Saturday, July 14, 2018

Three Kinds of Gifts from God ( St. John Cassian )


After the evening meal we sat on the mats, as monks do, and we waited for the discussion which had been promised us. Out of deference to the old man we remained silent for a while. Then he interrupted our respectful silence with the following words.
"The direction taken by our earlier discussion has brought us now to the need to state the nature of spiritual gifts, and the tradition of our elders, as we know, us that this takes a threefold form.

GIFTS THAT COME FROM THE HOLY

"The first cause of the gift of healing is the merit earned by holiness. The grace of working miracles is to be found among specially chosen and just men. It is quite evident that the apostles and many saints worked miracles and wonders. This was in accordance with what the Lord Himself had commanded when He said, 'Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, expel the demons. You have freely received. Give freely.' (Matthew 10:8)

GIFTS THAT COME FROM SINNERS

"Second, for the edification of the church or of those who bring forward their own patients or of those who have to be healed, the virtue of healing comes even from sinners and from the unworthy. Of such people the Savior had this to say in the gospel: 'They will say to me on that day: Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and did we not drive out devils in your name, and did we not do many wonders in your name? And I will say out loud to them. I do not know you. Leave me, you workers of iniquity' (Matthew 7:22 - 23). But by contrast, if faith is lacking in those who bring forward the sick, then it will not be permitted, even to those with the gift of healing , to work a cure. The evangelist Luke had this to say: 'And Jesus could not work miracles among them because of their unbelief' (Mark 6: 5 - 6 -- NOTE: this is NOT in Luke, but in Mark). It was at this time that the Lord said: 'There were many lepers in Israel in the days of Elisaeus the prophet and no one of them was cured except Neman the Syrian' (Luke 4:27).

GIFTS THAT COME FROM DEMONS

"The third kind of healing is a trick and deception worked by demons. A man caught up in obvious wrongdoing is an object of admiration of being a holy man and a servant of God and he becomes, for evil spirits, the means of enticing others to imitate him even to the extent of doing wrong like him. The way is now open for scandal and even the sanctity of religion is maligned. And it is quite certainly the case that this man who credits himself with the gift of healing is brought crashing down all the harder because of the pride in his heart.
"The demons have also the following trick. They cry out the names of those whom they know to have none of the merits of holiness and to possess none of the fruits of the Spirit. They pretend to be burnt up by the merits of such people and to take flight from the bodies of the possessed. Deuteronomy has this to say about such persons: 'If a prophet should arise among you or a man claiming visionary dreams, and if he foretells a sign and a portent, and if what he says should actually happen, and if he should say to you, "Let us go and follow strange gods who are unknown to you and let us serve them," do not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. For the Lord your God is putting you to the test, bringing out into the open whether or not you love Him with all your heart and with all your should (Deuteronomy 13: 1 - 3). And in the gospel he says this: 'Fake Christs and fake prophets will rise up and they will perform great signs and wonders so that if possible even the chosen will be led into error' (Matthew 24:24).

BEING ON GUARD

"Therefore we must never be admirers of those who pretend to do such things out of virtuousness. We must note, instead, whether they have become perfect as a result of driving out their sins and because of the improvement of their way of life. This is something that is certainly not achieved through the act of faith of someone else or for reasons that are obscure to us. It happens because of a man's own zeal and the divine gift of grace.
"Such, then, is the practical knowledge which is otherwise called 'charity' by the apostle and which, on his apostolic authority, is to be preferred to all the speech of men and angels, to the full faith which can even move mountains, to all knowledge and prophetic power, to the utter abandonment of the things of the world, and, finally, even to glorious martyrdom. He listed all the types of charismatic gifts and had this to say: 'To one man the Spirit grants wisdom in preaching, to another knowledgeable discourse, to another faith, to another the gift of healing, to another the working of cures' (I Corinthians 12:8 - 10) and all the rest. But he will go on to speak of love, and notice how he put this before all the charisms: 'I will show you a way that is better than any of them' (I Corinthians 12:31).
"In this way it is clearly shown that the high point of perfection and blessedness does not lie in the working of those miracles but rather in the purity of love. And not without good reason. The former have to vanish and to be done away with. But love will endure forever. Hence we never see the Fathers caught up in these wonderworkings. By the grace of the Holy Spirit they were possessors of such capacities but they never wanted to use them unless they were coerced by utter, unavoidable necessity."

from St. John Cassian (trans Colm Luibheid), "Conferences," (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), pp. 174 - 176

Thursday, July 12, 2018

St. Marina and Satan: A Syriac Dialogue Poem



Translated by Sebastian P. Brock
O discerning listeners, come and listen to the dispute between Marina and Satan, and sing praise to the Lord of all.
St Marina and Satan: A Syriac dialogue poem 
 
SATAN
The Evil One said to Marina, the dearly beloved virgin,
‘Desert and Sown , in their envy, have spoken falsehood against you’. 
 
MARINA
‘Every word Desert and Sown have spoken against me is in falsehood:
in the name of the Lord do I put my hope to escape victorious from them’.

SATAN
‘In the name of the Lord you shall escape if you pay attention and listen to me, my daughter:
reveal your identity, that you are a woman, and you will escape from all guile’. 
 
MARINA
‘Those men and women who have emerged victorious first entered into trials and were rescued
by the hope they held in the name of the Lord – and like them I too have hope’. 
 
SATAN
‘ I have revealed and shown you the right path by which you shall be victorious, but you won’t listen;
I am greatly upset in my concern for you, and my pain won’t go away since you won’t listen to me’.
 
MARINA
‘My skin cleaves to my bones [Lam.4:8]: I have greatly toiled in my labours so as to be numbered among males in order to steal
righteousness from them’. 
 
SATAN
‘If you wish to be numbered among males, listen to what I have to say to you:
go and reveal your identity, how you are a woman, and then go and live in the world along with men’.
 
MARINA
‘What you have to say is miles away from what I have in mind:
my desire is to die in the wild and I shall not do what you have said’. 
 
SATAN
‘This wild place shall be your tomb and you will not get away from trials,
for if you don’t listen to my words, you will die and perish, with your hope cut off’. 
 
MARINA
‘Great woe is reserved for you and for whoever listens to any of your words.
There is hope in God, and those who hope in him are not ashamed’. [Ps 25:3] 
 
SATAN
‘It is a double woe that you will have if you fail to listen to any of my words:
you will die in the wilderness and wild beasts and birds of prey will devour you’. 
 
MARINA
‘I will sing praise while I live, [Ps 146:2] while I have a place where to sing;
and whether I live or whether I die, it is to the Lord I belong all the time’. 
 
SATAN
‘Sing on then, and don’t stop for in a little while your song will come to an end;
you will go down to Sheol without hope and your lot will be a double woe’. [cp Ps 31:18, 55:16] 
 
MARINA
‘The Lord is living and holy is his name, and whoever hopes in him will not be ashamed: [Ps 25:3]
from this monastery I will not depart. and will not go away from its gate’. 
 
SATAN
‘Savage animals are roaring, eager to rip you apart, and vultures too;
if you don’t carry out my advice they will tear you apart and drink up your blood’. 
 
MARINA
‘A great blessing will be mine if they tear my body apart and drink up my blood,
for my Lord is the Lord of all: he will not do what you have said’. 
 
SATAN
‘So torture you consider a blessing? What then do you think of eternal woe?
Flee from the error in your mind; follow my advice and live’. 
 
MARINA
‘Let the sea and land testify concerning me, the heavens too, and all that is in them, [cp Deut 4:26, 31:28]
that I renounce you and your words: cursed is your counsel, and accursed your name’. 
 
SATAN
‘I know that women don’t have much intelligence or brain, for they don’t know what they are saying,
and they do what is harmful to themselves’. 
 
MARINA
‘All the advice that you give is bad; your words are bad too because you are bad:
as our Lord said in his Gospel, “a tree that is bad bears bad fruit”’. [Matt7:17] 
 
SATAN
‘Check your words, stupid woman, and shut up: you don’t realize it is your duty to save yourself,
as far as you are able, and live a normal life, and not perish’. 
 
MARINA
‘Accursed are your words, Satan, and accursed is the instruction which you teach.
for your mouth is full of cursing and wickedness, and on your tongue are fraud and deceit’. 
 
SATAN
‘You haven’t read or learnt the Scripture; you are ignorant and you don’t listen.
My words and utterance are full of truth, and deceit is far from my heart’. 
 
MARINA
‘If I listen to you I will indeed perish, for you have set a trap that leads to perdition,
and I won’t be able to save myself if I listen to you and your counsel’.
 
SATAN
‘My advice is crystal clear, its light is illumined by the sun, but because the light of your mind is darkened
you don’t see the light even when it shines out’. 
 
MARINA
‘Take a rest from laying your traps, for I shall break them all up:
I place my hope in Jesus’ name and no harm will come to me’. 
 
SATAN
‘You should give a rest to your words: that I should rest is not my wish.
It is a great sin that you commit if you remain in this wild place. 
 
SATAN
‘You will do yourself harm at the hands of marauding robbers:
if they realize you are a woman I don’t know what they will do to you!’. 
 
MARINA
‘The hope that I’ve placed in God will rescue me and I will not be harmed;
he is the hope of the poor and the orphans, and to all who hope on him’. 
 
SATAN
‘Escape from all sorts of harm while you still have a chance to escape:
don’t put the Lord, your Lord, to the test, hoping he will perform a miracle with you’. 
 
MARINA
‘It is from you that I will make my escape and I won’t touch your words of advice;
if I escape from you and your words, then will I be accounted blessed!’. 
 
SATAN
Satan replied and said ‘If you reveal that you are a woman all the abuse you are getting
will go away and then you can sing praise and rejoice’. 
 
MARINA
‘I will not give you any answer for all your talk is importunate:
all that you say is false. You give a lot of advice, but you are the one who needs it’. 
 
SATAN
‘Cruel crosses are set up in readiness for you on every side:
summer is preparing burning heat for you, and winter, snow and ice’. 
 
MARINA
‘Our Saviour endured the Cross because of our human race, and if he holds me
worthy to endure it, then this will be a great blessing for me’. 
 
SATAN
‘Get up and prepare yourself to receive crosses, sufferings and torments which evil people,
and the monks, will bring upon you – just as you are wanting!’. 
 
MARINA
‘I have already received these from you, and I will do so in future for I am ready for suffering:
whether from you, O Evil One, or from human beings, from wild animals, or from reptiles’. 
 
SATAN
‘It is pride that women love, and boasting is in their heart, but in a little while they grow weak and are defeated:
then tears start coming, flowing from their eyes!’.
 
 
MARINA
‘Yes, women love pride – as you have said in your pride; but they are humble before their Lord, while it is you and your pride they will trample down’.
Give peace to your Church and her children with that peace that pacifies all; rebuke the Evil One and his band: let them be scattered like smoke! [cp Ps 37:20]
Let peace reign in the midst of your Church; let fights and schisms be brought to an end:may they be brought under your yoke and do service before you. May your handmaid enter her monastery and in the Holy of Holies offer up to you a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving – and may both Desert and Sown be joined in peace.

May my supplication enter and be accepted in the presence of your divine tribunal; may the Evil One and his band feel shame, and may the Church be radiant in giving praise!


http://lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/st-marina-and-satan-a-syriac-dialogue-poem/

Monday, July 9, 2018

What we can do for the dead... ( Fr. Seraphim Rose )

Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and in particular by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood, by the prayers of Thy saints." We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy, Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations. The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those whe make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and what it within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care for their souls. Before us all stands that same path, and how we shall then wish that we would he remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead.

As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the "Prayers on the Departure of the Soul," which are appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death. Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral. The funeral need not be performed elaborately, but most definitely it should be complete, without abbreviations; think at this time not of yourself and your convenience, but of the deceased, with whom you are parting forever. If there are several of the deceased in church at the same time, don't refuse if it be proposed to serve the funeral for all together. It is better for a funeral to be served for two or more of the deceased at the same time, when the prayer of the close ones who have gathered will be all the more fervent, than for several funerals to be served in succession and the services, owing to lack of time and energy, abbreviated; because each word of prayer for the reposed is like a drop of water to a thirsty man. Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days. Usually, in churches where there are daily services, the deceased whose funerals have been served there are commemorated for forty days and longer. But if the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives themselves should take care to order the forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services. It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places. But the forty-day memorial must he begun immediately after death, when the soul is especially in need of help in prayer, and therefore one should begin commemoration in the nearest place where there are daily services.

Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before as, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Fr. Seraphim Rose

Friday, July 6, 2018

Cleansing our heart ( Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica )

Strong faith in a man's heart both requires and produces prayer, and a prayer life of many years produces love.

The goal of our life is nothing other than cleansing our heart to such an extent that is able to sing with joy.

Thus, prayer of the heart leads to joy of the heart. Nothing is difficult for a joyful person, because he has love.

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

An exegesis on women's head coverings



BY DEACON JOSEPH GLEASON


For two thousand years in the Orthodox Church, the tradition has been for women and girls to veil their heads during worship, whether at Church for the Divine Liturgy, or at home for family prayer time. What is the Scriptural and Patristic evidence for this tradition, and why is it important? In this article, we will take a look at head coverings in the Old Testament, head coverings in the New Testament, head coverings according to the early Church, head coverings in icons, and head coverings today.


Head coverings in the Old Testament


Centuries before the birth of Christ, women’s head coverings were an accepted practice for God’s people. It was not merely an option for those who wished to be holy. Rather, it was a matter-of-fact expectation that all women would cover their heads. When the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to pen the first five books of Scripture, women’s head coverings were simply assumed to be the normal practice. In the Book of Numbers, when a unique ceremony is performed that requires an uncovered head, Scripture makes a point to say that the woman’s head covering needs to be removed: “the priest shall stand the woman before the Lord, uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering for remembering in her hands.” (Numbers 5:18) Of course, such a requirement would make little sense, if women did not normally keep their head covered. Even earlier than this, in the Book of Genesis, we read about Rebecca, on a journey to meet her future husband Isaac: “Then Rebecca lifted her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from her camel; for she had said to their servant, ‘who is this man walking in the field to meet us?’ The servant, ‘it is my master.’ So she took a veil and covered herself.” (Genesis 24:64-65).


Her godly discretion is a model for women today. She did not flaunt her physical beauty. Rather, she veiled herself, increasing her allure through an outward display of modesty. Women’s head coverings can also be found in the story of Susanna. It is the captivating story of a beautiful, virtuous woman who was falsely accused, and later vindicated by the wisdom of young Daniel. Susanna wore a veil that covered not only her head, but her face as well. Scripture looks disapprovingly upon the removal of her veil. “Now Susanna was exceedingly delicate and beautiful to behold but those wicked men commanded that her face should be uncovered, (for she was covered,) that so at least they might be satisfied with her beauty. Therefore her friends and all her acquaintances wept. (The story of Susanna/Daniel 13:31-33). In this passage of Scripture, virtuous people approve of women head coverings and veils, while ungodly men seek their removal.


Head coverings in the New Testament


Women’s head coverings are one of the many points of similarity between Israel and the Church. Godly women had covered their head for thousands of years prior to the advent of Christ. And when the New Testament Church was born, godly women continued the practice. In St. Paul’s first epistle to the Church in Corinth, he instructs everyone to follow the holy traditions which have been received: “Now, I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor. 11:2). Women’s head coverings are one of the holy traditions which the Church had received, and St. Paul spends the next several paragraphs discussing them. He says that head coverings manifest honor, in the context of worship:


1. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. (1 Cor. 11:4).
2. Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head. (1 Cor. 11:5).
The message is pretty clear: It is honorable for a woman to wear head coverings during worship, but it is dishonorable for men to wear them. This is why men remove their hats for prayer, even to this day. Not content to make his point only once, St. Paul reiterates himself a few verses later. Women are to cover their heads, and men are not to do so:


1. A man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of god; but woman is the glory of man. (1 Cor. 11:7).
2. The woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Cor. 11:10).

The Old Testament reveals that this holy tradition is ancient, but it only begins to hint at the reasons.


Here in the New Testament, we are given some reasons for the practice. According to 1 Corinthians 11, head coverings manifest woman’s honor. They also are important because of the angels. Angels are present with us when we pray, and when we worship. While we may not fully understand why head coverings are important to the angels, it is sufficient for us to know that this reason is given in Scripture. If Scripture says that women’s head coverings are important to the angels, then it is something we should take seriously.


Head coverings according to the Early Church Father


St. John Chrysostom (407 A.D), in a sermon at the Feast of the Ascension, spoke both of angels and the veiling of women: “The angels are present here. Open the eyes of faith and look upon this sight. For if the very air is filled with angels, how much more so in the Church! Hear the Apostle teaching this, when he bids the women to cover their heads with a veil because of the presence of the angels.”


Origen, another prominent teacher of the early Church said: “There are angels in the midst of our assembly. We have here a twofold Church, one of men, the other of angels. And since there are angels present, women, when they pray, are ordered to have a covering upon their head because of those angels. They assist the saints and rejoice in the Church.” The Apostolic Tradition was written in the second century, and the author is believed to be St. Hippo of Rome. This book has instructions for catechumens, including this: “And let all women have their heads covered with an opaque cloth.”
And St. Cyril of Alexandria, commenting on First Corinthians says: “The angels find it extremely hard to bear if this law that women cover their heads is disregarded.”


Head coverings in the Icons


Icons in the Orthodox Church are a visual guide to the Faith, a short picture book of Christianity. Icons teach us about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and about the lives of many Christians who have gone before us. Icons also teach us about head coverings. Virtually every icon of an Orthodox woman displays her wearing a head covering. As far as I know, the only exception is St. Mary of Egypt, and she was a solitary saint who lived alone in the desert, far away from any people. Among the female saints who participated in society, all of them wore head coverings, and their head coverings are shown in the icons. Even Mary the Mother of God, the most blessed woman in the entire universe is shown in icons wearing a head covering. Can you think of a better role-model for women?



Head covering Today


In our Church, all women and girls are asked to wear head coverings, in obedience to God’s command in Scripture, and out of respect for the holy traditions of the Orthodox Church. Just inside the front door of the Church, we keep a basket of head coverings, just in case a woman forgets hers at home and needs to borrow one for the day. Head coverings are also worn at home during family prayer time. While honoring God’s direction is a reward unto itself, there are many other benefits as well. For example: Head coverings manifest a woman’s honor. As St. Paul points out in Scripture, a woman brings honor to herself by covering her head during prayer.




Head coverings encourage humility.


Godly women come to church to focus on worship, not to draw attention to themselves. A girl may be tempted to show off an attractive hairdo. When a woman wears a head covering, this temptation is removed. She can focus on prayer, instead of on hair.

Head coverings save time. In today’s culture, it can be tempting to spend a lot of time and energy on hairstyles. But head coverings are quick and easy. It takes a lot less time to put on a head covering that it does to prepare a hairdo for display.


Head coverings help us show love and consideration for our brothers. Godly men come to Church to focus on worship. But the flowing locks of beautiful women can be distracting. By veiling her hair, a woman can display her modesty, and remove an unnecessary distraction. A mainstream theological journal recently published an article about women’s’ head coverings. Soon after, the author of the article became a member of the Orthodox Church in the article; she beautifully illustrates the iconic purpose of head coverings:

“My wearing a head covering is not only a symbol or sign that I am in agreement with His order, but that I visibly, willingly submit to it. With submission comes blessing.” Christa Conrad.


In an issue of The Handmaiden, a lady name Elizabeth gives her testimony about wearing head coverings: “For twelve years I have worn a scarf at all times. I now perceive that it has been and continues to be essential for the pilgrim journey and salvation of my soul. The bottom line for me and a growing number of my sisters remains obedience. And with it comes a sense of being in our rightful place in God’s ordered universe, rejoicing with the angels. Now I gratefully say, I am in the presence of the great I AM, at prayer and in Church, surrounded by the angelic host, worshiping our Lord and King. To God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the glory, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.


Fr. Thomas Moore, Holy Apostles Orthodox Church, Columbia, SC.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

How to read the Bible and why ( St. Justin Popovich )



The Bible is in a sense a biography of God in this world. In it the Indescribable One has in a sense described Himself.
The Holy Scriptures of the New Testament are a biog­raphy of the incarnate God in this world. In them it is related how God, in order to reveal Himself to men, sent God the Logos, who took on flesh and became man--and as a man told men everything that God is, everything that God wants from this world and the people in it.
God the Logos revealed God's plan for the world and God's love for the world. God the Word spoke to men about God with the help of words, insofar as human words can con­tain the uncontainable God.
All that is necessary for this world and the people in it--the Lord has stated in the Bible. In it He has given the answers to all questions. There is no question which can torment the human soul, and not find its answer, either directly or in­directly in the Bible.
Men cannot devise more questions than there are answers in the Bible. If you fail to find the answer to any of your questions in the Bible, it means that you have either posed a sense-less question or did not know how to read the Bible and did not finish reading the answer in it.
In the Bible God has made known:


[1] what the world is; where it came from; why it exists; where it is heading; how it will end;
[2] what man is; where he comes from; where he is going; what he is made of; what his purpose is; how he will end;
[3] what animals and plants are; what their purpose is; what they are used for;
[4] what good is; where it comes from; what it leads to; what its purpose is; how it is attained;
[5] what evil is; where it comes from; how it came to exist; why it exists--how it will come to an end;
[6] what the righteous are and what sinners are; how a sin­ner becomes righteous and how an arrogant righteous man becomes a sinner; how a man serves God and how he serves satan; the whole path from good to evil, and from God to satan;
[7] everything--from the beginning to the end; man's entire path from the body to God, from his conception in the womb to his resurrection from the dead;
[8] what the history of the world is, the history of heaven and earth, the history of mankind; what their path, purpose, and end are.
In the Bible God has said absolutely everything that was necessary to be said to men. The biography of every man-­everyone without exception--is found in the Bible.
In it each of us can find himself portrayed and thoroughly described in detail: all those virtues and vices which you have and can have and cannot have.
You will find the paths on which your own soul and everyone else's journey from sin to sinlessness, and the entire path from man to God and from man to Satan. You will find the means to free yourself from sin.
In short, you will find the complete history of sin and sin­fulness, and the complete history of righteousness and the righteous.
If you are mournful, you will find consolation in the Bible; if you are sad, you will find joy; if you are angry--tranquility; if you are lustful--continence; if you are foolish--wisdom; if you are bad--goodness; if you are a criminal--mercy and righteousness; if you hate your fellow man--love.
In it you will find a remedy for all your vices and weak points, and nourishment for all your virtues and accomplishments.
If you are good, the Bible will teach you how to become better; if you are kind, it will teach you angelic tenderness; if you are intelligent, it will teach you wisdom.
If you appreciate the beauty and music of literary style, there is nothing more beautiful or more moving than what is contained in Job, Isaiah, Solomon, David, John the Theologian and the Apostle Paul. Here music--the angelic music of the eternal truth of God--is clothed in human words.
The more one reads and studies the Bible, the more he finds reasons to study it as often and as frequently as he can. According to St. John Chrysostom, it is like an aromatic root, which produces more and more aroma the more it is rubbed.
Just as important as knowing why we should read the Bible is knowing how we should read the Bible.
The best guides for this are the holy Fathers, headed by St. John Chrysostom who, in a manner of speaking, has written a fifth Gospel.
The holy Fathers recommend serious preparation before reading and studying the Bible; but of what does this preparation consist?
First of all in prayer. Pray to the Lord to illuminate your mind--so that you may understand the words of the Bible--and to fill your heart with His grace--so that you may feel the truth and life of those words.
Be aware that these are God's words, which He is speaking and saying to you personally. Prayer, together with the other virtues found in the Gospel, is the best preparation a person can have for understanding the Bible.
How should we read the Bible? Prayerfully and reverently, for in each word there is another drop of eternal truth, and all the words together make up the boundless ocean of the Eternal Truth.
The Bible is not a book but life; because its words are "spirit and life" (John 6:63). Therefore its words can be comprehended if we study them with the spirit of its spirit, and with the life of its life.
It is a book that must be read with life--by putting it into practice. One should first live it, and then understand it.
Here the words of the Saviour apply: "Whoever is willing to do it--will understand that this teaching is from God" (John 7:17). Do it, so that you may understand it. This is the fun­damental rule of Orthodox exegesis.
At first one usually reads the Bible quickly, and then more and more slowly, until finally he will begin to read not even word by word, because in each word he is discovering an everlasting truth and an ineffable mystery.
Every day read at least one chapter from the Old and the New Testament; but side by side with this put a virtue from each into practice. Practice it until it becomes a habit to you.
Let us say, for instance, that the first virtue is forgiveness of insults. Let this be your daily obligation. And along with it pray to the Lord: "O gentle Lord, grant me love towards those who insult me!"
And when you have made this virtue into a habit, each of the other virtues after it will be easier for you, and so on until the final one.
The main thing is to read the Bible as much as possible. When the mind does not understand, the heart will feel; and if neither the mind understands nor the heart feels, read it over again, because by reading it you are sowing God's words in your soul.
And there they will not perish, but will gradually and imperceptibly pass into the nature of your soul; and there will happen to you what the Saviour said about the man who "casts seed on the ground, and sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, while the man does not know it" (Mark 4:26-27).
The main thing is: sow, and it is God who causes and allows what is sown to grow (1 Cor. 3:6). But do not rush success, lest you become like a man who sows today, but tomorrow already wants to reap.
By reading the Bible you are adding yeast to the dough of your soul and body, which gradually expands and fills the soul until it has thoroughly permeated it and makes it rise with the truth and righteousness of the Gospel.
In every instance, the Saviour's parable about the sower and the seed can be applied tp every one of us. The seed of Divine Truth is given to us in the Bible.
By reading it, we sow that seed in our own soul. It falls on the rocky and thorny ground of our soul, but a little also falls on the good soil of our heart--and bears fruit.
And when you catch sight of the fruit and taste it, the sweetness and joy will spur you to clear and plow the rocky and thorny areas of your soul and sow it with the seed of the word of God.
Do you know when a man is wise in the sight of Christ the Lord? --When he listens to His word and carries it out. The beginning of wisdom is to listen to God's word (Matt. 7:24-25).
Every word of the Saviour has the power and the might to heal both physical and spiritual ailments. "Say the word and my servant will be healed" (Matt. 8:8). The Saviour said the word--and the centurion's servant was healed.
Just as He once did, the Lord even now ceaselessly says His words to you, to me, and to all of us. But we must pause, and immerse ourselves in them and receive them--with the centurion's faith.
And a miracle will happen to us, and our souls will be healed just as the centurion's servant was healed. For it is related in the Gospel that they brought many possessed people to Him, and He drove out the spirits with a word, and healed all the sick (Matt. 8:16).
He still does this today, because the Lord Jesus "is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8)
Those who do not listen to God's words will be judged at the Dreadful Judgment, and it will be worse for them on the Day of Judgment than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:14-15).
Beware--at the Dreadful Judgment you will be asked to give an account for what you have done with the words of God, whether you have listened to them and kept them, whether you have rejoiced in them or been ashamed of them.
If you have been ashamed of them, the Lord will also be ashamed of you when He comes in the glory of His Father together with the holy angels (Mark 8:38).
There are few words of men that are not vain and idle. Thus there are few words for which we do not mind being judged (Matt. 12:36).
In order to avoid this, we must study and learn the words of God from the Bible and make them our own; for God proclaimed them to men so that they might accept them, and by means of them also accept the Truth of God itself. In each word of the Saviour there is more eternity and permanence than in all of heaven and earth with all their history.
Hence He said: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Matt. 24:35). This means that God and all that is of God is in the Saviour's words. Therefore they cannot pass away.
If a man accepts them, he is more permanent than heaven and earth, because there is a power in them that immortalizes man and makes him eternal.
Learning and fulfilling the words of God makes a person a relative of the Lord Jesus. He Himself revealed this when He said: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and carry it out" (Luke 8:21).
This means that if you hear and read the word of God, you are a half-brother of Christ. If you carry it out, you are a full brother of Christ. And that is a joy and privilege greater than that of the angels.
In learning from the Bible, a certain blessedness floods the soul which resembles nothing on earth. The Saviour spoke about this when He said, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Luke 11:28).
Great is the mystery of the word--so great that the second Person of the Holy Trinity, Christ the Lord, is called "the Word" or "the Logos" in the Bible.
God is the Word (John 1:1). All those words which come from the eternal and absolute Word are full of God, Divine Truth, Eternity, and Righteousness. If you listen to them, you are listening to God. If you read them, you are reading the direct words of God.
God the Word became flesh, became man (John 1:14), and mute, stuttering man began to proclaim the words of the eternal truth and righteousness of God.
In the Saviour's words there is a certain elixir of immortality, which drips drop by drop into the soul of the man who reads His words and brings his soul from death to life, from impermanence to permanence.
The Saviour indicated this when He said: "Truly, truly I say unto you, whoever listens to my word and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life ...and has passed over from death to life" (John 5:24).
Thus the Saviour makes the crucial assertion: "Truly, truly I say unto you, whoever keeps my words will never see death" (John 8:51).
Every word of Christ is full of God. Thus, when it enters a man's soul it cleanses it from every defilement. From each of His words comes a power that cleanses us from sin.
Hence at the Mystical Supper the Saviour told His disciples, who used to listen to His word without ceasing: "You have already been cleansed by the word which I have spoken to you" (John 15:3).
Christ the Lord and His Apostles call everything that is written in the Bible the word of God, the word of the Lord (John 17:14; Acts 6:2, 13:46, 16:32, 19:20; II Cor. 2:17; Col. 1:15, II Thess. 3:1), and unless you read it and receive it as such, you will remain in the mute, stuttering words of men, vain and idle.
Every word of God is full of God's Truth, which sanctifies the soul for all eternity once it enters it.
Thus does the Saviour turn to His heavenly Father in prayer: "Father! Sanctify them with Thy Truth; Thy word is truth" (John 17:17).
If you do not accept the word of Christ as the word of God, as the word of the Truth, then falsehood and the father of lies within you is rebelling against it.
In every word of the Saviour there is much that is supernatural and full of grace, and this is what sheds grace on the soul of man when the word of Christ visits it.
Therefore the Holy Apostle calls the whole structure of the house of salvation "the word of the grace of God" (Acts 20:32).
Like a living grace-filled power, the word of God has a wonder-working and life-giving effect on a man, so long as he hears it with faith and receives it with faith (1 Thess. 2:13).
Everything is defiled by sin, but everything is cleansed by the word of God and prayer--everything--all creation from man on down to a worm (1 Tim. 4:5).
By the Truth which it carries in itself and by the Power which it has in itself, the word of God is "sharper than any sword and pierces to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Nothing remains secret before it or for it.
Because every word of God contains the eternal Word of God--the Logos-it has the power to give birth and regenerate men. And when a man is born of the Word, he is born of the Truth.
For this reason St. James the Apostle writes to the Christians that God the Father has brought them forth "by the word of truth" (1:18); and St. Peter tells them that they "have been born anew...by the word of the living God, which abides forever" (1 Peter 1:23).
All the words of God, which God has spoken to men, come from the Eternal Word--the Logos, who is the Word of life and bestows Life eternal.
By living for the Word, a man brings himself from death to life. By filling himself with eternal life, a man becomes a conqueror of death and "a partaker of the Divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), and of his blessedness there shall be no end.
The main and most important point of all this is faith and feeling love towards Christ the Lord, because the mystery of every word of God is opened beneath the warmth of that feeling, just as the petals of a fragrant flower are opened beneath the warmth of the sun's rays. Amen.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Passion of Suspicion ( Elder Daniel Katounakiotis )



Suspicion in time of peace teaches disturbance and misunderstanding. Suspicion never knows the truth, even if the eyes see the truth and circumstances speak of kindness and love. Suspicion distorts everything and persuades its lover to be convinced of a lie rather than of a truth of what he sees.

Suspicion is a false and grotesque photographer, who in photographing distorts the image of the form before him....

When temptations occur to one who suffers from suspicion, whether from men or from God for his correction, or from natural coincidences, he assumes that such or such a person instigated them, freely censuring the one who is not responsible....

As a vivid depiction of this disastrous madness, I will dispassionately tell you of a reposed monk of Little St. Anne's, Fr. Theophan. He, as we know, being completely conquered by this disease, separated himself from all his brothers and neighbors, declaring that everyone despised him, and that he alone knew what was right, and that the rest were worthy of abhorrence. He suffered this because his suspicions taught such things to him, and he submitted to them and relied on them.

If, my beloved, it happened for the moment that an Ecumenical Council gathered by the Holy Fathers would condemn such as are deceived by their suspicions, they would never yield, maintaining that they are right and the Holy Fathers are wrong.

- Letter to Elder Callinicus the Hesychast (2/1/1896)

Flee, brethren, from monster-breeding suspicion.

As much as this passion appears small and unimportant, so, on the other hand, if it is not checked, it can become great and bring disastrous consequences. This passion of suspicion is usually proposed to foolish and vain souls by the crafty serpent, for the reason that they are occupied by the passion of envy and remembrance of wrongs.

Therefore, when any brother yields to the suggestion of this passion, he will first get as a fellow-worker and advocate evil curiosity, and in consequence, whatever his thoughts suggest he will consider as a completed event....

When this passion becomes chronic, the enemy brings to the brother various fantasies suitable to the aim of leading him astray; and thus it happens that he loses his reason, from which may the All-Good God and Lord save us....

In order to prevent such an abominable passion, the brother must from the first beginning shun it as a deadly poison, exposing it to infamy through pure confession and self-reproach.
 
By Elder Daniel Katounakiotis

From Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos (vol. 1), pp. 315-316.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Monasticism: The Apostolic Life

From a Presentation by the Very Reverend Abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery, Archimandrite Paisios, to the San Francisco Diocese clergy conference at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona. Spring, 1998.

Many Christians during the first centuries of the Church were moved by a holy zeal to forsake the world and distribute almost all their belongings to the poor or to a common treasury, and then lived a secular life, praying and reading the Holy Scriptures. They usually lived not far from their own families. By doing handicrafts, they earned what they needed for their basic living necessities. They distributed the little money that was left over to the poor. These people were called “ascetics.” This way of life developed even more during the following years, and from this mode of living the monastic life was born. Women who wanted and desired to dedicate themselves completely to God confessed before witnesses that they desired a life of virginity and thenceforth lived—in the beginning—with their parents, who provided for their livelihood. Later it was customary for the virgins to live together in “Parthenons,” Pachomios the Great organized monasticism for women more perfectly and founded many monasteries for men and many for women.

The monastic life was called the “apostolic life” in the ancient church. It imitated – and still imitates – the life of the first Christians, who lived under the direct or indirect spiritual direction of the Apostles. In essence, it is a life of repentance and purification of the heart from our passions, while fulfilling the commandments of the Lord. The beatitudes of the Lord find their fulfillment in monasticism, and more generally in ascesis, just as in the time of the ancient church.

The ascetical life of the monasteries is just like the ascetical life of the first Christians. We find in the Acts of the Apostles that the faithful “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers… All who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food. . .” (Acts 2:42-46) And later we find another similar testimony: “The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” (Acts 4:32)

Sozomenos writes in the Ecclesiastical History that the Jews who became Christians led a philosophical life, as he called it – their way of life was just as we see it organized today, says Sozomenos, by the Egyptian monks. They imitated as much as they could the Prophet Elias and St. John the Baptist. “They forsake belongings, relatives, friends; they live outside of the city in sacred houses called monasteries, in which they conduct august sacraments and worship God day and night. They do not eat before sunset, or they eat once every three or more days. They abstain from meat and wine. There are old virgins living with them…” We see that ascesis was never limited only to men.

In an account of St. Justin the Philosopher, in the second half of the second century, the saint describes the life of the Christians which is similar to that of the first Christians; “We bring whatever we have to the common treasury and we distribute it to whomever is in need.” Their spiritual life was such that, according to St. Justin, they would not even contract marriages, except for the sake of raising children, or they would set aside marriage to keep complete continence. In other words, the monastic way of life, according to the saint, was a normal phenomenon.

The Lord’s words, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given,” were actually meant to help his disciples strive for a life of celibacy. Thus, according to St. John Chrysostom, the Lord presents the issue of not marrying as a great and significant achievement in order to attract them and exhort them, since the Lord wanted to inspire the desire for celibacy in them.



Then, to show the possibility of virginity, He said, “There are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” that is, they destroyed the evil thoughts and purified their heart. In this way He led them with these words to prefer celibacy, as St. John says.

Celibacy existed in the beginning of the creation of Adam and Eve. St. John Chrysostom describes the life of Adam and Eve in his eighteenth homily on the Book of Genesis: “At the outset and from the beginning the practice of virginity was in force. However when due to their indifference they disobeyed and sin began, that lifestyle was taken away.

Also in his work On Virginity, he describes the life of Adam and Eve saying: “It was deemed necessary for him to have a helpmate, and it came to be, yet not even in this manner was marriage considered necessary. It did not even appear, for they lived without marriage, abiding in paradise as if in heaven, and enjoyed the pleasure of associating with God…. Thus did they live in that place, adorned with virginity.” So it was natural for Adam and Eve to live in virginity and in continuous communion with God, since, as St. Nicholas Cabasilas says, “Adam and Eve were created in the image of the Incarnate God the Logos. Christ was the archetype. The Old Adam was not the prototype for the New, but the New Adam was the prototype for the old. St. Gregory Palamas and St. Maximos the Confessor say exactly the same thing. In this monastic life, the life of celibacy, mankind has its beginning.

Therefore, monasticism is not something foreign to the Church; it is not something that began much later. Celibacy is the life that Christ the Prototype of the old Adam, wanted mankind to live.

When the Church was besieged by blasphemous heresies, the monks and nuns greatly contributed to fight against them. They fought against and hated the dogmas of the heretics, but sincerely loved the heretics. With sincere love in imitation of Christ they brought the heretics back to the bosom of the Church. The sacrament of communion was the final, the crowning stage of the heretics’ return to the Church. However, without the complete rejection of the heresy, this was impossible. Their confession of faith in the decision of the Ecumenical Councils was considered a basic prerequisite of the expression of the orthodoxy of the monks. The catholicity of the Church during the era of the Ecumenical Councils is lived in the eucharistic assembly with obedience to a bishop, as well as through the unconditional acceptance of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. The voice of the infallible Church is expressed both through the Ecumenical Councils and through the other regional councils, whose authority is acknowledged by the universal Church’s conscience.

The champions of these decisions were the monks, distinguished for their orthodox faith. Since heresy appeared as a threat to the unity of the Church, the bishops, being responsible for their flock, sought the help of spiritual men to confront the heresies. St. Anthony the Great was summoned from his mountain by the bishops many times to help confront the Arians. St. Makarios was called upon by a bishop to help him against Ierakitos. The nun Melani was active in Palestine. Besides all the other public welfare institutions and women’s and men’s monasteries she founded, she brought about 400 schismatics back to Orthodoxy, who belonged to the sect of the Meletians. Likewise, she worked with other spiritual men to bring all the Spirit-fighting heretics of her area back to the Church. In the book of Barsanuphios and John, the faith in the Ecumenical Councils is praised and extolled. In Palestine, St. Efthymios and St. Symeon the Stylite brought Evdokia back from the anti-Chalcedonian heresy of Dioscoros to the Universal Church. And along with her, a multitude of people deceived by Theodosios returned to the Orthodox Church.

The confessors of the Orthodox Church Sts. Savvas and Theodosios the Abbot also engaged in similar struggles. St. Savvas not only anathematized the leaders of heresies – Eutuches, Nestor, and Severos – but also “supported” the council of Chalcedon. Countless other monks struggled for the authority of the Ecumenical Councils and against the heresies. Not only did monks and hieromonks struggle for them, but they also took part in the Ecumenical Councils. In particular in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, out of the 350 Orthodox Fathers, 136 were abbots and monks.

Even the emperors themselves believed in the positive role of the monks to bring back those who had gone astray from the Church, “which is one.” The letters of the emperor Marcian to the Fathers of Sinai which exhort them against Theodosios the heretic, show the conviction of the emperor that the peace of the Church and the return to her of those who have gone stray was possible through the sound advice and support of the monastics.

The ascetic monastic fathers of the desert, having traversed the path of their spiritual journey free of deception, that is, by passing from the purification of their soul, and progressing to illumination and theosis, in other words to the state of beholding God, to the true theology of our Church, were able to present the truth successfully against errors.

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Our Church honors marriage in Christ as well as virginity in Christ. So when a monk or nun criticizes or despises marriage, he shows that he does not have an ecclesiastical mind-set (phronema), since he criticizes something that the Church blesses. A true monk never criticizes the blessed state of marriage. And of course a married person should not criticize monasticism because this also shows a lack of an ecclesiastical mind-set (phronema). Divine Grace is acquired by the monk with virginity in Christ, while by the layman with a marriage in Christ. But in either case, a struggle, ascesis, is required, according to Orthodox teaching.

St. John Chrysostom teaches: “Those who live in the world, even though they are married, ought to resemble the monks in all ways.” “You are greatly deceived if you think that there are things that are required of laymen and other things of monks…. All are equally accountable.” St. Basil the Great says in his Ascetical Works: “Submission to the Gospel is required for all men, both for monks and for laymen.

How much, and to what degree must each and every person apply himself in order to attain salvation? According to Father Justin Popovitch, “all of God and all of man, nothing less. It is not measured by just how much is needed and who gives more but God gives all of Himself and man must give all of himself, and in this consists salvation.” And this again applies to monks as well as laymen.

Monasticism expresses the apostolic life of the ancient Church as the continuation of that Church. It is the heart of the Church. But because the world does not provide the capability for people to live in it evangelically to the degree that many would want to, they withdraw from the world, aflame with a divine inspiration, which for several people is uncontainable, for even in their sleep they keep the commandments of the Lord. They withdraw from the world not out of self-love or cowardice or to avoid assuming worldly responsibilities, but out of a purely holy desire to be freed of their passions and that their heart be cleansed, so that they be united with Him Whom they yearn for.

“A Monk,” according to St. Nilus of Sinai, “is he who, withdrawing from all men, is united with all men. A monk is he who regards himself as existing with all men and sees himself in each man. The more a monk overcomes the world, the brighter shines his grace-filled rays and the greater the number of people who can be warmed and illumined by them. From his isolate cell, he sees deeper and becomes familiar with his fellow human beings and grows far closer to them in heart than is possible for those living in the world, for he sees them all and is united with them in God.”

Monasticism is similar to the first apostolic parishes, not only in their common belongings and common daily prayers, but primarily in their common therapeutic treatment. In the ancient Church, the catechumen would pass through the stage of purification, would be enlightened in Holy Baptism, and would even reach theosis. In a similar fashion, a novice monk struggles in the stage of purification and repentance, as the catechumen would, and when his repentance is completed, he enters the stage of enlightenment with the “Second Baptism” which he receives, that is, in his tonsure, and then by the grace of God, he proceeds, if God wills it, towards theosis. If we study Orthodox Monasticism, we would understand how the first apostolic parishes functioned.

The parish life can be inspired by the monastic life. “Angels are a light for monastics, and the monastics are a light for laymen,” according to St. John of Sinai. The monastery reminds the faithful that the commandments of the Lord are common, they apply to all. It drives them on towards new spiritual struggles. Some even experience a spiritual rebirth, according to just how receptive they are to the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

The monastery is a clinic, in precisely the same way that the first apostolic parishes were. The uncreated grace of God perfects man. Once man achieves the healing of this soul, he lives the tradition of our Church; he becomes a bearer of Tradition. When the great Fathers of the Church, who were for the most part monks spoke about purification, illumination, and theosis, they spoke as ones with the experience of the uncreated light; they lived this reality, they lived this tradition of the Church, they lived Orthodoxy. And Orthodoxy, according to Father Justin Popovitch, is: “life and experience of grace, and through this grace, knowledge of God and men.”

The monks, and all Christians, who are cleansed of their passions, find the cure of their soul become the most social of people. And since they themselves have found interior peace and perceptibly know what it means to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, they are able to guide others as well towards the purification of their soul. Spiritual guides are not limited merely to the clergy or to the monks and nuns, but all clergy and laity, married and celibate, men and women are able to guide souls towards perfection if they themselves have been purified of their passions and have attained the state of enlightenment. Or even if they are still in the stage of the purification of their soul, they are able to help.

The love that one has towards monasticism, towards the apostolic life is proof that one lives Orthodox tradition. It is love towards the essence itself of Orthodoxy and this is why all the saints loved ascesis.

The ascetical life is our effort assisted by the Grace of God to apply the commandments of Christ. As St. Gregory Palamas has said ‘ascesis is primarily the evangelical life which is based on repentance. It is man’s preparation for his union with Christ. The commandments of the Lord are directed to all married and celibate, without exception. The only difference is that monks pursue the more perfect application, according the words of the Lord, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and come and follow me.”

Ascesis along with repentance requires bodily effort. As Abba Isaac the Syrian says, “The nous is not glorified with Jesus Christ if the body does not suffer for Christ.” When by means of an ascetical life man is united with Christ, or at least is progressing towards this communion and union, then he is able to see within himself how the achievement of the image and likeness of God is brought about. When man struggles, he simply shows his good intentions to God, and it is the uncreated grace that performs the ineffable union.

When a monk, or a Christian, lives properly, that is, when he progresses spiritually and passes through purification and attains enlightenment, and progresses in accordance with the will of God towards theosis, then he lives Pentecost. He comes into direct contact with Christ through His uncreated energies, which has an impact on the whole world for a person’s spiritual rebirth, as the Fathers of the Church understand it and as it is lived primarily in monasticism, is noticed by all of creation. He effectively benefits all of creation. His teaching, his life, his behavior, his entire spiritual world are all different. He reflects the eternal life, the new life that Christ brought to the world. This new man is what we, too, are called to live in order to see in practice the difference between the genuine Orthodox Christian and the life of a worldly man.

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The transfiguration of each soul takes place also with constant repentance. In beginning His work to save the world, the Lord preached repentance.

A monk through constant repentance renews his baptism. According to St. John of the Ladder, the tears of repentance are a second baptism, a reconciliation with the Lord, and a purification of the conscience. According to St. Isaac, the fruit of the inner man begins with tears. This is why tears are a sign of true repentance, and they are required of all Christians. But there are also other kinds of tears. According to St. Isaac, there is “an order of tears which belongs to him who sheds tears unceasingly both night and day …. The eyes of such a man become like fountains of water for two years’ time or even more. But afterwards he enters into peace of thought and purity of heart. And once he enters into it, it shall abide with him till death. And God raises up the fruit of the Spirit in him. And in this present life he perceives, dimly somehow, and in a figure as it were, the change nature is going to receive at the renewal of all things.” This marks the completion of the heart’s purification process.

The saints of our Church know that divine Grace abides in and transfigures our soul with a desire for struggling, with humility – which is the basis and foundation of the virtues – with watchfulness, and with prayer.

The prayer which the monk uses above all, more than all the other prayers of the Church is the so-called Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” It has tremendous power when it is used constantly and with zeal, and primarily when it is used under the super-vision of an elder who possesses this prayer, that is who has experience of how it acts in the soul of a person. The Jesus prayer contains a confession of the God-man and a confession of our sinfulness. In this combination of these two truths lies the whole spirit of our Orthodoxy. With time, the Jesus prayer guides us towards Christ-like humility, which, according to St. Maximos, guides us to the two-fold knowledge: the knowledge of the omnipotence of Christ and the knowledge of our own weakness. The ignorance of the omnipotence of Christ and the ignorance of our own weakness constitute pride.

The Jesus prayer purifies the nous of thoughts and fantasy, an indispensable prerequisite without which man does not achieve the knowledge of the truth, the knowledge of God, in other words, does not fulfill his purpose as a Christian. As St. John Chrysostom says, this prayer illuminates man with uncreated light. “Prayer done with zeal is light for the nous and soul… It is an unquenchable and continuous light.” However, it is not achieved without labor and temptations. In fact, according to St. Isaac the Syrian, “Reckon every prayer, wherein the body does not toil and the heart is not afflicted to be a miscarriage.”

When prayer, and in particular the Jesus prayer, is done with zeal and persistence and under obedience, it brings man to “true knowledge of God, it is an intercessor between God and men, a physician of the passions, and antidote for illnesses, peace of soul, a guide that leads to heaven, it is communion and union with God. And man’s soul is directed towards God, enlightened, and is thoroughly brightened by His indescribable light.” The monk constantly strives to occupy himself with prayer and mainly with the Jesus prayer, lest he be found unworthy of this divine conversation and end up spiritually lifeless and dead. For the Jesus prayer to purify the soul of man, it must be said without ceasing. This work is not only for monks. Praying without ceasing is for all Christians, according to the Apostle Paul. St. Gregory Palamas as Archbishop of Thessaloniki taught the same thing, that ceaseless prayer, the Jesus prayer, it not only for monks, but for all Christians, as well. But for man to make progress in the Jesus prayer, stillness and seclusion are indispensable aids.

In the Gospel, the Lord often went out into the wilderness to pray. “Why did he ascend the mountain?” asks St. John Chrysostom. And he answers, “In order to teach us that solitude and isolation are good things when we want to come into contact with God. The wilderness is the mother of hesychia and it keeps us far from all noise.

All the hours of the day are appropriate for prayer, but the nighttime hours are most suitable. The night has darkness and quiet, essential aids for the execution of prayer. This is why monks prefer the nighttime hours for noetic prayer and their communication with God. The wilderness has shown forth tens of thousands of saints of our church.

The monk gives priority to the person. Ascesis delivers him from thoughts, the imagination and the passions and by the grace of God he acquires peace and becomes a fountain of peace for all the world. “Find peace within yourself,” says St. Seraphim of Sarov “and thousands all around you will be saved.” He means here not just those who come into contact face to face with such a person but also those far away are changed and become partakers of the grace of such a saint, and turn towards God. This is why today the world needs such people more than ever before.

“Perhaps,” St. Silouan writes, “You will say that nowadays there are no monks who would pray for the whole world; but I tell you that when there are no men of prayer on the earth, the world will come to an end and great calamities will befall: they have started already.”

External stillness must be accompanied with interior stillness. The beginning of the development of the passions and of one’s fall is thoughts, which proceed from a soul lacking peace. The imagination is also a diseased condition of the soul. Of course, in our Lord the New Adam, and in Adam and Eve before the Fall, these did not exist. When we initially undertake by the Grace of God to cure of soul of its illness, a real struggle is required so that we do not, according to St. Dorotheos, “remain all the time rotting in our thoughts.” When a monk joins ceaseless prayer with endless vigilance and complete spiritual obedience to an experienced elder, then he gradually achieves the purification of his soul, and “the purity of soul,” according to St. Isaac the Syrian, “is the first gift of our nature; and without purity of the passions the soul is not healed of the illness of sin, nor does it acquire the glory which it has lost through the Fall.”

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Since we have briefly mentioned the virtues which we as Christians must work at, it would be good to mention also the virtue which is the mother of all virtues, obedience, which without great toil brings all the virtues chained together.

Obedience is a great mystery of our Church, as St. Silouan has said. “The Holy Fathers,” according to St. Silouan, “ranked obedience, which is in essence humility, above fasting and prayer.” In a broader sense, we must have more obedience to Church Tradition and to the visible point of organizational unity, that is, to the bishop and to the canonical structure of the Church. However, more specifically, spiritual obedience to a spiritual father who has reached the state of illumination and theosis renders the disciple, in proportion to the faith and obedience he has towards his elder, a recipient of the uncreated energies of God, through his spiritual father.

“He who has cut off his self-will and put himself under obedience in all things to his elder and his confessor has an unfettered mind… and obedience brings him all the virtues and gifts one by one. He who has true obedience fulfills all the commandments and becomes like Christ who was ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ The Holy Spirit loves the obedient soul,” according to St Silouan, “and quickly comes to know the Lord, and obtains prayer of the heart…. And thus
God gives His wisdom and anything else the obedient soul asks of Him.”

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The Church today, the world, is passing through a very serious crises, a crisis both moral and spiritual. The problem in the world today is man – the individual. If man by means of ascesis purifies his nous from thoughts and fantasies and then his heart from the passions, then the Grace of the Holy Spirit comes permanently to his soul, and in this manner he becomes at peace with himself and with God. He comes into contact with God and is at peace with his fellow man and with all of creation. The achievement of one soul being cured of his passions means a positive change to all of society, it is a beginning of the cure of all society. This is primarily what monasticism – the apostolic life – has offered and continues to offer to the Church throughout its history, either by word or through silence, to those who draw near. 
 
http://stpaisiusmonastery.org/about-the-monastery/about-monasticism/monasticism-the-apostolic-life/