Friday, March 30, 2018

In the Tomb of Lazarus , Bethany

St. Lazarus’ tomb, Bethany.

Largely ignored by much of Christendom, the Orthodox today celebrate ”Lazarus Saturday” in something of a prequel to next weekend’s Pascha. It is, indeed a little Pascha just before the greater one. And this, of course, was arranged by Christ Himself, who raised His friend Lazarus from the dead as something of a last action before entering Jerusalem and beginning His slow ascent to Golgotha through the days of next week (Orthodox celebrate Pascha a week later than Western Christians this year).

One of the hymns of the Vigil of Lazarus Saturday says that Christ ”stole him from among the dead.” I rather like the phrase. Next weekend there will be no stealing, but a blasting of the gates of hell itself. What he does for Lazarus he will do for all.

Lazarus, of course, is different from those previously raised from the dead by Christ (such as the daughter of Jairus). Lazarus had been four days day and corruption of the body had already set in. ”My Lord, he stinks!” one of his sisters explained when Christ requested to be shown to the tomb.

Steps leading to Lazarus’ tomb, Bethany.

I sat in that tomb last September, as I mentioned in my last post. It is not particularly notable as a shrine. It is today, in the possession of a private, Muslim family. You pay to get in. Several of our pilgrims did not want to pay to go in. I could not stop myself.

Lazarus is an important character in 19th century Russian literature. Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment, finds the beginning of his repentance of the crime of murder, by listening to a reading of the story of Lazarus. It is, for many, and properly so, a reminder of the universal resurrection. What Christ has done for Lazarus He will do for all.

For me, he is also a sign of the universal entombment.

That even before we die, we have frequently begun to inhabit our tombs. We live our life with the doors closed (and we stink). Our hearts are often places of corruption and not the habitation of the good God. Or, at best, we ask Him to visit us as He visited Lazarus.

That visit brought tears to the eyes of Christ. The state of our corruption makes Him weep. It is such a contradiction to the will of God. We were not created for the tomb.

I also note that in the story of Lazarus – even in his being raised from the dead – he rises in weakness.

He remains bound by his graveclothes. Someone must ”unbind” him. We ourselves, having been plunged into the waters of Baptism and robed with the righteousness of Christ, too often exchange those glorious robes for graveclothes.

Christ has made us alive, be we remain bound like dead men.

I sat in the tomb of Lazarus because it seemed so familiar.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Why God wants us to Love Him ( St. Nektarios )

But why, someone may ask, does God demand for man to love Him so rigorously?
 Saint John the Evangelist answers this very critical question in this manner:
because[he says]“God is love.”
Thus, as love, He wants us to love Him;
so that by loving Him, we may in turn be loved by
Him. For love is born of God and knows God. 
He who does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 Jn. 4:7-8).

Since God is love, this is why He wants us to love Him. Confirming that God is love and that He loves mankind immensely.
Saint John the Evangelist states:  
In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9).
What measure of love exists greater than this love? Who can any longer remain uncertain concerning God’s love? 
And what is more:
we never sought this love; rather, it was
God Himself Who voluntarily showered us with this love. and this is love,observes the
Evangelist,not that we loved God, but
that He love us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins(1 Jn. 4:10).
Therefore, this is the reason God asks for
love: because He loves us, He wants us to love Him so that we may “have life, and have it more
abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).
For, “in Him was life, and the life was the light
of men” (Jn. 1:4).
 God wants us to love Him so we can remain in Him (vid. 1 Jn. 4:12-13).
Because whoever remains in Him remains in life,
and he possesses eternal life (vid.1 Jn. 4:16).
 God thus asks for us to love Him not because He wants to receive something from us, but
in order for Him to give to us.
What immeasurable love! How necessary it is
indeed for man’s life, salvation, and well-being!
St. Nektarios

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Repenting before death closes the door...( St. Nikolai Velimirovich )

Repent before death closes the door of your life and opens the door of judgement.

Repent before death and since you do not know the hour of death, repent today, even now, and cease to repeat your sin.

Thus, St. Ephraim the Syrian prays:

Before the wheel of time stops in my life, have mercy on me;

Before the wind of death blows and diseases, the heralds of death, appear on my body, have mercy on me;

Before the majestic sun in the heights becomes darkened for me, Have mercy on me; and may Your light shine for me from on high and disperse the dreadful darkness of my mind;

Before the earth returns to earth and becomes decay and before the destruction of all the features of its beauty, have mercy;

Before my sins deceive me at the judgment and shame me before The Judge, have mercy O Lord, filled with gentleness;

Before the hosts come forth, preceding the Son of the King to assemble our miserable race before the throne of the Judge, have mercy,

Before the voice of the trumpet sounds before Your coming, spare Your servants and have mercy, O Lord our Jesus;

Before You lock Your door before me, O Son of God, and before I become food for the unquenchable fires of Gehenna, have mercy on me.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Jesus Prayer Method by Archimandrite Sophrony


I propose to devote this chapter to setting out as briefly as possible the more important aspects of the Jesus Prayer and the commonsense views regarding this great culture of the heart that I met with on the Holy Mountain.

Year after year monks repeat the prayer with their lips, without trying by any artificial means to join mind and heart. Their attention is concentrated on harmonizing their life with the commandments of Christ. According to ancient tradition mind unites with heart through Divine action when the monk continues in the ascetic feat of obedience and abstinence; when the mind, the heart and the very body of the 'old man' to a sufficient degree are freed from the dominion over them of sin; when the body becomes worthy to be 'the temple of the Holy Spirit' (cf. Rom. 6. 11-14). However, both early and present-day teachers occasionally permit recourse to a technical method of bringing the mind down into the heart.

To do this, the monk, having suitably settled his body, pronounces the prayer with his head inclined on his chest, breathing in at the words 'Lord Jesus Christ, (Son of God)' and breathing out to the words 'have mercy upon me (a sinner)'. During inhalation the attention at first follows the movement of the air breathed in as far as the upper part of the heart. In this manner concentration can soon be preserved without wandering, and the mind stands side by side with the heart, or even enters within it.

This method eventually enables the mind to see, not the physical heart but that which is happening within it-the feelings that creep in and the mental images that approach from without. With this experience, the monk acquires the ability to feel his heart, and to continue with his attention centered in the heart without further recourse to any psychosomatic technique.

True Prayer Comes Through Faith and Repentance
This procedure can assist the beginner to understand where his inner attention should be stayed during prayer and, as a rule, at all other times, too. Nevertheless, true prayer is not to be achieved thus. True prayer comes exclusively through faith and repentance accepted as the only foundation. The danger of psychotechnics is that not a few attribute too great significance to method qua method.

In order to avoid such deformation the beginner should follow another practice which, though considerably slower, is incomparably better and more wholesome to fix the attention on the Name of Christ and on the words of the prayer. When contrition for sin reaches a certain level the mind naturally heeds the heart.

The Complete Formula

The complete formula of the Jesus Prayer runs like this: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner, and it is this set form that is recommended. In the first half of the prayer we profess Christ-God made flesh for our salvation. In the second we affirm our fallen state, our sinfulness, our redemption. The conjunction of dogmatic confession with repentance makes the content of the prayer more comprehensive.

Stages of Development

It is possible to establish a certain sequence in the development of this prayer.

First, it is a verbal matter: we say the prayer with our lips while trying to concentrate our attention on the Name and the words.

Next, we no longer move our lips but pronounce the Name of Jesus Christ, and what follows after, in our minds, mentally.

In the third stage mind and heart combine to act together: the attention of the mind is centered in the heart and the prayer said there.

Fourthly, the prayer becomes self-propelling. This happens when the prayer is confirmed in the heart and, with no especial effort on our part, continues there, where the mind is concentrated.

Finally, the prayer, so full of blessing, starts to act like a gentle flame within us, as inspiration from on High, rejoicing the heart with a sensation of divine love and delighting the mind in spiritual contemplation. This last state is sometimes accompanied by a vision of Light.

Go step by step

A gradual ascent into prayer is the most trustworthy. The beginner who would embark on the struggle is usually recommended to start with the first step, verbal prayer, until body, tongue, brain and heart assimilate it. The time that this takes varies. The more earnest the repentance, the shorter the road.

The practice of mental prayer may for a while be associated with the hesychastic method-in other words, it may take the form of rhythmic or a-rhythmic articulation of the prayer as described above, by breathing in during the first half and breathing out during the second part. This can be genuinely helpful if one does not lose sight of the fact that every invocation of the Name of Christ must be inseparably coupled with a consciousness of Christ Himself. The Name must not be detached from the Person of God, lest prayer be reduced to a technical exercise and so contravene the commandment, 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain' (EX. 20.7; Deut. 5.11).

Attention of Mind gained

When the attention of the mind is fixed in the heart it is possible to control what happens in the heart, and the battle against the passions assumes a rational character. The enemy is recognized and can be driven off by the power of the Name of Christ. With this ascetic feat the heart becomes so highly sensitive, so discerning, that eventually when praying for anyone the heart can tell almost at once the state of the person prayed for. Thus the transition takes place from mental prayer to prayer of the mind and heart, which may be followed by the gift of prayer that proceeds of itself.

Do Not Hurry

We try to stand before God with the whole of our being. Invocation of the Name of God the Savior, uttered in the fear of God, together with a constant effort to live in accordance with the commandments,, little by little leads to a blessed fusion of all our powers. We must never seek to hurry in our ascetic striving. It. is essential to discard any idea of achieving the maximum in the shortest possible time. God does not force us but neither can we compel Him to anything whatsoever. Results obtained by artificial means do not last long and, more importantly, do not unite our spirit with the Spirit of the Living God.

It's a Long Path

In the atmosphere of the world today prayer requires super human courage. The whole ensemble of natural energies is in opposition. To hold on to prayer without distraction signals victory on every level of existence. The way is long and thorny but there comes a moment when a heavenly ray pierces the dark obscurity, to make an opening through which can be glimpsed the source of the eternal Divine Light. The Jesus Prayer assumes a meta-cosmic dimension. St John the Divine asserts that in the world to come our deification will achieve plenitude since 'we shall see Him as He is'. 'And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure ... Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him' (cf. 1John 3.2,3,6). In order in Christ's Name to receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of the Father we must strive to dwell on His Name 'until we be endued with power from on high' (cf. Luke24-49).

In advising against being carried away by artificial practices such as transcendental meditation I am but repeating the age-old message of the Church, as expressed by St Paul: 'Exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men' (1Tim. 4.7-10)

It's Not Like Transcendental Meditation

The way of the fathers requires firm faith and long patience", whereas our contemporaries want to seize every spiritual gift, including even direct contemplation of the Absolute God, by force and speedily, and will often draw a parallel between prayer in the Name of Jesus and yoga or transcendental meditation and the like. I must stress the danger of such errors-the danger of looking upon prayer as one of the simplest and easiest 'technical' means leading to immediate unity with God. It is imperative to draw a very definite line between the Jesus Prayer and every other ascetic theory.

He is deluded who endeavors to divest himself mentally of all that is transitory and relative in order to cross some invisible threshold, to realize his eternal origin, his identity with the Source of all that exists; in order to return and merge with Him, the Nameless transpersonal Absolute. Such exercises have enabled many to rise to supra-rational contemplation of being; to experience a certain mystical trepidation; to know the state of silence of the mind, when mind goes beyond the boundaries of time and space.

In such-like states man may feel the peacefulness of being withdrawn from the continually changing phenomena of the visible world; may even have a certain experience of eternity. But the God of Truth, the Living God, is not in all this. It is man's own beauty, created in the image of God, that is contemplated and seen as Divinity, whereas he himself still continues within the confines of his creatureliness. This is a vastly important concern.

The tragedy of the matter lies in the fact that man sees a mirage which, in his longing for eternal life, he mistakes for a genuine oasis. This impersonal form of ascetics leads finally to an assertion of divine principle in the very nature of man. Man is then drawn to the idea of self-deification-the cause of the original fall. The man who is blinded by the imaginary majesty of what he contemplates has in fact set his foot on the path to self-destruction. He has discarded the revelation of a Personal God.

He finds the principle of the Person-Hypostasis a limiting one, unworthy of the Absolute. He tries to strip himself of like limitations and return to the state which he imagines has belonged to him since before his coming into this world. This movement into the depths of his own being is nothing else but attraction towards the non-being from which we were called by the will of the Creator.

Knowledge of Personal God

The true Creator disclosed Himself to us as a Personal Absolute. The whole of our Christian life is based on knowledge of God, the First and the Last, Whose Name is I AM. Our prayer must always be personal, face to Face. He created us to be joined in His Divine Being, without destroying our personal character. It is this form of immortality that was promised to us by Christ. Like St Paul we would not 'be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life'. For this did God create us and 'hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit' (2 Cor. 5.4,5).

Personal immortality is achieved through victory over the world - a mighty task. The Lord said, 'Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world' (John 10. 3 3), and we know that the victory was not an easy one. 'Beware of false prophets ... Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it' (Matt. 7.13-115).

Wherein lies destruction? In that people depart from the Living God.

To believe in Christ one must have either the simplicity of little children - 'Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven' (Matt. 18.3)-or else, like St Paul, be fools for Christ's sake. 'We are fools for Christ's sake ... we are weak ... we are despised ... we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day' (1 Cor. 4. 10, 13). However, 'other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ' (1 Cor. 3 .11). ‘Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me' (1 Cor. 4. 16). In the Christian experience cosmic consciousness comes from prayer like Christ's Gethsemane prayer, not as the result of abstract philosophical cogitations.

When the Very God reveals Himself in a vision of Uncreated Light, man naturally loses every desire to merge into a transpersonal Absolute. Knowledge which is imbued with life (as opposed to abstract knowledge) can in no wise be confined to the intellect: there must be a real union with the act of Being. This is achieved through love: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart ... and with all thy mind' (Matt. 22.37). The commandment bids us love. Therefore love is not something given to us: it must be acquired by an effort made of our own free will. The injunction is addressed first to the heart as the spiritual center of the individual. Mind is only one of the energies of the human 1. Love begins in the heart, and the mind is confronted with a new interior event and contemplates Being in the Light of Divine love.

A Difficult Task

There is no ascetic feat more difficult, more painful, than the effort to draw close to God, Who is Love (cf. i John 4.8, 16). Our inner climate varies almost from day to day: now we are troubled because we do not understand what is happening about us; now inspired by a new flash of knowledge. The Name Jesus speaks to us of the extreme manifestation of the Father's love for us (cf.John 3.16). In proportion as the image of Christ becomes ever more sacred to us, and His word is perceived as creative energy, so a marvelous peace floods the soul while a luminous aura envelops heart and head. Our attention may hold steady. Sometimes we continue thus, as if it were a perfectly normal state to be in, not recognizing that it is a gift from on High. For the most part we only realize this union of mind with heart when it is interrupted.

In the Man Christ Jesus 'dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily' (Col. 2.9). in Him there is not only God but the whole human race. When we pronounce the Name Jesus Christ we place ourselves before the plenitude both of Divine Being and created being. We long to make His life our life; to have Him take His abode in us. In this lies the meaning of deification. But Adam's natural longing for deification at the very outset took a wrong turning which led to a terrible deviation. His spiritual vision was insufficiently established in Truth.

Our life can become holy in all respects only when true knowledge of its metaphysical basis is coupled with perfect love towards God and our fellow-men. When we firmly believe that we are the creation of God the Primordial Being, it will be obvious that there is no possible deification for us outside the Trinity. If we recognize that in its ontology all human nature is one, then for the sake of the unity of this nature we shall strive to make love for our neighbor part of our being.

Our most dire enemy is pride. Its power is immense. Pride saps our every aspiration, vitiates our every endeavor. Most of us fall prey to its insinuations. The proud man wants to dominate, to impose his own will on others; and so conflict arises between brethren. The pyramid of inequality is contrary to revelation concerning the Holy Trinity in Whom there is no greater, no lesser; where each Person possesses absolute plenitude of Divine Being.

The Kingdom of Christ is founded on the principle that whosoever would be first should be the servant of all (cf. Mark 9.3 5). The man who humbles himself shall be raised up, and vice versa: he who exalts himself shall be brought low. In our struggle for prayer we shall cleanse our minds and hearts from any urge to prevail over our brother. Lust for power is death to the soul. People are lured by the grandeur of power but they forget that 'that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God' (Matt. 16.15).

Pride incites us to criticize, even scorn our weaker brethren; but the Lord warned us to 'take heed that we despise not one of these little ones' (cf. Matt. If we give in to pride all our practice of the Jesus Prayer will be but profanation of His Name. 'He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk, even as He walked' (1 John2.6). He who verily loves Christ will devote his whole strength to obeying His word. I stress this because it is our actual method for learning to pray. This, and not any psychosomatic techniques, is the right way.

Not a Christian Yoga

I have lingered on the dogmatic justification for the Jesus Prayer largely because in the last decade or so the practice of this prayer has been distorted into a so-called 'Christian yoga' and mistaken for 'transcendental meditation'. Every culture, not only every religious culture, is concerned with ascetic exercises. If a certain similarity either in their practice or their outward manifestations, or even their mystical formulation, can be discerned, that does not at all imply that they are alike fundamentally. Outwardly similar situations can be vastly different in inner content.

When we contemplate Divine wisdom in the beauty of the created world, we are at the same time attracted still more strongly by the imperishable beauty of Divine Being as revealed to us by Christ. The Gospel for us is Divine Self-Revelation. In our yearning to make the Gospel word the substance of our whole being we free ourselves by the power of God from the domination of passions. Jesus is the one and only Savior in the true sense of the word. Christian prayer is effected by the constant invocation of His Name: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon us and upon Thy world.

Though prayer in the Name of Jesus in its ultimate realization unites man with Christ fully, the human hypostasis is not obliterated, is not lost in Divine Being like a drop of water in the ocean. 'I am the light of the world ... I am the truth and the life' (John 8.12; 14.6). For the Christian-Being, Truth,'Life are not 'what' but 'who'. Where there is no personal form of being, there is no living form either. Where in general there is no life, neither is there good or evil; light or darkness. 'Without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life' (John 1:3).

When contemplation of Uncreated Light is allied to invocation of the Name of Christ, the significance of this Name as 'the kingdom of God come with power' (Mark 9.1) is made particularly clear, and the spirit of man hears the voice of the Father: 'This is my beloved Son' (Mark 9.7). Christ in Himself showed us the Father: 'he that hath seen me hath seen the Father' (John 14:9). Now we know the Father in the same measure as we have known the Son. 'I and my Father are one' (John 10.30). And the Father bears witness to His Son. We therefore pray, 90 Son of God, save us and Thy world.'

To acquire prayer is to acquire eternity. When the body lies dying, the cry 'Jesus Christ' becomes the garment of the soul; when the brain no longer functions and other prayers are difficult to remember, in the light of the divine knowledge that proceeds from the Name our spirit will rise into life incorruptible.

From His LIfe is Mine by Archimandrite Sophrony, trans. Rosemary Edmonds,St. Valdimir Seminary Press, pp112-120

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sunday of Saint Mary of Egypt ( Metropolitan Anthony Sourozh )

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Week after week we feel that we are coming closer and closer to the glorious Resurrection of Christ. And it seems to us that we are moving fast, from Sunday to Sunday as it were, to the day when all horrors, all terrors, will have disappeared.

And yet so easily do we forget that before we reach the day of the Resurrection we must, together with Christ, together with His apostles, tread the road of the Crucifixion. 'So we are ascending to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they shall crucify Him, and the third day He will rise’. All we notice is that He will rise. But do we ever think of the way in which the disciples went to Jerusalem, knowing that the Crucifixion was at hand? They were moving in fear. They were not yet mature enough to be those who would give their lives for the message to be spread. They were moving in fear. When Christ told them that they would go now to Jerusalem, return to the city which had then renounced Christ, put Him into danger of His life, they said to Him, 'Let us not go.' And only one disciple, Thomas, said, 'No. Let us go with Him, and die with Him.'

This disciple is the one whom, foolishly I believe, we call the Doubter: the one who was not prepared to give his trust to God, his faith, his life, his blood, without certainty. But his heart was unreservedly given to Christ. How wonderful to be such a man! But the other disciples would not desert Christ. They walked towards Jerusalem.

And we have today another example of one who went through a tragedy before they met Christ. It is Mary of Egypt. She was a sinner. She was a harlot. She was unfaithful to God in her soul and in her body. She had no reverence for this body which God had created and this soul. And yet she was tragically confronted with the fact that there was no way for her into the temple of God unless she rejected evil and chose purity, repentance, newness of life.

Let us reflect on the disciples who almost begged Christ not to return to Jerusalem, because Jerusalem was a city where all prophets had died; and they did not want Christ to die, and they were afraid. Let us ask ourselves how much we resemble them. And let us ask ourselves freely today how do we resemble, or not, Mary of Egypt - Mary who had lived her life according to her own ways and desires, followed all temptations of her body and soul; and one day realised that as she was, she could not enter the temple of God.

So easily do we enter the divine temple, forgetting so easily that the church into which we come is a small part of a world that has chosen to be alien to God, that has rejected God, lost interest in Him; and that the few believers have created for God a place of refuge - yes, the church is the fullness of Heaven, and at the same time a tragic place of refuge, the only place where God has a right to be because He is wanted. And when we come here, we enter into the divine realm. We should come into it with a sense of awe, not just walk into it as into a space but walk into it as a space which is already the divine Kingdom.

If we were in that mood we would, when we come to the doors of the church, be, however little, like Mary of Egypt. We would stop and say, 'How can I come in?' And if we did that with our whole heart, broken-heartedly, with a sense of horror of the fact that we are so distant from God, so alien, so unfaithful to Him, then the doors would open and we would see that we are not simply in a big space surrounded with walls but we are in a space which is God's Heaven come to earth.

Let us therefore learn from this experience what it means to go step by step towards the Resurrection, because in order to reach the Resurrection we must go through Calvary, we must go through the tragedy of Holy Week and make it our own, partaking with Christ and His disciples and the crowds around in the horror, the terror of it; and also experience it as a scorching fire that will burn in us all that is unworthy of God and make us clean. And perhaps one day, when the fire will have burnt everything which is not worthy of God, each of us may become an image of the burning bush, aflame with divine fire and not consumed, because only that which could survive the fire of God would have remained is us. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Letter to a person who had to choose between suicide and begging.. ( Saint Nicholas Velimirovich )

You write that all your worldly goods were sold off to a third party. When you found yourself out on the street with nothing and nobody, you headed to the cemetery, bent on killing yourself. You had no doubts or second thoughts about this. Exhausted by the vexations, you lay down on your parents’ grave and fell asleep. Your mother appeared to you in your sleep and berated you, saying that in the Kingdom of God there were plenty of people who had been beggars, but not a single one of those who had done away with themselves. That dream saved you from suicide. Your beloved mother really did save you, by God’s providence. You began to beg and to live off begging. And you’re asking if, by doing so, you’re transgressing God’s law.

Take courage. God gave the commandment: ‘Don’t steal’. He didn’t give any commandment ‘Don’t beg’. Begging without any real need is stealing, but in your case it isn’t. The general and emperor Justinian was left blind in his old age, with no possessions or friends. He would sit, blind, outside the courtyard of the throne and beg for a little bread. As a Christian, he didn’t permit himself to consider suicide. Because, just as life’s better than death, so it’s better to be a beggar than a suicide. [Saint Nikolaj seems to be confusing two people here. There was a medieval Latin legend that Belisarius, Justinian’s great general, had his eyes put out and ended his days as a beggar, but this is generally, though not universally, held to be spurious. WJL]

You say that you’re overcome with shame and that your sorrow’s deep. You stand at night outside the coffee-shop that used to be yours and ask for money from those who go in and out. You remember that, until recently, you were the owner of the coffee-shop and now you don’t dare go in even as a customer. Your eyes are red from weeping and lamentation. Comfort yourself. God’s angels aren’t far from you. Why are you crying about the coffee-shop? Haven’t you heard of the coffee-shop at the other end of Belgrade where it says: ‘Someone’s it wasn’t; someone’s it won’t be’? Whoever wrote those words was a true philosopher. Because that’s true of all the coffee-shops, all houses all the castles and all the palaces in the world.

What have you lost? Something that you didn’t have when you were born and which isn’t yours now. You were the boss, now you’re poor. That’s not loss. Loss is when a person becomes a beast. But you were a person and have remained so. You signed some papers for certain of your prominent customers and now your coffee-shop’s in the hands of a stranger. Now you look through the window and see everybody laughing, just the way they used to, and you’re wandering the streets with tears in your eyes and covered in shame. Never fear, God’s just. They’ll all have to answer for their misdeeds. But when they attempt to commit suicide, who’s to say whether the merciful Lord will allow their mothers to appear to them from the other world in order to keep them from the crime? Don’t consider them successful even for a moment. Because you don’t know how they’ll end up. A wise man in ancient Greece said: ‘Never call anybody happy before the end’. It’s difficult to be a beggar? But aren’t we all? Don’t we all depend, every hour of every day, on the mercy of Him Who gives us a life to lead? Now you’ve got an important mission in the world: to engage people’s attention so that they remember God and their soul and to be charitable. Since you’re forced to live in silence, delve into your soul and talk to God through prayer. The life of a beggar’s more heroic than that of a boss. ‘For gold is tested in the fire and accepted people in the furnace of humility’ (Sir. 2, 5). But you’ve already demonstrated heroism by rejecting the black thought of suicide. This is a victory over the spirit of despondency. After this victory, all the others will be easy for you. The Lord will be at your side.
Peace and comfort from the Lord!

Source: Δρόμος χωρίς Θεό δεν αντέχεται…, Ιεραποστολικές επιστολές Α, En Plo Publications, pp. 121-3.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"What do you prefer, someone educated that can make you dizzy, or a saint who can wake you up?" ( Metropolitan Nicholas of Mesogaias )

Several years ago I was approached by a young student. With great reluctance, but with the intensity of a demanding seeker, who said he was an atheist, yet would love to believe, but could not. For years he tried and searched, but to no avail.

He spoke with professors and the educated, but his thirst for something serious was not satisfied. He heard of me and decided to share with me his existential need. He asked me for scientific proof for the existence of God.

"Do you know integrals or differential equations?" I asked.

"Unfortunately no", he replied. "I am a Philosopher."

"Too bad! Because I knew one such proof", I said, obviously joking.

He felt uncomfortable and was quiet for a bit.

"Look", I said, "I'm sorry I hurt you a bit. But God is not an equation or a mathematical proof. If it were so, then all the educated would believe in Him. You should know, there are other ways to approach God. Have you ever been to Mount Athos? Have you ever met an ascetic?"

"No, Father, but I'm thinking of going, having heard so much. If you tell me, I can go even tomorrow. Do you know anyone educated to go and meet with?"

"What do you prefer? Someone educated that can make you dizzy, or a saint who can wake you up?"

"I prefer the educated. I fear saints."

"Faith is a matter of the heart. Why don't you try a saint. What is your name?" I asked.

"Gabriel", he answered.

I sent him to an ascetic. I described for him the way to access him and gave him the necessary instructions. I even sketched for him a map.

"You will go," I said, "and ask him the same thing. I am an atheist, you will tell him, and I want to believe. I want a proof of the existence of God."

"I am afraid, embarrassed", he told me.

"Why are you embarrassed and afraid of the saint but not embarrassed and afraid of me?" I asked.

After a few days he went and found the ascetic conversing with a young man in his yard. On the opposite side four others were sitting on some logs waiting. Among them Gabriel found a tentative seat. No more than ten minutes later the Elder finished his conversation with the young man.

"How's it going, guys?" he asked. "Have you taken a loukoumaki? Did you drink some water?"

"We thank you, Elder", they replied, with conventional secular nobility.

"Come here," he said addressing Gabriel, distinguishing him from the others. "I will take the water, and you take the box with loukoumia, and come closer so I can tell you a secret: It is fine for someone to be an atheist, but to have the name of an angel and be an atheist? This is the first time I have seen such a thing."

Our friend nearly suffered a heart attack after this revealing surprise. How did he know his name? Who revealed to him his problem? What, finally, did the Elder want to tell him?

"Father, can I speak with you for a bit?" he asked, barely able to mumble.

"Look, now it is getting dark. Take the loukoumi, drink some water, and go to the most nearby monastery to spend the night."

"My Father, I want to speak with you, is it not possible?"

"What will we say, my lad? For what reason did you come?"

"To this question I felt my breathing open immediately," he told me. "My heart was flooded with faith. My inside world was heated. My doubts were solved without any logical argument, without any discussion, without the existence of a clear answer. All the 'if's, why's and but's' were automatically destroyed, and all that remained was 'how' and 'what from this time forward'."

What the educated could not give his thoughts, was given to him with the gentle hint of a saint, who was a graduate of only the fourth grade of elementary school. The saints have much discernment. They make a surgery on you, and you feel no pain. They do a transplant without opening your stomach. They raise you to inaccessible peaks without ladders or worldly logic. They plant faith in your heart, without tiring your mind.

  Metropolitan Nicholas of Mesogaias

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Thy Cross We Worship, O Master ( Constantine Zalalas )

The precious and life-giving Cross is the holiest symbol of our Faith. All the Holy mysteries are completed by the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the seal of the Holy Cross. All the Hieratical prayers – of Holy Baptism, Holy Chrism, Holy Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, etc. – begin and end with the sign of the Cross. The Holy Temples, the Holy vessels and the liturgical vestments, and all liturgical actions are sanctified by the sign of the Holy Cross. Moreover, the Cross is the most faithful companion of every Orthodox Christian. From the moment we enter this world until we exit it in our final resting place – our tomb – we are accompanied by the blessing of the Cross. We bless ourselves with the sign of the Cross daily; we keep crosses at our homes, at our places of work and in our automobiles because we believe in the beautiful hymn of our Church…

The Cross is the guardian of the Universe; the Cross is the beauty of the Church; the Cross is the power of kings; the Cross is the staff of the Church; the Cross is the glory of angels; the Cross is the wounding of demons.

The symbol of the Cross is so indispensable that in its absence a church would be anything but a church of the Crucified Christ. The grace and power of the Cross is not due to the shape of the Cross per se but because it is the Cross of Christ. The Red Cross, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the green cross of pharmacies or doctors – all these crosses are insignia of human institutions and, as such, totally irrelevant to the Cross of Christ. The Cross of Christ, on the other hand, is the organ by which He saved the world, the altar on which He offered Himself as the perfect offering, the pure offering of the prophecy of Malachi (1:6). All the kenosis, poverty, humiliation, pain, affliction and death He willingly accepted for us merge on the Cross. He suffered the greatest humiliation and pain upon the Cross; He became a curse to free us from the curse of the Law and the bondage of sin. All Christ’s work and all His philanthropy gravitate toward the Cross. By being bound on the Cross, Christ loosed the tragedy of human bondage caused by the disobedience of Adam and Eve; and by being obedient unto death, the death of the Cross, He re-orientated our human freedom towards our Maker, the Triune God. Upon the Cross He conquered our death, by making our death His own death and by His Resurrection He has granted to us life and incorruption. Through the Cross He reconciled us to God the Father and granted us remission of sins. On the Cross He demonstrated to us in the most convincing way that He loves us with infinite, unconditional love – a love that did not diminish an iota even during His most horrific pain and suffering. Through the Cross He brought together all of us from different and once-scattered nationalities, and further united us as members of one Body, renewing us with the water and blood that spilled out of His side, which water and blood are the two central mysteries of the Church. He broke down the high walls that divided us, re-creating by His blood the new man of grace. On the Cross He cleansed and sanctified the sky, the air, and the earth. He was crucified under the sky, hanging in midair; and His most precious blood was dripping into the earth. On the Cross He offered an ecumenical sacrifice for the entire earth and a common cleansing for the entire human nature. That is why He suffered outside the city and away from the Temple of Solomon, according to the theology of the Golden Mouth John. On the Cross Christ revealed to us that this transient world is not the final reality but the path towards that reality, provided that we take up the struggle to crucify our egotism. On the Cross He manifested Himself as the only Life-giver, Redeemer and Savior of the entire world. He decisively destroyed the works, power, deceit and authority of the devil over people. That is why the devil goes into a panic and trembles, being unable to behold or approach the power of the Cross of Christ. There is a poignant story about a very holy man, John Vostrinos, who had the authority to expel unclean spirits; it is said that when they brought to him several young women who were victimized by evil spirits, he questioned the evil spirits inside of them: What do you fear the most from the things that we do in Church? And the evil spirits answered, We are mainly afraid of three things:

#1: That which you hang around your neck... (That is how much they fear the Cross: they could not even say its name…but they described it periphrastically or in a roundabout way.) #2: that bath that you are given at the church (Holy Baptism), and #3: that which you eat at your liturgies (Holy Communion).

These are the three greatest weapons against the demons; and that is why they are so viciously fought and totally distorted by sectarian and heretical Christians. The death of the Lord on the Cross is life-giving and redeeming because it was totally voluntary and willing… Christ journeyed to the Cross not as a condemned defendant but as a King, offering his life giving blood as transfusion like the Pelican who broke his chest open to revive his poisoned children. That is why He said, I have a baptism to be baptized with – a baptism of death – and how am I constrained till it be accomplished. This is why the Eastern Orthodox write on the Cross “The King of Glory” and not simply “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” They depict the Lord on the Cross as Master: with His hands spread horizontally, in total control and not hanging miserably and helplessly conquered by despair and pain, as seen in the crosses of the West. The death of the Lord is salvific and redeeming because it was real death and not docetic (i.e., not for appearance’s sake); for the One Who sacrificed Himself was sinless and unable to sin. His human nature was always united with the divine nature and forever at the state of theosis from the very moment of conception, hypostatically united on the One Person of God the Logos. According to the decision of the 6th Œcumenical Synod Christ had two natural wills in full accord with one another, with the human will always and deliberately following and obeying the divine will. Thus the Lord in his human nature and will could never desire anything different than His Father and the Holy Spirit; He was never tempted, and could not be tempted, for He was the only true human, who pleased God 100 percent.

The devil’s three temptations in the desert were weaker than spider webs, and the ancient serpent walked away empty-handed.

Those outside of the Church and inside of the Church, who think otherwise and ascribe a fallen human nature to Christ, try to interpret Christ with their own fallen mindset. The person of Christ cannot be interpreted by a fallen man, but the fallen man needs to be interpreted by the God-man. When we attempt to theologize about the God-man with our ill rationalism we fall prey to the scandal of the Cross – much like the unbelieving Jews and the Athenian philosophers. We empty the mystery of the Cross of Christ, according to St. Paul. The theological pen of St. Gregory Palamas adds the following: This is the wisdom and power of God; to conquer through weakness, to elevate through humility, to make wealthy through poverty. It is not surprising that the Lord did not wish to maintain the glory of Transfiguration which would certainly make him avoid the Cross…who would dare approach Him…His enemies would vanish like smoke… the Jews could not even look at Moses’ face when he returned from the top of Mount Sinai. Likewise Pilate and Herod, Annas and Caiphas would not be able to glance at a transfigured Christ…yet he chose not to violate their free will.

Christ did not want to convince us and force us to believe by His glory and power, but to draw us to Him by His loving humility.

On His descent from Mount Tabor the conversation was not centered on His glory but he was rather preparing his disciples for the Cross. His work was to convey to us that without the life of the Cross and voluntary discomfort, we will not share in the glory of the Resurrection or Transfiguration. As the Captain of our Faith, having brought many sons to glory (through discomfort, askesis and suffering [like Joseph, Moses, the prophets, the 7 Maccabees, and the 3 youths in the fire]), He, also being their captain of salvation, needed to finish His life through suffering (Hebrews 2:10, which is terribly mistranslated by our English Bibles).

For it was fitting for Him, for Whom are all things and through Whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of our salvation perfect through suffering…

So everything was made for Christ, and everything visible and invisible was made by Christ… Christ was perfect man and perfect God from the moment of conception… so there was absolutely nothing imperfect in the human nature of Christ that needed to be perfected through suffering… In His sacrificial spirit and love He chose to be the first martyr: Not to be made perfect through suffering… but to complete his earthly life through suffering. By stretching out His hands on the Cross He would heal the sinful action of Adam, who stretched out his hands to taste the forbidden fruit.

That is why Christ severely rebuked Peter, who was suggesting to Him to avoid the Cross… He called him Satan, only a few hours after He had praised him for his God inspired confession. Get behind Me, Satan; you are a scandal to Me, because you are not thinking in Godly terms, but you think by the logic of men. On His way to His voluntary Passion He was saying, Now the Son of Man is glorified… And in other verses of the gospel, the Cross is presented as the Glory of Christ. As St. John the Chrysostom writes, the Cross before Christ was the means of shame and condemnation, but now it is the cause of honor and glory. This is also overt from the words of the Lord… Father, glorify Me with the glory I had before the world received its existence from You… He was referring to the Cross… the Cross is the glory of Christ. After His rebuke of Peter, Christ instructed the rest of His disciples to embrace the gospel of the Cross… Anyone who wants to come after Me, let him deny himself, carry his cross and follow Me. To the sons of Zebedee and their mother, who were seeking to be first, the Lord said, You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink? or be baptized with the baptism with which I am to be baptized?

So the Cross is not just a symbol or a metaphor, but the way of life for those who would like to be called Christians. As it would be inconceivable to consider Christ without the Cross, likewise it is inconceivable to be considered a Christian without sharing in the sufferings and the Cross of Christ. Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot become My disciple.

What does this mean for us? How can we carry our cross in a society that idolizes pleasure and comfort? We can accomplish this in three ways.

First, by undertaking the daily struggle to crucify our passions according to St. Paul… Those of Christ have crucified their passions and their earthly desires (Gal. 5:24). I share in the crucifixion of Christ when I struggle to uproot or transform my sinful passions: my egocentrism, my selfishness, my egotism, my self-love. Excessive self-love leads to the lack of faith and faithlessness altogether. It fosters indifference for our fellow man – and worse yet, to the use and abuse of our fellow man for our personal gratification and/or financial gain. Love of pleasure, love of possessions, love of glory and attention: all these sprout from the passion of ill self-love. The self-lover cannot be a lover of God or a lover of man. He can pretend to be a man of faith and philanthropic, but deep down he is only in love with himself. If we don’t crucify our sick self-love, we cannot follow Christ and we cannot become his disciples. We must die to the world, as St. Paul repeatedly teaches…We must die to the world before Christ can live in us… I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20). St. Gregory Palamas calls this the first mystery of the Cross: to distance all influences of the world around me which cause me to sin. The second mystery of the Cross is to guard the mind/nous from all sinful images and remembrance of past sins, and to fight all logismoi…by nepsis and unceasing noetic prayer. By the daily struggle of nepsis and prayer a man begins to transform his sinful passions and tendencies; and he discovers the inner treasure, the kingdom of God within him. As he progresses, he begins to feel a spiritual warmth inside his heart, which chases away sinful thoughts and passions and which brings a deep peace and consolation to the soul and body.

According to St Gregory, the uncreated energy of the Holy Cross was present and active in the Old Testament. The sign of the Cross was used by Moses to open the Red Sea. The sign of the Cross was used by the elderly Jacob to bless his grandchildren Manasseh and Ephraim. The resurrections worked by Elijah and Elisha prefigured the Crucifixion of Christ. The bronze serpent hung on a vertical and horizontal wood prefigured the Crucifixion. There are at least 20 instances in the Old Testament where the uncreated energy of the Cross of Christ manifests itself. The entire procession of the Israelites in the wilderness moved in the sign of the Cross: 3 tribes in the front, 3 tribes a short distance back; 3 tribes to the right, and 3 tribes to the left. If the power of the Cross was active in the life of all the righteous in the Old Testament, it is also certain that it was active in the life of the Most Holy Theotokos, who did nothing whatsoever to displease God. She never polluted herself, not even with a single thought, and at the tender age of 3 did what Abraham did in his old age. She left the home of her parents and entered the Holy of Holies where, by elevating her mind above every earthy thought, she united her nous with God and thereby maintained a constant vision of God. The power of the Cross in the righteous of the Old Testament was aiding them in their struggle against sin; whereas the energy of the Cross in the life of the spotless Virgin was an enhancement to elevate her to greater spiritual heights: from glory to glory and from theoria to theoria. From the moment she was born she was creating an abode for the One Who could save man. She was struggling to create within her a beautiful dwelling, a dwelling that could house God. More on this we find in the homily of St. Gregory Palamas on Her Entrance to the Temple, and I quote: At the moment the virgin entered the Holy of Holies she looked around and she rejoiced greatly for finding such a great and appropriate refuge. Through the physical beauty of the Holy of Holies she was capable of elevating her mind to the invisible beauty of God so her mind was no longer thinking of any earthly joy or desire. This way she surpassed the needs of nature and the desires of the senses. She refused to look at anything beautiful in the earthly sense and to taste those foods that gratify the senses.

Thus she became the first human to become free from the tyranny of the devil, and rendered his schemes powerless; and for this victory at a very young age she received as a reward the luxury of being fed by an angel.

Thus, the first method of being crucified together with Christ is to renounce the sinful passions of our fallen Adamic nature. The second method is to forbear the involuntary afflictions of this earthy life courageously and thankfully… according to the Pauline adage…En panti efxaristeite…Give thanks to God for everything…for the sweet things and the bitter things… Painful and incurable diseases, the death of loved ones, injustice, disrespect, slander, persecutions that we will often undergo as Christians – all of these will grant us the opportunity to share in the sufferings, crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. If we become indignant under these trials we will suffer loss. If we accept these misfortunes stoically – with the “what-can-we-do” attitude – we will not benefit much. If we accept these difficulties as a visitation from God for the purpose of our perfection, then we will benefit greatly. The voluntary acceptance of pain as our cross – as the gift of God’s love for our spiritual development and perfection – elevates us to the ranks of the Holy martyrs. The Christian who courageously suffers on the bed of pain and in the process glorifies God for making him a participant in His Son’s suffering will be considered a confessor of the Faith and a contemporary martyr. According to St. Paul, if we endure by imitating Him in His suffering, we also will reign with Him. The third method of being crucified with Christ is to embrace voluntary struggles, poverty and discomforts for the love of God. The Lord spoke about a narrow and sorrowful gate which suggests discomfort…and pain. The kingdom of God suffers violence, and those who desire it must exercise a merciless combat against their sinful passions. Without this combat the old man of sin does not give up. Without prayer, fasting, abstinence, prostrations and general askesis, the passions of the fallen nature cannot be bridled. “You must give blood to receive the Spirit” was a common slogan among the Desert Fathers. The strict fast of Great Lent is not an easy matter for a number, if not most, of our Christians. Without this blessed toil of fasting (for those of good health), we will not be crucified together with Christ and we will not live the joy of the Resurrection. We experience the Resurrection when we live the gospel of the Cross. Everything in our Church has the air of the Resurrection because we crucify our fallen nature year round. We don’t give up chocolate for a few weeks. We fast the majority of the time – well over 200 days per year. Our Church is the Church of the Cross and the Resurrection. We the Orthodox celebrate Holy Friday with the air of the Resurrection, while the western non-Orthodox celebrate their Pascha with the air of crucifixion: they display a cross with a purple cloth on it – nevertheless, a cross. In the Orthodox icons there is no Cross, but the joy of Adam being pulled out of the bonds of Hades.

This joy, the joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is hidden in the voluntary sufferings and discomfort that we undertake for the love of Christ. The pain and discomfort of asceticism and repentance is the way to blessedness. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…

Voluntary discomfort and relative pain for the love of Christ will lead to spiritual freedom and blessedness.

Most of us Orthodox, however, prefer the way of the antichristian world, a world that demonizes discomfort, pain and suffering. Painkillers are prescribed for every age and find their way into every cupboard, whether we really need them or not.

Christianity is about joy, they tell us… God does not want us to suffer. God wants us to feel good and be happy… But joy cannot be bought… with money… True Christian joy comes after the pain and suffering for the sake of the gospel. Today we want to follow Christ empty-handed, without our cross… the idea of the Cross makes us tremble because we are enslaved to a life of comforts. Comfort is the worst enemy of Christianity, according to the Fathers. All the contemporary evils are the illegitimate children of the comfortable and Cross-despising lifestyle of the West. The world today is facing the plagues prophesied in the Book of the Revelation, which are not the work of God but the consequences of a world that chose an antichristian journey…a journey that despises the Cross.

The answer is repentance. Without repentance this world will self-destruct, no doubt. It is only a matter of time. As Christians of these most perilous times, we must increase our vigilance and struggle to avoid being pulled into these strong torrents. Our life preserver is the love of the Cross of Christ: the love of discomfort, or philoponia. It is a matter of choice for all of us to follow either the life of the Cross or the wide path that leads to destruction. As wise spiritual investors, let us never forget the undying words of the immortal Saint Paul. I reckon that the sufferings of this age are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us …Amen

Constantine Zalalas, Rochester, NY, March 2018

Main Resource, Arch. George Kapsanis( +2017)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Forced to work on Sundays ( Elder Cleopa of Romania )

In these days there are a lot of people who come to me and tell me that they are forced to work on Sundays and great feast days. 
 "Father, I have to go to work on Sunday, if I don't, then I'll be fired." 
Let me tell you something! Do not get upset by this; whatever money you earn on Sunday, give to the poor! Mercy and almsgiving surpass the observation of a special day.

Do you remember when the Savior was in the synagogue and healed the woman who had been bent over for eighteen years? Remember how the leaders of the synagogue came forward in their hypocritical zeal for the law? They could not speak against Christ directly, for the people would have killed them since they loved Him. But the hypocrites said, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day (Lk. 13:14)....

You know that the apostles picked ears of grain and ate them on the Sabbath. How many miracles the Lord worked on Sabbath days, overturning the ideas of those who worshiped the Sabbath in mock righteousness. What? The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mk. 2.27).

So if you are forced by your employer to work on Sunday, then work, but work honestly, conscientiously, and do not steal anything, and whatever income you have from working on Sundays or feast days, give to the poor, for almsgiving and mercy are greater than the observance of a day! 
Elder Cleopa of Romania

Sunday, March 4, 2018

You missed my call this morning ...

I was looking at you when you woke up this morning. I was expecting you to tell me one or two things, thanking me for everything that was happening to you, asking for my assistance for whatever you were about to do today.

I realized that you were very busy trying to find what to wear for work. I was hoping that you would find a few moments to tell me ‘good morning’!

But you were very busy. To help you see that I was near you, I had created the colorful sky and the songs of the birds. What a pity! You didn’t even notice my presence, not even then.

I was looking at you being in a hurry for work and was again waiting for you. I suspected that because you were busy you didn’t have time to say a few words to Me, even then.

When you returned from work, I saw how tired you were and how stressed and sent you some rain to relieve you from the day’s stress. I thought that by making this favor to you, you would remember Me.

Instead, being tired, you swore at Me. I so much wished that you would have wanted to talk to Me.

Still the day was not over yet. You switched on the TV and watched your favorite program. I was waiting. Then you had dinner with your loved ones and once again you didn’t remember Me.

Seeing you so exhausted, I understood your need for silence and turned off the sky’s brilliance so you could get some rest, but I didn’t turn the sky into a dark pitch. I turned on innumerable stars for you. They were so beautiful… it’s a pity you didn’t see them… never mind!

Do you really realize that I am here for you; I have more patience that you can ever imagine. I want to demonstrate this, so that you tell those around you.I love you so much that I am putting up with you.

Any moment now, you will wake up again. All I can do is to love you and hope that today at least you will give me some of your time…

Your loving Father

The Lord of Infinite Love.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Acquire the Love of Paul and you’ll have a Perfect Crown

(Saint John Chrysostom: In Praise of the Holy Apostle Paul, III)

Demonstrating the power of human will and the fact that we can fly even to the heavens themselves, leaving the angels and archangels and the other powers, Saint Paul urges believers to become imitators of Christ, sometimes through him (“Become imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”) and sometimes without him (“Therefore become imitators of God, like beloved children.”).

Then, in order to show that nothing befits this imitation so much as living for the common good and looking out for what is useful for each other he adds: “Behave with love”. This is why, when he said “Become imitators of me”, he immediately speaks of love, demonstrating that it is principally this virtue that brings people closer to God, because all the other virtues are certainly inferior to it and all revolve around the human person: the struggle against desire, the war against gluttony, the fight against avarice, the battle against anger. This is why Christ says: “Pray for those who bother you, so that you may be like your Father Who is in heaven”.

So because Paul knew that this was the most important of the virtues, he applied it with great care. Nobody loved their enemies as he did; nobody did so much good to those who envied them; nobody suffered so much for those who had grieved them. He didn’t look at what they were suffering, he saw them as human beings and the more furious they became, the more he forgave their rage. And in the same way as parents treat a child in a tantrum (because the more a child speaks badly and lashes out, the more the parents feel sorry for it), so Paul, thinking about the illness of those who were acting in this way towards him, was stimulated towards ever greater care.

Just listen to the gentleness and sympathy with which he speaks of those who scourged him five times, stoned him, imprisoned him, who thirsted for his blood and were always ready to kill him. “I assure you that they have zeal for God, but not a true awareness.” And, to put those who would have condemned those people in their place, he says: “So do not be proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches [i.e. of the olive tree which were broken off, Romans 17-21], neither will He spare you”. But when he saw that the decision of the Lord turned against them, he still did what he could. He wept constantly for them, he sorrowed, he tried to prevent others from following them to destruction and tried, as far as was possible, to find a trace of forgiveness for them. Since he couldn’t persuade them with his words, because they were thrawn and unbending, he constantly prayed for them: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved”.

And yet he still held out hope for them saying: “For the gifts of God are irrevocable”, so that they wouldn’t despair entirely and be lost. All of these were features of a person who cared about and was aflame for such people, since he says: “The Deliverer shall come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”, because, when he saw their perdition, he was sorely wounded and saddened. This is why he thought up consolations for himself for this pain, sometimes saying: “The Deliverer shall come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”, and at others “so they also have rejected your mercy so that they may receive mercy” Jeremiah does the same thing, struggling to find some justification for those who have sinned, at one time saying: “Even though our iniquities have risen against us, act for your name’s sake” and at another “A person’s way is not their own…No-one shall start out and set their own course”. And elsewhere he also says: “Remember that we’re dust”. Because it’s common among those who intercede on the part of sinners, that even if they can’t find anything actually good to say, at least they’ll think up some insignificant justification, even if it’s not entirely accurate and can’t really be taken as true; at least to provide some comfort for those who are lost.

So let’s not go through these excuses with a fine-tooth comb, but on the understanding that they’re a characteristic of a soul that suffers and is trying to find something to say on behalf of the sinners. And was it only towards the Jews that Paul behaved in this way, and not to the Gentiles? He was more understanding than anyone, both towards his own people and foreigners. Here’s what he says to Timothy: “A servant of God should not be quarrelsome, but kindly towards everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness, in case God grants them repentance and knowledge of the truth. And that they may be raised from the devil’s snare, captured by Him to do His will”. And do you want to hear him talking to sinners? Listen to what he says to the Corinthians when he sent them his letter: “For I fear that perhaps I may come and find you not what I wish” And immediately afterwards “I feat that when I come again, my God will humble me before you and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned before and have not repented of the impurity, immorality and licentiousness which they have practised”. And to the Galatians when he says: “My children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ is formed in you”.

And concerning the person who engaged in harlotry, listen how he suffers no less than the man himself and entreats: “Show him love in public” And when he set him apart from the Church, he did so with many tears: “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love I have for you”. And again he says: “To the Jews I became as a Jew; to those under the law I became as one under the law; to the weak I became weak; I became all things to all people that I might save some”. And elsewhere he says: “ that I may present every person perfect in the name of Jesus Christ”.

Have you seen a soul that’s worth more than the whole world? He wanted to present every person as perfect, and, so far as it depended on him, that’s how he presented them. Because it’s as though he fathered all of them, all the people in the world: he worried; he chivvied; he tried to bring everybody into the kingdom of heaven, healing, comforting, giving promises, praying, interceding, striking fear into the demons, dismissing those who were corrupting the others, with his presence, with letters, with discourses, with actions, with his disciples; restoring, by his example, those whose faith had been shaken, supporting those who were unstable, raising those who had fallen, healing those whose lives had been shattered, exhorting the indifferent, emitting dreadful cries to the enemies and fixing opponents with a dread stare. As if he were a general or a skilled doctor, he himself was a sutler, an adjutant, a defender, a comrade-in arms, everything you’d find in an army camp. And his concern wasn’t confined to the spiritual but also extended to the material.

So listen to Paul, how he talks about a woman when he’s writing to a whole city. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you”. Or again, “You know the house of Stephanas… be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labours” and “acknowledge such men”. Because this, too, is typical of the care and attention of the saints: the desire to be of assistance in such cases, as well. So Elisha says to the woman who had shown him hospitality: “Is there anything you want said to the king or the governor?”. In other words, he was not content with helping her spiritually, he wanted to offer material assistance as well.

And why would anyone be surprised that Paul made such recommendations in his letters, because, whenever he summoned anyone to come to him, he didn’t consider it beneath him to refer to the supplies they would need? Writing to Titus, he says: “Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing”. And if, when he had sent someone, he gave orders that they were to be well supplied, how much more would he do when he realized that they were in some kind of danger? See, when he writes to Philemon, how concerned he is about Onesimus, how he writes with such sense, so much paternal interest. Now, if he didn’t avoid writing a letter on behalf of a slave- and one who had escaped and made off with many of his master’s belongings, at that- just think how he was towards others.

Because he considered only one thing shameful: if you overlooked something that was necessary for another person’s salvation. This is why he would move anything at all, would never hesitate to expend whatever was needed, on behalf of those who were being saved, be it money, words or even his own body. Because surely he who had risked death so many times wouldn’t balk at giving money, provided he had any. And why do I say, “Provided he had any?”. Because it’s actually possible to show that, even though he had none, he didn’t miss it. Don’t think that what I’m saying is a conundrum, but listen again to what he says, writing to the Corinthians: “But I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” And, speaking to the elders of the Ephesians, he says: “You yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my self and those with me”

And while he was great in the chief virtue of love, he was also more devouring than any flame. Just as iron, when it falls into the fire, becomes all aflame, so Paul, when he was once ignited with the flame of love, became wholly love. As if he were the common father of all humanity, he tried to imitate fathers, or rather to surpass all fathers, both in their care for corporeal matters as well as those of the spirit, placing his money, words, body, soul and everything he had at the service of those he loved. This is why he called love a completion of the law, the bond of perfection, the mother of all good things, and the beginning and end of virtue. This is why he also says; “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience”. And again “For the commandments ‘You shall not commit adultery’; ‘you shall not kill’; [and any other commandment] are summed up in this sentence: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’”.

So since the beginning and end of all good things is love, let us follow Saint Paul in this, because he became the person he was through love. Never mind the dead he raised or the lepers he cleansed. God’s not going to require that of you. Acquire the love of Paul and you’ll have the perfect crown. Who says so? The father of love himself, he who valued it above all signs and portents and above so many other things. Because he had it to such a high degree, he knew full well how powerful it is. That’s how he became such a person, and nothing made him so worthy a man as the power of love. This is why he also says: “But earnestly desire the highest gifts and I will show you a more excellent way”, meaning love, the best and easiest path.

Then let us, too, walk this path, so that we’ll see Paul, or, even better, Paul’s Lord, and win the eternal crowns, through the grace and love for mankind of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to Whom belong glory and power, always, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Saint John Chrysostom: Ἐγκώμιον εἰς τὸν Ἅγιον Ἀπόστολον Παῦλον, Λόγος γ´