lieves that its mother doesn't love it and asks, 'Do you love me, Mummy?' The mother answers, 'Yes, dear,' but the child is not convinced. It has been wounded. The mother loves it, she'll caress it later, but the child will pull its head away. It refuses to be caressed, regarding this as hypocrisy because it has been wounded.


Over-protectiveness leaves children immature
Another thing that harms children is over-protectiveness, that is, exces­sive care or excessive anxiety and worry on the part of the parents.

A mother used to complain to me that her five-year-old child was disobedient. 'It's your fault,' I told her, but she didn't understand. Once I went for a walk by the seaside with this mother along with the child. The little boy let go of his mother's hand and ran towards the sea. There was a sand dune there and the sea came in directly behind it. The mother im­mediately reacted with anxiety and was about to s wards the boy who was standing on top of the dune with outstretched arms trying to keep his balance. I calmed her down and told to her to turn her back on the boy while I kept an eye on him askance. When the boy despaired of provoking his mother's attention and causing her to panic and scream as usual, he calmly climbed down and walked towards us. That was the end of it. Then the mother understood what I meant.

Another mother used to complain that her little boy wouldn't eat all his food, especially his yoghurt. The little one was about three years old and tormented his mother every day. I said to her:

'What you should do is this. Empty the refrigerator completely and then fill it with some yoghurt. When lunchtime comes you'll give Peter his yo­ghurt. He'll refuse to eat it. In the evening you'll give him it again and the same the next day. In the end he'll get hungry and will try some. He'll throw a tantrum, but you'll just put up with it. Thereafter he'll eat it quite happily.'

That's just what happened and yoghurt became Peter's favourite food.

These things aren't difficult, but many mothers are unable to do them and the result is that they give their children a very bad upbringing. Mothers who are always standing over their children and pressurizing them, that is, over-protecting them, have failed in their task. You need to leave the child alone to take an interest in its own progress. Then you will succeed. When you are always standing over them, the children react. They become lethargic and weak-willed and generally are unsuccessful in life. This is a kind of over-protectiveness that leaves the children immature.

A few days ago a mother came here in a state of despair because of her son's repeated failures in the university entrance exams. He had been an excellent pupil in elementary school and all the way through high school. But in the end he failed repeatedly and showed indifference and had strange reactions.

'It's your fault,' I said to the mother, 'educated woman though you are! How else did you expect the boy to react? Pressure, pressure, pres­sure all these years, "Make sure you're top of the class, don't let us down, get yourself an important position in society..." Now he's thrown in the towel; he doesn't want anything. Stop this pressure and over-protection and you'll see that the boy will regain his equilibrium. He'll make progress once you let him be.'


A child needs to be surrounded by people who pray and pray ardently
A child needs to be surrounded by people who pray and pray ardently. A mother should not be satisfied by giving her child a physical caress, but should also coddle it with the caress of prayer. In the depths of its soul the child senses the spiritual caress that its mother conveys to it and is drawn to her. It feels security and certainty when its mother mys­tically embraces it with constant, intense and fervent prayer and releas­es it from whatever is oppressing it.

Mothers know how to express anxiety, offer advice and talk inces­santly, but they haven't learned to pray. Most advice and criticism does a great deal of harm. You don't need to say a lot to children. Words hammer at the ears, but prayer goes to the heart. Prayer is required, with faith and without anxiety, along with a good example.

One day a mother came here distraught about her son, George. He was very mixed-up. He stayed out late at night and the company he kept was far from good. Every day things were getting worse. The mother was overcome by anxiety and distress.

I said to her:

'Don't say a word. Just pray.'

We agreed that between ten and ten fifteen every evening we would both pray. I told her to say not a word and to leave her son to stay out till whatever time he wanted, without asking him, 'What sort of time is this to come home? Where were you?', or any such thing. Instead she would say to him as lovingly as possible, 'Come and eat, George, there's food in the fridge.' Beyond this she was to say nothing. She would be­have towards him with love and not stop praying.

The mother began to apply this tactic, and after about twenty days had passed the boy asked her:

'Mother, why don't you speak to me?'

'What do you mean, George, that I don't speak to you?'

'You've got something against me, Mother, and you're not speaking to me.'

'What strange idea is this that you've got into your head, George? Of course I speak to you. Am I not speaking to you now? What do you want me to say to you?'

George made no reply.

The mother then came to the monastery and asked me:

'Elder, what was the meaning of this that the boy said to me?'

'Our tactic has worked!'

'What tactic?'

'The tactic I told you — of not speaking and simply praying secret­ly and that the boy would come to his senses,'

'Do you think that that is it?'

'That is it,' I told her. 'He wants you to ask him "Where were you? What were you doing?" so that he can shout and react and come home even later the next night.'

'Is that so?' she said. 'What strange mysteries are hidden!'

'Do you understand now? He was tormenting you because he want­ed you to react to his behaviour so that he could stage his little act. Now that you're not shouting at him he is upset. Instead of you being upset when he does what he wants, now he is upset because you don't appear distressed and you display indifference.'

One day George announced that he was giving up his job and going to Canada. He had told his boss to find a replacement because he was leaving. In the meantime I said to his parents:

'We'll pray.'

'But he's ready to leave... I'll grab him by the scruff of the neck!' said his father.

'No,' I told him, 'don't do anything.'

'But the boy's leaving, Elder!3

I said: 'Let him leave. You just devote yourselves to prayer and I'll be with you.'

Two or three days later early one Sunday morning George an­nounced to his parents:

'I'm going off today with my friends.'

'Fine,' they replied, 'do as you want.'

He left, and along with his friends, two girls and two boys, he hired a car and set off for Chalkida. They drove around aimlessly here and there. Then they went past the church of Saint John the Russian and from there to Mantoudi, Aghia Anna and beyond to Vasilika, They had a swim in the Aegean Sea, they ate, drank and had a fine time. At the end of it all they set off on the road home. It was already dark. George was driving. As they were passing through Aghia Anna the car hit the cor­ner of a house and was badly damaged. What could they do now? They managed to bring the car back to Athens at a crawling pace.

George arrived back home in the early hours of the morning. His parents said nothing to him and he went off to sleep. When he woke up he came and said to his father:

'Do you know what happened?... Now we'll have to repair the car and it will cost a lot of money.'

His father said:

'Well, George, you'll have to find a solution to this yourself. You know I've got debts to pay and your sisters to look after...'

'What can I do, father?'

'Do whatever you like. You're grown-up and you've got a brain of your own. Go off to Canada and make some money...'

'I can't do that. We have to repair the car now.'

I've no idea what you should do,' said his father. 'Sort it out yourself.'

So, seeing that further dialogue with his father was pointless, he said no more and left. He went to his boss and said:

'I had an accident with a car. I don't want to leave now, so don't hire anyone else.'

His boss said:

'That's all right by me, lad.'

'Yes, but I would like you to give me some money in advance.'

'That's fine, but you were wanting to leave. If you want money, your father will have to sign for it.'

I'll sign for it myself. My father doesn't want to get involved. He told me so. I'll work and I'll repay it.'

Now isn't that a miracle?

When the boy's mother came again to see me I said to her:

'The method we employed worked and God heard our prayer. The accident was from God and now the boy will stay at home and will come to his senses.'

That's what happened through our prayer. It was a miracle. The par­ents fasted, prayed and kept silent and they were successful. Some time later the boy himself came and found me — without any of his family having said anything to him about me. George became a very fine man and now works in the air force and is married with a lovely family.


With children what is required is a lot of prayer and few words
All things are achieved through prayer, silence and love. Have you un­derstood the effects of prayer? Love in prayer, love in Christ. That is what is truly beneficial. As long as you love your children with human love — which is often pathological — the more they will be mixed-up, and the more their behaviour will be negative. But when the love be­tween you and towards your children is holy and Christian love, then you will have no problem. The sanctity of the parents saves the chil­dren. For this to come about, divine grace must act on the souls of the parents. No one can be sanctified on his own. The same divine grace will then illuminate, warm and animate the souls of the children. People often telephone me from abroad and ask me about their children and about other matters. Today a mother phoned me from Milan and asked me how she should behave towards her children. What I said to her was this:

'Pray, and when you have to, speak to your children with love. Lots of prayer and few words. Lots of prayer and few words for everyone. We mustn't become an annoyance, but rather pray secretly and then speak, and God will let us know in our hearts whether the others have accept­ed what we have said. If not, we won't speak. We will simply pray mys­tically. Because if we speak we become an annoyance and make others react or even infuriate them. That is why it is better to speak mystically to the heart of others through secret prayer rather than to their ears.

Pray and then speak. That's what to do with your children. If you are constantly lecturing them, you'll become tiresome and when they grow up they'll feel a kind of oppression. Prefer prayer and speak to them through prayer. Speak to God and God will speak to their hearts. That is, you shouldn't give guidance to your children with a voice that they hear with their ears. You may do this too, but above all you should speak to God about your children. Say, "Lord Jesus Christ, give Your light to my children. I en­trust them to You. You gave them to me, but I am weak and unable to guide them, so, please, illuminate them." And God will speak to them and they will say to themselves, "Oh dear, I shouldn't have upset Mummy by doing that!" And with the grace of God this will come from their heart.'

This is the most perfect way — for the mother to speak to God and for God to speak to the children. If you do not communicate in this way, constant lecturing becomes a kind of intimidation. And when the child grows up it begins to rebel, that is, to take revenge, so to speak, on its fa­ther and mother who coerced it. One way is the perfect way — for the mother's and father's holiness and love in Christ to speak. The radiance of sanctity and not human effort makes for good children.

When the children are traumatized and hurt on account of some se­rious situation, don't let it affect you when they react negatively and speak rudely. In reality they don't want to, but can't help themselves at difficult times. They are remorseful afterwards. But if you become irri­tated and enraged, you become one with the evil spirit and it makes a mockery of you all.


The sanctity of the parents is the best way of bringing up children in the Lord.
We must see God in the faces of our children and give God's love to our children. The children should learn to pray. And in order for children to pray they must have in them the blood of praying parents. This is where some people make the mistake of saying, 'Since the parents are devout and pray, meditate on Holy Scripture and bring up their chil-Eph,6:4 dren in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, it is natural that they will become good children.' But nevertheless we see the very opposite result on account of coercion.

It is not sufficient for the parents to be devout. They mustn't oppress the children to make them good by force. We may repel our children from Christ when we pursue the things of our religion with egotism. Children cannot endure coercion. Don't compel them to come with you to church. You can say, 'Whoever wants can come with me now or come later.' Leave God to speak to their souls. The reason why the children of some devout parents become rebellious when they grow up and reject the Church and everything connected with it and go off to seek satisfaction elsewhere is because of this pressure which they feel from their 'good' parents. The so-called 'devout' parents, who were anxious to make good Christians of their children with their human love, pressurized their children and produced the opposite result. The children are pressurized when they are young, and when they reach the age of sixteen, seventeen or eighteen years old, they end up the opposite of what was intended. By way of reaction they start to mix with bad company and to use bad language.

When children grow up in an atmosphere of freedom and at the same time are surrounded by the good example of grown-ups, they are a joy to see. The secret is to be good and saintly and to inspire and radi­ate. The life of the children seems to be affected by the radiation of their parents. If the parents insist, 'Come on now, go and make confession, go and receive Communion', and so on, nothing is achieved. But what does your child see in you? How do you live and what do you radiate? Does Christ radiate in you? That is what is transmitted to your child. This is where the secret lies. And if this is done when the child is young, it will not be necessary for it to undergo 'great travail' when it grows up. Solomon the Wise uses a beautiful image about exactly this subject, un­derlining the importance of a good start and good foundations: He who Wisd. 6:14 seeks her [Wisdom] early shall have no great travail; for he shall find her [DC] sitting at his doors. The person who 'seeks her early' is the person who oc­cupies himself with Wisdom from an early age. Wisdom is Christ.

When the parents are saintly and transmit this to the child and give the child an upbringing 'in the Lord', then the child, whatever the bad influences around it, will not be affected because by the door of its heart will be Wisdom — Christ Himself. The child will not undergo great tra vail to acquire Wisdom. It seems very difficult to become good, but in reality it is very easy when from an early age you start with good expe­riences. As you grow up effort is not required; you have goodness within you and you experience it. You don't weary yourself; it is yours, a pos­session which you preserve, if you are careful, throughout your life.

A selection from Wounded by Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, trans. by John Raffan (Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, 2005), 195-205.