Friday, July 12, 2019

Dreams, Demons, and Distractions ( Saints Barsanuphius and John )


Q: Can the demons communicate anything good? And how does one discover that it is demonic? And what distinguishes it from something good from God?
A: To someone it might seem that he receives something good, but this is from the evil one for his deception. For every good thing which comes from the devil for the deception of a man, being precisely examined, turns out to be unreal; for the devil is a liar, and there is no truth in him (John 8:44), as is shown by the consequences of that (false good). His light ends in darkness, according to the Apostle’s word which speaks about diabolic heralds transformed into the servants of righteousness “whose end will be according to their deeds” (II Corinthians 11:15); and the Savior says: “From their fruit ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). If you investigate with understanding and judgment, you will find in the false good (which comes) from the devil, there was not even a trace of good, but either vainglory, or disturbance, or something similar; but the good which comes from God always increases enlightenment and humility of heart and gives a man quietness. But when, out of ignorance, we suffer in something from the deception of the evil one, and later we recognize in this a temptation, then let us call ourselves and hasten to Him Who is powerful to do away with this temptation. One should know that to some the difference (between the good of the devil and that of God) is understandable from the very beginning; while to sinners, only at the end (of the temptation), just as a skilled master in gold work can take gold (in his hand) and tell before it is tested with fire of what sort it is, while an unskilled one does not find this out until it has been tested with fire. 
 
Q: When I do something good, how should I humble my thoughts? And how does one reproach oneself after doing something good? 
 
A: For humility of thoughts, even though you might have performed all good deeds and kept all the commandments, remember Him Who said: “When you have done all this, say that we are unprofitable slaves, for we were obliged to do what we have done” (Luke 17:10) - and all the more when we have not even attained as yet to the fulfilling of a single commandment. Thus one should always think and reproach oneself at every good deed and say to oneself: I do not know whether it is pleasing to God. It is a great work to do according to God’s Will, and yet greater to fulfill the Will of God: this is the joining of all the commandments; for to do something according to God’s Will is a private matter and is less than fulfilling the Will of God. Therefore the Apostle said: “Forgetting what is behind, and stretching forth to what is ahead” (Philemon 3:13). And no matter how much he stretched out to what was ahead, he did not stop and always saw himself as insufficient, and he advanced; for he said: “whatever is perfect, think on this"(Philemon 3:15), that is, so as to advance. 
 
-- Q: Tell me, Master, how can the devil dare in a vision or a fantasy during sleep to show the Master Christ or Holy Communion?
 
A: He cannot show the Master Christ Himself, nor Holy Communion, but he lies and presents the image of some man and simple bread; but the holy Cross he cannot show, for he does not find means of depicting it in another form. Inasmuch as we know the true sign and image of the Cross, the devil does not dare to use it (for our deception); for on the Cross his power was destroyed, and by the Cross a fatal wound was given him. The Master Christ we cannot recognize by the flesh, which is why the devil tries to convince us by lying that it is He, so that having believed the deception as if it were truth, we might perish. And thus, when you see in a dream the image of the Cross, know that this dream is true and from God; but strive to receive an interpretation of its significance from the Saints, and do not believe your own idea. May the lord enlighten the thoughts of your mind, O brother, so that you might escape every deception of the enemy. 
 
-- Q: A thought says to me: “If the holy Cross appears to you, you, being unworthy of this, will fall into high-mindedness.” This thoughts brings fear and terror upon me. 
 
A: Do not be disturbed about this, because, if the holy Cross will truly appear to you, it will abolish the pride of high-mindedness: where God is, there is no place for evil. 
 
-- Q: I have heard that if one and the same dream appears to someone three times, one should recognize it as true; is this so, my Father? 
 
A: No, this is wrong; such a dream also one need not believe. He who has appeared once to anyone falsely can do this three times and more. Watch, lest you be put to shame (by the demons), but pay heed to yourself, brother. 
 
-- Q: If, during the time of psalm-singing, or prayer, or reading, a bad thought comes, should one pay attention to it and leave off (for a while) the psalm-singing, prayer, or reading in order to oppose it with pure thoughts? 
 
A: Disdain it and enter more carefully into the psalm-singing, prayer, or reading, so as to gain strength from the words you pronounce. But if we shall begin to be occupied with hostile thoughts, we will never be in a condition to do anything good, heeding what the enemy instils. But when you see that his cunning fabrications hinder psalm-singing, prayer, or reading, even then do not enter into dispute with them, because this matter is beyond your strength; but strive to call on the Name of God, and God will help you and do away with the cunning of the enemies, for His is the power and the glory unto the ages. Amen. 

from “Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life,” trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp. 98 - 106 (selections).

Friday, July 5, 2019

A Little Before Death ( Memoirs of a Greek Taxi Driver ) by Constantine Zalalas



Shortly before the year 2000, my mother came over to my house and said, “Son, a few blocks away there is a distressed family with two elementary school girls. They need to live with their grandmother because they are going through a terrible ordeal. Their father, who is about your age, is a drug addict. I know his mother. Please drop by to see what you can do, because his wife and his mother told me that he is in his last days.”

“And what do you think I can do, mom? I can hardly keep up with my own dirty messes, and now all of a sudden you think I can help others?”

“Come on, my boy, you need to go; please, don’t upset me.”

The next day, I complied with my mother’s wish. With the blessing of my mother and my spiritual father, I prayed briefly and said, “My Panaghia, I will go, but you lead and I will follow.” When I arrived at the home, his mother welcomed me with a hug and a kiss. Then she drew me aside, and while she wept, she explained her Golgotha and the heavy cross the entire family had had to bear. As she was unfolding their very painful family drama to me, occasionally, she would use her apron to wipe her eyes. The poor woman had suffered so much all these years. She had gone to various neighborhoods and local businesses to borrow money to help her son get his drugs. What pain this mother had endured! What a Golgotha! What crises families in similar situations must be going through! I couldn't endure so much pain. I hugged her, and told her to have her hope and faith in Christ. When I went to the other room, and I saw her son lying in bed, the truth is that I wasn’t prepared for it; I was shocked. I went to give him my hand, but he couldn’t even exchange a handshake, because his fingers had become deformed. I grabbed him from the wrist and attempted to speak to him, but he would fade in and out of consciousness. With a little patience, however, we became acquainted and shared a few words.

“My brother, I am your neighbor,” I told him “I don’t know you, of course, but you don't know me either. So, since we have become acquainted now, what do you say, can we help one another?”

“It’s too late for me, Thanasi,” he told me in a whispering voice, “I am in the last stage. There is no recovery for me. The doctors can't do anything.”

“Humanly, yes, we agree, but don’t forget the power and grace of our God; what is impossible for man is possible for God” (cf. Luke 18:27).



“I believe in God, Thanasi, but I have fallen into a snake pit. I have made repeated efforts to detoxify myself for many years now but all in vain. I know that I upset my mother, my wife and especially my children. What can I do? I’m not to blame. It’s the deprivation of heroin.”

“So fine, since you believe that you are in a pit with snakes, stretch out your hand and ask the help of Christ. He is the only one who is able to take you out of this pit.”

“What must I do; and how?”

And he faded out again. I needed to wait a few minutes, for him to regain consciousness. In the meantime, I prayed and said, “My Christ, is he listening to what I’m telling him? Can he even think, understand, or remember? Please Lord, only You are able to help us, especially me.” A few moments later, he opened his eyes, and we spoke a bit more. In the end I told him, “I need to leave you now, my brother. The next time I come, if you like, I can bring a priest to read some prayers over you. I think this will do you much good.”

“Yes, Thanasi, I will wait for you. Bring the priest also. I don’t have a problem with that.”

When I came out of the room, there in the hall, I met his wife and their two charming little girls for the first time. They had red swollen eyes. As soon as they saw me they lowered their heads, probably out of shame for the condition of their father. I don’t know, but my heart went out to these little innocent girls; I shared their pain and loved them very much from the first moment. I talked for quite a while with his wife. We said many things, and the poor woman was constantly crying. I left in shambles.

Two days later, I went to his home with a priest, and he read some prayers of Saint Basil over him. I will not forget that I needed to hold him from the shoulder, so he wouldn’t fall down. At the end, we told him what his next steps were. He needed to go confess with sincere repentance, to be able to commune, to take Christ in him so that he could be strengthened.

By the grace of God, my friends, he accepted all this joyfully. Not only he, but his entire family, even his little girls came and confessed to Father , filled with joy and hope for a new beginning. When everyone was finished, Father pulled me aside and told me, “Thanasi, this man needs all the help he can get; do as much as you can for him, because he is in dire straits, he is not at all well. He needs to recover for the sake of his family. Under the circumstances, he has my blessing to receive Holy Communion whenever he is able.”

“Yes father, he’s going down fast, but please let me share a thought with you.”

“Go ahead, speak up.”

“This coming Sunday, I am thinking of going to church as a family to the monastery of Saint Nicodemos at Goumenissa. I will go with Glykeria, and the young man and his wife. Allow me also to take my friend Savvas, the paralytic, with me, so he can envelop us in prayer. On Monday, with your blessing, I'd like for all three of us to venture to the Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos, for all of us to venerate the Precious Belt of our Panaghia. I will make all the necessary arrangements with the fathers.”

“Very well, but are you sure you can manage all this?”

“I cannot without God’s grace and your blessing and prayers.”

“Do accordingly, however God enlightens you. As far as I am concerned I bless you with all my heart.”

Then I proceeded to relay to the lad and his wife my ideas, to see if they would agree. They joyfully accepted my suggestions, especially his wife who responded with tears of joy, perhaps because a gleam of hope was finally on the horizon. I then turned to her husband and firmly told him, “My brother, I ask you, and I beg you. Between now and Sunday, while preparing yourself for Holy Communion at St. Nicodemos monastery and during the days of our pilgrimage to Mount Athos, don’t even think about using heroin.”

“Listen, Thanasi, I will speak to you with all sincerity, especially since I just confessed. I give you my word, here and in the presence of my wife, that I will not use heroin. I will take some kind of opiate substitute, so that I can stand on my feet. If I don’t do this, my bones will be creaking. My temple blood vessels will begin to burst; I will scream uncontrollably, because the pain is excruciating at the final stage of heroin addiction.”

“What are these substitutes?”

“They come in the form of pills[1], and they help me to stand on my feet.”

“Mr. Thanasi, don’t worry. I will be very careful, and I will not let him leave from my sight. I promise you,” his wife told me.

So, early Sunday morning, we all headed out. Savvas, my paralytic friend, was sitting in the front seat, and I asked him to pray unceasingly. The young man in the back however was sweating profusely and nonstop. The sweating continued and several times during the Divine Liturgy we had to exit the Church so he could catch his breath. I made sure always to be at his side to console him and help him as needed.

Soon enough, the voice of the priest was heard, “With the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near”; I held him by the arm and we waited for all others to commune first. Then as we slowly walked towards the chalice, I turned to the large icon of the Virgin Mary and silently asked her, “My Virgin Mary, please, help us to commune today and be with us as we travel to your perivoli[2] tomorrow." It seems that my prayer was heard.

That morning, everything went well at the monastery, thank God. The Abbot, who sensed the gravity of the situation, and learned that we would be leaving the next day for the Holy Mountain, was quite moved. Upon our departure, he walked towards the lad and prayed and said in a loud voice, “May Angels accompany you." His poor wife couldn’t control her tears all day long.

The next morning, we took a taxi, and all three of us arrived at the bus station[3]. I helped the young man onto the bus, and guided him to the open seats toward the back. I then lifted Savva the paralytic on my back, carried him onto the bus and placed him next to the young man. I reminded Savva to continue with unceasing prayer.

While on the bus and later on the ferry boat, we were able to discuss various nice things. The lad was listening to me carefully although he was sweating quite a bit due to acute withdrawal symptoms. He was constantly wiping his sweat, and he struggled to stay on his feet. In less than two hours we disembarked and continued on a minibus towards Vatopedi. The driver dropped us off a few hundred yards outside of the monastery. I looked around for some help but there was no one in sight. It was very difficult to roll the wheelchair on an uphill gravel road. I remember holding the lad with one hand, and pushing the wheelchair with the other. I will not be ashamed to tell you that my tears were running, while I was pleading to the Virgin Mary, silently saying to her, “My dear Mother, help me first, and then my brethren because I am the sickest one of all." When we entered inside the gates of monastery, it was noon, and everyone was resting. There were many stairs for us to climb. I first helped the lad up the stairs and then I lifted up the paralytic on my shoulders since there was no other solution at the moment. Finally I went back down once more to bring up the wheelchair.

When we found the Archondari[4], he received us with much love. We had notified the fathers about the purpose of our visit a few days prior. They were happy to see us because Savvas and I had visited Vatopedi before.

When we got settled in a room, another monk came and told me, “Thanasi, the Geronta (Abbot) wants to see you." I immediately went to him, did a prostration and received his blessing. We talked for quite a while, about the condition of the lad. The Abbot was very moved, asked that we write down our names, and promised to commemorate us during forty successive liturgies[5]. He asked us to come to one of the chapels in the afternoon, to venerate the Holy Relics and the Precious Belt (of the Virgin Mary). Upon entering the church, the father told the lad to kneel so that he could place the Precious Belt on his head, and to pray over him. I sat back and savored every second of this most beautiful hour. These were truly heavenly moments. When the priest finished with the young man he asked the paralytic to bow and receive the Precious Belt on his head as well. Then the father took the Belt, and went to leave. While he was preparing to depart, I asked him, “Father, please, don’t deprive me of this blessing, because I am the sickest one in the group. My body is healthy, but my soul is paralyzed." The father turned back, looked at me with a blank stare, and asked, “What’s your name, my son?”

“Thanasi.”

“Kneel, Athanasios[6], and may you have all the blessings of our Virgin Mary.”

The very Belt of the Virgin Mary was now resting on my head! What an indescribable feeling this was. I have no words even to begin to tell you what this felt like. Even if I did, you would not be able to understand it.

This was such an uplifting and truly beneficial pilgrimage. When we returned home, I went to find Father, to inform him how things went. He was very pleased and said, “Thanasi, don’t worry, the Virgin Mary will do her miracle." After this the recovering young man, stayed close to Fr. Triantafyllos[7] and continued to go to holy Confession, with his entire family.

Now, I am sure you are probably anxious to find out what happened to this young man and his family. Well, he is well, very well. The same man who could hardly even exchange a handshake, nor stand on his feet without being held, now returned to his old job of hard physical labor, and even works overtime. The smile returned to his family, especially to his charming little girls. They were no longer ashamed of their father at school. More importantly, he returned to our Christ. For this we are ever so grateful to the blessing of our Virgin Mary, to the supplications of the fathers, and to the prayer of the paralytic.

[1] The irony is that most people come to this sad position because of these prescribed painkillers. Dentists and doctors often overprescribe opium derivatives such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco), codeine, morphine, etc., for pain management. These are usually highly addictive and when these prescriptions expire, a high percentage of their victims turn to heroin which is rather inexpensive in its beginning stages but later becomes very costly and deadly as its addictive qualities totally enslave the human organism. Overdosing is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, accounting for more deaths than traffic fatalities or gun homicides and suicides. Fatal overdoses from opiate medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone have quadrupled since 1999, accounting for an estimated 16,651 deaths in 2010.


[2] According to tradition the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist were on a ship to visit Lazarus who was serving as a Bishop in Cyprus. Along the way, the weather became severe, and the swollen waves carried the boat north to the present location of the monastery of Iveron, on the Athonite peninsula. The Virgin Mary was truly enchanted by the paradisiacal beauty of this location so she asked her Son to gift it to her. This is why, to this day, the Holy Mountain is the exclusive “Garden of the Panaghia” and no other female-human or animal-is permitted to set foot on it.


[3] Mt. Athos is not accessible by land so visitors and pilgrims must travel to Ouranoupolis (150 km from Thessaloniki), the last seaport with frequent ferry boat rides to Dafne, the central access point to the one-thousand year-old monastic community with twenty major monasteries and their dependencies. At present there are approximately 2000 monks on the Holy Mountain.


[4] The monk in charge of guest accommodation.


[5] The most important of all Orthodox services, also called Holy Eucharist.


[6] Thanasi, the nickname for Athanasios (immortal), changes the meaning of this dogmatic Christian name from immortal to mortal. This is precisely why the Father used Athanasi’s baptismal name.


[7] Triantafyllo (thirty petals), is the Greek word for rose.

Constantine Zalalas

from the book: Tears of Repentance

source :http://www.saintnicodemos.com/

Saturday, June 29, 2019

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´

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Place of Holy Relics in the Orthodox Church ( St. Justin Popovich )




The Place of Holy Relics in the Orthodox Church

Without doubt, matter is represented in the human body in a manner which is most puzzling, most mysterious, and most complex. The brain: What wondrous mysteries pass between its physical and spiritual parts! How vast is the experience of the human race. In no manner can one ever fully comprehend or grasp these mysteries. Indeed, little of this is accessible to the human senses or intellectual investigation. So it is also with the heart of man, formed as it is entirely and solely from cosmic mysteries. So formed, too, are every cell, every molecule, every atom. Everyone and all are set on their mystical path toward God, toward the God-Man. Inasmuch as it was created by God, the Logos, matter possesses this same theocentricity. Moreover, by His advent into our earthly world, by His all-embracing condescension as God and Man for the redemption of the world, the Lord Christ clearly demonstrated that not only the soul, but matter also was created by God and for God, and that He is God and Man; and for it, matter, He is all and everything in the same manner as for the soul. Being created by God, the Logos, matter is, in its innermost core, God-longing and Christ-longing.


The most obvious proof of this is the fact that God the Word has become Incarnate, has become man (St. John 1:14). By His Incarnation, matter has been magnified with Divine glory and has entered into the grace- and virtue-bestowing, ascetic aim of deification, or union with Christ. God has become flesh, has become human, so that the entire man, the entire body, might be filled with God and with His miracle-working forces and powers. In the God-Man, the Lord Christ, and His Body, all matter has been set on a path toward Christ —the path of deification, transfiguration, sanctification, resurrection, and ascent to an eternal glory surpassing that of the Cherubim. And all of this takes place and will continue to take place through the Divine and human Body of the Church, which is truly the God-Man Christ in the total fullness of His Divine and Human Person, the fullness "that fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23). Through its Divine and human existence in the Church, the human body, as matter, as substance, is sanctified by the Holy Spirit and in this way participates in the life of the Trinity. Matter thus attains its transcendent, divine meaning and goal, its eternal blessedness and its immortal joy in the God-Man.


The holiness of the Saints—both the holiness of their souls and of their bodies—derives from their zealous grace- and virtue-bestowing lives in the Body of the Church of Christ, of the God-Man. In this sense, holiness completely envelopes the human person—the entire soul and body and all that enters into the mystical composition of the human body. The holiness of the Saints does not hold forth only in their souls, but it necessarily extends to their bodies; so it is that both the body and the soul of a saint are sanctified. Thus we, in piously venerating the Saints, also venerate the entire person, in this manner not separating the holy soul from the holy body. Our pious veneration of the Saints' relics is a natural part of our pious respect for and prayerful entreaty to the Saints. All of this constitutes one indivisible ascetic act, just as the soul and body constitute the single, indivisible person of the Saint. Clearly, during his life on the earth, the Saint, by a continuous and singular grace- and virtue-bestowing synergy of soul and body, attains to the sanctification of his person, filling both the soul and body with the grace of the Holy Spirit and so transforming them into vessels of the holy mysteries and holy virtues. It is completely natural, again, to show pious reverence both to the former and to the latter, both to soul and body, both of them holy vessels of God's grace. When the charismatic power of Christ issues forth, it makes Grace-filled all the constituent parts of the human person and the person in his entirety. By unceasing enactment of the ascetic efforts set forth in the Gospels, Saints gradually fill themselves with the Holy Spirit, so that their sacred bodies, according to the word of the holy Apostle, become temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19; 3:17), Christ dwelling by faith in their hearts (Ephesians 3:17) and by fruitful love also fulfilling the commandments of God the Father. Establishing themselves in the Holy Spirit through grace-bestowing ascetic labors, the Saints participate in the life of the Trinity, becoming sons of the Holy Trinity, temples of the Living God (II Corinthians 6:16); their whole lives thus flow from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. By piously venerating the holy relics of the Saints, the Church reveres them as temples of the Holy Spirit, temples of the Living God, in which God dwells by Grace even after the earthly death of the Saints. And by His most wise and good Will, God creates miracles in and through these relics. Moreover, the miracles which derive from the holy relics witness also to the fact that their pious veneration by the people is pleasing to God.


The pious veneration of holy relics, based on their miraculous nature, originated from Divine Revelation. Even in the Old Testament God deigned to celebrate with miracles the holy relics of certain of those who were well-pleasing to Him. Thus, by the touch of the holy relics of the Prophet Elisea, a dead man was resurrected. The tomb and bones of this Prophet, who had prophesied to Jeroboam the destruction of idolatrous altars, were greatly revered in Judea. The Patriarch Joseph also left a testament to the sons of Israel to preserve his bones in Egypt and, during their exodus, to carry them to the promised land (Genesis 50:25).


The New Testament raised the human body to the sublime and divine heights, endowing it with a glory which the Cherubim and Seraphim do not possess. The Good News of the New Testament concerning the body—the significance and goal of the human body—is that, together with the soul, it achieves and inherits immortal life in Divine eternity. The Lord Christ has come to deify, to make Christ-like, the entire man, that is, the soul and body, and this by the resurrection, insuring thereby victory over death and eternal life. No one ever elevated the human body as did the Lord Christ by His bodily resurrection, the ascension of His body into heaven, and its eternal session at the right hand of God the Father. In this way, the Resurrected Christ extended the promise of resurrection to the nature of the human body—"having made for all flesh a path to eternal life." Thus man now knows that the body is created for eternity through union with the God-Man and that his divine work on earth is to struggle, with the soul, for eternal life; to struggle, with all those means that convey grace and virtue, to make himself grace-filled, fulfilled by Divine grace, and created anew as the temple of the Holy Spirit, the temple of the Living God.


Bearing in mind that this New Testamental notion of the human body has been achieved and realized in the persons of the Saints, Christians show a pious veneration for the bodies of the Saints, towards holy relics, the temples of the Holy Spirit, Who by God's grace abides within them. But Holy Revelation indicates that by God's immeasurable love for man, the Holy Spirit abides through His grace not only in the bodies of the Saints, but also in their clothing. So it is that the handkerchiefs of the holy apostle Paul healed the ill and expelled unclean spirits (Acts 19:12). With his mantle the Prophet Elias struck the water, separating the waters of the Jordan, and along the dry bed of the river crossed the Jordan with his disciple Elisea (IV Kings 2:8). The prophet Elisea did the very same thing, himself, with the same mantle, after the taking-up of Elias into heaven (IV Kings 2:14). All this has its verification and source in the Divine power that rested in the garments of the Savior, which encompassed His most pure and Divine body. Moreover, by His inexpressible love for man, the Divine Lord allows the servants of His Divinity to work miracles not only through their bodies and clothing, but even with the shadow of their bodies, which is evident in an occurrence with the holy apostle Peter: his shadow healed an ill man and expelled unclean spirits (Acts 5:15-16).


The eternal good news of Holy Revelation about sacred relics and their pious veneration is proved, and is continually being proved, by Holy Tradition from Apostolic times to the present day. Innumerable are the sacred relics of the holy Chosen Ones of God throughout the Orthodox world. Their miracles are innumerable. The pious veneration of these relics by Orthodox Christians is everywhere to be found. And without doubt this is because the holy relics, through their miracles, incite the Orthodox toward their pious veneration. From the very beginning, in Apostolic times, Christians piously preserved the honored relics of the Holy Forerunner and the holy Apostles, so that these could be preserved even for us. As well, during the times of persecution the sacred remains of the bodies of the holy Martyrs were taken away by Christians and hidden in their homes. From that time until now, the sacred relics of the holy Chosen Ones of God have, by their miracles, poured forth the immortal joy of our faith into the hearts of Orthodox Christians. The proofs concerning this are countless. We shall cite only several.


The way that the holy relics of the Saints were translated and greeted is in a touching manner described by St. Chrysostomos in a eulogy on St. Ignatios: "You, inhabitants of Antioch, have sent forth a bishop and received a martyr; you sent him forth with prayers, and received him back with crowns; and not only you, but all the cities which lay between. For how do you think that they behaved when they saw his remains being brought back? What pleasure was produced! How they rejoiced! With what laudations on all sides did they beset the crowned one! For as with a noble athlete, who has wrestled down all his antagonists, and who comes forth with radiant glory from the arena, the spectators receive him, and do not suffer him to tread the earth, bringing him home on their shoulders and according him countless praises. So also every city in turn received this Saint from Rome, and bearing him upon their shoulders as far as this city, escorted the crowned one with praises, hymning the champion.... At this time the holy Martyr bestows grace to the very same cities, establishing them in piety, and from that time to this day he enriches this city."


Speaking of the miraculous power of holy relics, Saint Ephraim the Syrian relates the following concerning the holy Martyrs: "Even after death they act as if alive, healing the sick, expelling demons, and by the power of the Lord rejecting every evil influence of the demons. This is because the miraculous grace of the Holy Spirit is always present in the holy relics."


During the finding of the relics of Saints Gervasius and Protasius, St. Ambrose, in speaking to his listeners, relates this with pious enthusiasm: "You know—indeed, you have yourselves seen—that many are cleansed from evil spirits, that very many also, having touched with their hands the robe of the Saints, are freed from those ailments which oppressed them. You see that the miracles of old times are renewed, when through the coming of the Lord Jesus grace was more abundantly shed forth upon the earth, and that many bodies are healed as it were by the shadow of the holy bodies. How many napkins are passed about! How many garments, laid upon the holy relics and endowed with the power of healing, are claimed! All are glad to touch even the outside thread, and whosoever touches it will be made whole."


Speaking of the miracles produced by holy relics, the blessed Augustine says: "To what do these miracles witness, but to this faith which preaches Christ risen in the flesh and ascended with the same flesh into heaven? For the martyrs themselves were martyrs, that is to say, were witnesses of this faith.... For this faith they gave their lives, and can now ask these benefits from the Lord in whose name they were slain. For this faith their extraordinary constancy was exercised, so that in these miracles great power was manifested as the result. For if the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life had not taken place in Christ, and were not to be accomplished in His people, as predicted by Christ..., why do the martyrs who were slain for this faith which proclaims the resurrection possess such power? ...These miracles attest this faith which preaches the resurrection of the flesh unto eternal life."


Saint Damascene, summarizing the life-giving teaching of Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition concerning the pious veneration of holy relics, preaches in a Cherubic manner from the altar of his God-bearing and Christ-like soul: "The Saints have become according to grace that which the Lord Christ is according to nature. That is, they have become gods according to grace: pure and living habitations of God. For God says: 'I will dwell in them, walk in them, and I will be their God' (II Corinthians 6:16; Leviticus 16:12). The Holy Scriptures likewise say: 'the souls of the righteous are in God's hand, and death cannot lay hold of them' (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1). For death is rather the sleep of Saints than their death. Further: 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints' (Psalm 119:6). What, then, is more precious than to be in the hand of God? For God is life and light, and those who are in God's hand are in life and light. Further, that God dwells even in their bodies in a spiritual manner the all-divine Apostle attests: 'Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you?' (I Corinthians 3:16). And, 'the Lord is Spirit' (II Corinthians 3:17). Thus, the evangelical truth: 'If anyone destroy the temple of God, him will God destroy—for the temple of God is holy, and ye are that temple' (I Corinthians 3:17). Surely, then, we must ascribe honor to the living temples of God, the living dwelling-places of God. These, while they lived, stood with boldness before God. The Lord Christ granted us the relics of the Saints to be fountains of salvation unto us, pouring forth manifold blessings and abounding in sweetly fragrant oil. Let no one disbelieve this! For if water burst in the desert from the steep and solid rock according to God's will (Exodus 17:6), and from the jawbone of an ass to quench Samson's thirst (Judges 15:14-19), is it then unbelievable that fragrant oil should spring forth from relics of the holy Martyrs? By no means, at least to those who know the omnipotence of God and the honor which He accords to His Saints. According to the Old Testament law, everyone who touched a dead body was considered impure (Numbers 19:11). However, the Saints are not dead. For from the time when He Who is Himself Life and the Author of life was counted among the dead, we do not call those dead who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and with faith in Him. For how could a dead body work miracles? And how, through the holy relics, are demons driven off, diseases dispelled, the sick made well, the blind restored to sight, lepers cleansed, temptations and tribulations overcome; and how does every good gift come down from the Father of lights (St. James 1:17) to those who pray with sure faith?"


The universal faith of the Church concerning the pious veneration of holy relics was confirmed by the God-bearing Fathers of the Seventh Œcumenical Synod in its decrees: "Our Lord Jesus Christ granted to us the relics of Saints as a salvation-bearing source which pours forth varied benefits on the infirm. Consequently, those who presume to abandon the relics of the Martyrs: if they be hierarchs, let them be deposed; if however monastics or laymen, let them merely be excommunicated."


....That a pious veneration of the holy relics is a constituent part of the salvation rendered by the God-Man is also evidenced by the following facts: from the depths of sacred antiquity, churches were built on the graves and relics of Saints, and the holy Liturgy is performed only on antimensia, in which are placed parts of the holy relics. Moreover, the divine service books, especially the Menaion, are replete with prayers and hymns which refer to the pious veneration of holy relics....


All in all, the mystery of holy relics is at the heart of the universal mystery of the New Testament: the incarnation of God. The full mystery of the human body is explained by the incarnation, the embodiment of God in the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, then, the Gospel message concerning the body: "The body for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (I Corinthians 6:13). And through a human body also the entire creation, all of matter, received its divine significance, the universal meaning of the God-Man. By man, who is sanctified in the Church by the holy mysteries and the holy virtues, the creation and even matter are sanctified, united to Christ. There accrues to this also a joy—the myrrh-streaming property of many relics. This wonder of myrrh has been given to the holy relics in order to indicate that Christians are truly "a sweet-savour of Christ unto God" (II Corinthians 2:15), sweet-smelling to God and to heaven. The truth of the Gospel is that the sin of man is a foul odor before God and every sin pleases the devil. Through the holy mysteries and holy virtues, Christians become "a sweet-savour of Christ unto God." For this reason, then, the holy relics of the Saints pour forth myrrh.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. VII, No. 1, p. 9. Translated from the Serbian by the Reverend Gregory Telepneff.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

How St. Paisios saved a soul from suicide




The Elder, according to his custom, spent the night praying. Once, while praying, about 1 a.m. he was "informed" by Divine grace that, at that moment, someone in the world, called John, was in danger. Upon receiving this information, the Elder immediately lit a candle and began to pray for John. Approximately half an hour later, the Elder’s soul received was "informed," that John was out of danger. But, the Elder still did not understand, what had happened.

The next day a young man came to the Elder and told him, what the Divine grace had concealed, i.e. that he, depressed because of a multitude of problems, found himself at a dead end, and decided to commit suicide.

Getting on his motorcycle at 12.30 a.m, he left the city, heading towards a distant district, in order to drive off a precipice and crash.

Around 12.50, while he was driving along the highway, he had a thought: "They say so many things about this Paisios on the Holy Mountain, maybe I should visit him, and if nothing happens there, then I shall crash."

That was that very John, about whom the Divine grace instilled the Elder to pray, when the young man was approaching the abyss.

And of course, when the young man returned home, he did not drive to that abyss, but to a confessor, to whom he confessed his sins. Thus, by the prayers of the Elder, the youth started on the right path.


St. Paisios

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The 3D scan of a disabled baby’s smile that convinced his mother not to abort him


 
The 3D scan of a disabled baby’s smile that convinced his mother not to abort him – and why she is grateful she was able to cuddle him with joy for a few precious hours
Katyia Rowe was told her baby would never be able to walk or talk
But real-time moving scan showed him blowing bubbles and waving arms
She decided to go through with the birth but he died nine hours later

By LARISA BROWN



A mother was unable to abort her severely disabled son despite doctors’ warnings after seeing her baby’s smile in a 3D scan picture.

Katyia Rowe was told her baby’s brain had not formed properly and that he would never walk or talk and would need 24-hour care.

But after seeing real-time moving scans of him smiling, blowing bubbles, kicking and waving his arms she made the heartbreaking decision to go through with the birth.

Tragically Lucian, as she named him, died nine hours after he was born.


Mother Katyia Rowe gave birth to her severely disabled son Lucian, despite doctors advising her to have an abortion, after seeing a 3D scan of him smiling, pictured

Despite the ordeal, Ms Rowe said she had no regrets going through with the birth as she was able to cuddle her baby son.

Katyia, 26, a training administrator, said: ‘We were devastated to be told our son’s brain abnormalities were so severe they were life limiting we should consider a termination.

‘Further scans were arranged to asses the extent of his disabilities but when I saw him smiling and playing inside me I knew I couldn’t end his life.

‘If he could smile and play and feel then despite his disabilities he deserved to enjoy whatever life he had left, no matter how short. Just because his life would be shorter or different, didn’t mean he didn’t deserve to experience it.

‘As long as he was pain free I vowed to let him enjoy his life both while inside me and outside, no matter how long that be.’

Miss Rowe, from Telford, Shropshire was thrilled to discover she was expecting a baby with partner of four years security officer Shane Johnson, 26, in March last year.

She added: ‘It was a shock but we were thrilled. Shane and I were so excited and looking forward to the birth. We had so many plans for the future and could not wait to meet our baby.


Katyia Rowe and her partner Shane decided to have the baby despite the complications, saying the child deserved to live

‘Our first scan at three months was wonderful. When we saw our baby on screen for the first time we fell in love straight away. As far as we were concerned everything was perfect.’

The couple decided to wed when their son was old enough to walk down the aisle with them.

Only the 20-week scan highlighted complications.

Following further tests, doctors told Miss Rowe and her partner of four years that their baby’s brain had no formed properly and he would be severely disabled.

They were then told the tragic news by experts at Birmingham Children’s Hospital that their child would never walk or talk and would need 24-hour care.

The couple were offered the chance to terminate the baby at 24-weeks.

But despite his poor prognosis, being able to watch her son in real time 3D scans during the screening tests, Miss Rowe said she was astonished to see him smiling, blowing bubbles, kicking and waving his arms.

She said: ‘Despite all the awful things I was being told, while he was inside me his quality of life looked to be wonderful and no different to any other baby’s, he was a joy to watch.

‘I was told he would never walk or talk yet the scans showed him constantly wriggling and moving.

‘As I watched I knew that while I was carrying him he still had a quality of life and it was my duty as a mother to protect that no matter how long he had left, he deserved to live.’

The couple pictured together in the room that was decorated for their baby boy Lucian. Tragically he died nine hours after his birth

Katyia was told if her son survived birth he would require 24 -hour care for the duration of his life expected to be anything up to five years.

She added: ‘It didn’t phase me at all. It was ironic because I had never considered myself particularly maternal but now I wanted nothing more than to care for my son and give him the best quality of life possible. I was more than happy to dedicate my life fully to his care.

‘I researched all his disabilities to prepare myself fully for his needs. I never had a moment of doubt. I only had to look at the scan pictures of him enjoying life in the womb to know I was doing the right thing by giving him a chance.

‘Not knowing how long he would live meant we were determined to enjoy him for as long as we could. We learned he loved the shower and would kick when I sprayed the water on my tummy.

‘As he grew bigger I could see his little feet and hands prodding through my bump when he wriggled. He may not have been born but he was already our son and I took each movement as a sign we had done the right thing.

‘I would talk to him and play him music because I wanted him to experience as much as possible.’

Because of her son’s disabilities he couldn’t swallow the amniotic fluid surrounding him meaning Kaytia had to undergo painful draining procedures for the last nine weeks of her pregnancy.

She said: ‘It was agony and I knew some people questioned if it was worth putting myself through all this for a severely disabled baby that may not live for long.

‘But I never ever thought like that. As a mother you will do anything for your child and for me I became a mother as soon as I fell pregnant, that job had started already.’

And for Katyia the rewards for her pregnancy were she says the most joyful and fulfilling nine hours of her life – the time she spent with her son.

‘It was without doubt the happiest moment of my life. Lucian could have died at anytime in my womb but he held on long enough for us to meet properly.’

- Mother Katyia Rowe


Katyia Rowe who went through the birth of her baby, pictured in a frame, and said she didn’t regret her decision


He was delivered after being induced when her waters went on October 23rd last year at the Royal Shrewsbury hospital and as expected was rushed straight to special baby care for his condition to be assessed.

She says: ‘I was prepared not to be taking our baby straight home like all the other new parents, but beyond that I didn’t know what the future held.’

But shortly after the birth midwives burst into the delivery suite and warned Katyia her son had just minutes to live.

She says: ‘I was shocked but we had already decided that after his birth we would let Lucian lead the way. I didn’t want him given any unnecessary treatment if ultimately it wouldn’t help him.

‘He had already given me the greatest honour of being his mummy for the last nine months. It was up to him now if he was ready to go.’

Katyia rushed to his side and finally the son she had nurtured for nine months was placed in her arms.

She said: ‘It was without doubt the happiest moment of my life. Lucian could have died at anytime in my womb but he held on long enough for us to meet properly.

‘My son looked utterly perfect.

‘The love and joy I felt the moment they put Lucian in my arms told me it had all been worth it.’

She added: ‘I thought I didn’t want to be a mother but Lucian taught me it is the most wonderful job in the world and I will always be grateful for that.’

Before his death he was held in his mother’s arms and he even met his grandparents.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Should a man send his wife away for reasons of adultery? ( Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi )

Words of the recently reposed Elder Joseph of the Vatopedion Monastery:

“….Now then, today I am forced to speak about this matter also; it is a somewhat daring endeavour, but necessity has caused me to bring up the subject, when every day I hear men say “my wife is like this….my wife is like that….all women are devils…”.

So, I ask: “Excuse me dear fellow, but this woman you are referring to – weren’t you the one that married her?”

“Yes….”

“Well then, when you married her, didn’t you find every love, tenderness and happiness in her person?”

“Yes…”

“So, why have you changed now? She is the same person. Both when you married her, and now. Can you see that you are to blame?”

I met an elderly couple some years ago – quite elderly, in their eighties – who had so much bitterness between them that, if it were possible, they would kill each other. I felt sorry for them; I sat down next to them and began to search deeper and discovered that they had reached that point out of ignorance. They had no idea what Christianity was, or anything about morality – nothing whatsoever. When I sat down to talk to them, I saw that they were quite receptive and they would pay attention to whatever I told them…. Well ! After trying to briefly show them that mankind is descended from God and that it has eternity inside it, and that we will not be in this world forever, and that conjugality is not dissolved here but continues into eternity, they were both moved and they accepted all that they heard. I left them, and after some time, they sent me a letter in which they said: “Dear Elder, it is as though we are reliving the first month of our marriage…..” Imagine that – those who were ready to kill, to slaughter each other…. Can you see the evidence now?

I will tell you of another character, of a proper husband; one that we rarely encounter in our day. But we did encounter one such person. He was in every way a perfect character – a Christian, and a completely social sort of person. He married late, almost thirty years old, not because he was averse to marriage, but because he thought that was how it should be. So he said his prayers with faith, and found himself a young girl and married her. The girl was young – ten years younger than him. Soon after he married her, she began to get into mischief. He pretended not to notice; he regarded her as his daughter and himself as her father. However, they had important business interests overseas and they had to go there, even if only temporarily. So he took her and they went abroad. When they arrived, she became very obstinate, and would say to herself: “He did this on purpose, to estrange me from my environment. I will desert him.” So she just up and left him. She came back to Greece, and where do you think she went? To one of those “casino” places, and began to live the life of a free woman – one who is paid…”

The husband however, from the day that she left him, never stopped praying with tears and insisting – in fact extorting God: “Benevolent One, I will not retreat, I will not leave you alone; You were the One who gave me my wife. “By God is a woman suited to a man” (according to the Bible). I want my wife. If the young girl has strayed, must she be lost? Why did You come down to earth? Didn’t You come to find the lost ones, to heal the sick, to resurrect the dead? I will not budge. I will not let You rest. I want my wife. Bring her back to me.” He wept for two whole years.

His prayer was eventually heard and the young woman came to her senses. “Oh dear,” she confessed, “God will have to create another Hell, because this one is too small for me!”

So she sat down and wrote him a letter, saying: “I dare not address you; I have no such right. If I return, will you accept me as your servant?”

He replied: “My love, why did you mention that word and hurt my feelings? Wasn’t it me who sent you on a vacation and was waiting for my love to return, to my wide open arms?”

So, he went and waited for her at the airport, as they had arranged. When she arrived, she fell down and began to beat herself and cry. He took her in his arms.

“My love, why are you doing this and hurting my feelings? I was longing to see you again. Let’s go home now; we never parted – I was always with you.”

That young girl turned out to be a faithful wife after this….

And that is the stance that a man – a husband – should take. If husbands are like that one, then show me what woman is bad?”

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A Cure for Depression ( St. Silouan the Athonite )


The greatest plague of the 21st century is not AIDS, nor cancer, nor the H1N1 flu, but something that affects much more people in ways we can barely start to understand: depression. Reportedly one in ten Americans suffers from one or the other forms of this malady. The rates of anti-depressant usage in the United States are just as worrisome. A recent poll unveils that one in eight Americans is using them. Prozac, Zyprexa, Cymbalta are not strange alien names anymore, but familiar encounters in almost every American household. Even children approach the usage rates of adults. These are very high and paradoxical numbers in a country where all are free to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Even in times of crisis, Americans have a better life than most countries in the world, in all respects. Just glance over to the life of the Christians in the Middle East, and you’ll realize the blessings we enjoy every day. Most of us have a job, a house, a car or two, enough food, education, equal opportunity, religious freedom to name just a few. Practically we shouldn’t be in want for anything; yet, every tenth person is longing for something, is missing something so bad, so important, that they cannot cope with this need on their own. This explains the usage of drugs; with them, the negative aspects of life can be more easily coped with. They are a crutch that helps people move along with their lives for a short while.

But a crutch is still a crutch; it can only take one so far. The depressed man needs a different cure, one that will take care of the root of his problems, will erase his desperation and offer him a new lease on life. A cure, however, cannot come without the understanding of the underlying disease. So, this begs a question: why is America depressed? What are we still missing in the abundance that surrounds us?

A short answer is: we miss God. We may think we miss something else, we can justify our depression by creating some imaginary needs, but at the end of the day, we miss Him. He has created us for a purpose: union with Him unto eternity. Losing sight of this, we lose it all and, in our shortsightedness, we keep longing for something we don’t know we have lost. It all goes back to who we are, what are we doing here and where we are going; it is back to the basics.

In the midst of the information revolution, the world wide web and the boom of technology, man still yearns for the same fundamental things: purpose and direction. The secular society can’t give him either. The purpose is temporary, ceasing to exist when life expires, and the directions one gets are so contradictory that they end up canceling themselves. So man is confused, lost and at the brink of despair. He is thirsty, but there is no well of life, he is hungry but there is no food for his eternal soul, he is lonely and he has no man.


So what to do? In an interview I recently read (you can find it here, it is very edifying), the Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov, of blessed memory, at that time a younger monk, was asked by a visiting priest: “Fr. Sophrony, how will we be saved?” Fr. Sophrony prepared him a cup of tea, gave it to him, and told him, “Stand on the edge of the abyss of despair and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.” Obviously this was a very odd answer, and the young priest was definitely confused. So off he went to St. Silouan the Athonite, who lived not far from there, and told him everything, asking for advice. Long story short, next day, St. Silouan came to the cell of Fr. Sophrony and the two started a conversation about salvation. The beautiful fruit of their conversation was an unforgettable phrase that I would like to also offer as the answer to our conversation today about depression: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

At first glance, St. Silouan’s take on salvation is not less strange that Fr. Sophrony’s initial answer, but it actually makes great sense. In traditional Christianity, the difficulties of life, the hardships are assumed as part of our fallen existence. Our bodies and our minds suffer the torments, but this is nothing but a temporary stage. The ascetic Fathers considered them as tests on par with the athletic exercises, very useful in practicing and improving the powers of the soul like patience, kindness, hope, faith and so forth. We keep our mind in hell when we consciously assume the pain of living in a fallen world, when we learn from this passing agony to avoid the even greater torture of an eternity without Christ. But there is hope in this suffering because Christ himself has suffered them first and has opened for us a way out of despair, a way out of pain, a way out of death. Christ is the well of life, the bread of eternity, and the only Man we need.

So as Christians we keep our minds in hell and we despair not, but courageously give glory to God in all things, even in pain, hoping, always hoping, in our Savior, the only One who can take us out of the brink of despair and set us for a new life in Him. In Him we put our hope, in Him we find our purpose, and on Him we set our goal.

Through the intercessions of our Father among the Saints Silouan the Athonite, through the prayers of Fr. Sophrony of Essex, of all the ascetic Fathers and all the saints, O Lord of compassion and hope, have mercy on us and save us!
 
St. Silouan the Athonite

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The healing mission of the Church ( Metropolitan of Limassol, Athanasios )


The main mission of the Church is to heal a person. In other words, when a person becomes part of the Church is healed if he follows the therapeutic regime which aims to assist him to return to the natural state which God gave him when He had created him.

After the fall of our forefathers, our nature was corrupted. When man severed his relationship with the Lord after disobeying His command, all his mental and physical capacities were immediately corrupted and perverted; his mind turned away from its unbreakable communication with the Lord, which was his natural state, towards the creation and matter, passions and sin. From that moment sickness and perversion entered man’s nature.

This is the reality of the fall, the sin of the forefathers, namely the hereditary sickness which passes on from one generation to another because we are natural descendents of our forefathers. Thus, each man has inherited this condition of spiritual sickness; the perversion of his nature.

Jesus Christ is called the ‘New Adam’, because He enters history at a certain point in time and accomplishes a mission. Christ’s mission was not so much to hand over the Gospel, namely His teachings, neither to give us a book called ‘Gospel’, but to give us Himself. In other words, just as we have inherited the sickness of our nature through the first Adam, Jesus offers us Himself, so that through the baptism we unite with Him, become one with Him, and then through the Holy Eucharist we acquire the capacity to unite with Him organically and ontologically (actually). This means that the actual unity with the Body and Blood of Jesus flows into our being, into our soul and our body. This is the reason why we become children of God and why the Church exists. The Church would have no reason to exist if it did not administer the holy mysteries, particularly the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.

The Church is not an institution aiming to increase its followers for various reasons. It is the place where man is healed spiritually and is given the opportunity to unite with Jesus Christ. However, man needs to follow a certain therapeutic treatment called ‘askesis’. It entails obeying all of the Lord’s commands handed over to us by Jesus in the Gospel. Jesus’ commands are the medication which treats our sickness. In fact, the Lord shouldn’t have given us any commands since He had created us in His image; His commands are inherent in our nature and our conscience reminds us about them. Nevertheless, as the holy fathers say, the Lord did give us the appropriate medication to cancel out wickedness.

A sick man goes to the doctor and receives a certain treatment, not because the doctor impinges on his freedom or his dignity, but because his advice if heeded, may cure him. If he doesn’t follow the doctor’s instructions his illness will persist and may even cause his death. In the same way the Lord’s commandments act as a therapeutic treatment.

There are many commands and on the outset it seems difficult for someone to remember and obey all of them. Nevertheless, the most essential command is one and has to do with our entire being. It is: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and with all your strength.’ And it goes on ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. This part is the result and the evidence of our genuine love towards the Lord. In other words, it is not possible for someone who does not love God, to love himself, his neighbor, nature or the rest of the creation. Therefore, all the commandments have a common mission; they converge on the love towards the Lord. This is the natural state of man; this is how the Lord created him, namely, to move towards the Lord with a loving force. This is easy to understand since as the Scriptures say ‘The Lord is love’. But we must appreciate that we are not moving towards an idea, namely ‘love’, but towards a person.

The Church moves man towards a personal meeting with the specific, personal God. In other words, the Church is the place which develops man as a person and not as an individual (an ‘individual’ means someone who is engrossed in his self). That is, it smashes his individualism, develops him as a person and turns him into someone who for the most part has a personal relationship with the Lord. This is also the main difference between the Orthodox Church and eastern religions which speak about a vague and faceless deity. This is the reason why prayer differs from meditation. Prayer is a personal motion towards a personal God; meditation is an impersonal motion from one man to another through the invocation of a vague deity.

The personal motion towards the Lord presupposes that the Lord also moves towards man. Since God is love, it follows that man, who has been created in the image of God, is also love. This loving motion enables man to come out of his self and offer himself to another person, just as Jesus did when He ‘emptied Himself’.

When man empties himself he meets the Lord in a loving union which is totally personal and totally fulfilling for man as a whole. Man’s union with the Lord does not only take place on a mental, philosophical, metaphysical or psychological level. It is a perfect union at all levels. We ought to understand these things if we are to appreciate our true mission in this world. Therefore, by understanding the numerous commandments, we also understand why we ought to obey them.

In other words, the Church is not the sum of certain commandments and laws but it is the place with a specific mission. The Saints of our Church, all the children of the Church who are indeed living children of God and of the Church, prove that what the Church says and promises is true. These people have followed the treatment offered by the Church and became the temple of the Holy Spirit and the chosen vessel of the Lord. Namely the Holy Spirit is present inside them. Indeed there are several such people who are experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit inside their souls. They know what ‘grace’ means.

When dealing with the reality of our worship, along with all the preconditions and evidence presented by the lives of our saints, we are faced with the entire range of the spiritual struggle. In other words, we understand why all these things happen, why the commandments are given, why askesis and the spiritual regime are necessary and what happens with the presence of Jesus and with the existence of the Church. Thus we understand what will happen to us. The only matter which still needs to be resolved is how to practically begin the process of our relationship with God, how to find Him and how to taste all the things promised by the Church.

The Lord does not discriminate. He does not offer His mercy to one but not to the other, neither does He give gifts to one but not to the other. There are no ‘chosen ones’ for the Lord. The Lord gives to each one the same grace and the same love. It is man who regulates his relationship with the Lord. Man is free to love the Lord absolutely. One may love Him a lot, another very little and yet some may hate Him.

Nevertheless, one has to be aware of his own intentions; he ought to be able to say that he will remain steadfast in his faith even though the Lord sometimes seems to leave him alone in his struggles. In other words, one must never lose heart. He ought to recognize that this mission is not up to him but it is a task accomplished by the Lord. Jesus said to His disciples: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’ (John 15, 16). The disciples may have offered their good intention, but unless the Lord was present with His grace to strengthen them, they could not have accomplished a single thing.

Bearing in mind the Lord’s presence we ought to wage our struggle with immense courage. One of the weapons the enemy uses is trying to prevent us from dealing with our sins and passions with courage and zeal.

The Lord offers us a medicine to help us with this process. It is the medicine of repentance in the face of the Lord. This means that one ought to repent not as someone who feels guilty, but as one who is the son of the Lord. Neither any trespass nor the devil are able to take away from us the privilege of being children of the Lord. Thus we may stand before the Lord and say: ‘Indeed, I have sinned; I have been misled. Nevertheless, I have not denied You and I am still seeking my deliverance’.

People ought not to be miserable inside the Church, because they have been called by the Lord to become gods through grace. This means that a person who lives the life of the Church becomes lord and not a miserable man. This is how the Lord makes him. The Saints, instead of feeling depressed, placed great emphasis on repentance because it made them feel children of the Lord. Repentance was like a life-giving force which led them straight to the throne of their Father.

In the Church there is no place for disappointment neither for backtracking, no matter what happens. Nevertheless, when someone begins his spiritual life, the enemy may succeed in stealing his soul and his heart, enslaving him into worldly matters and causing him to drop his first love towards the Lord.

Therefore, let us not be enslaved by the affairs of this world despite all our responsibilities and duties. Our heart must only move towards the Lord.

The end

Excerpts from a homily by the Metropolitan of Limassol, Athanasios, published in the ‘Paraklisi’ magazine, March 2012.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Satan's Worst Enemy ( Anonymous Desert Father )



One of the old men of the Thebaid used to tell the following story: 
"I was the son of a pagan priest. When I was small I would sit and watch my father who often went to sacrifice to the idol. 
Once, going in behind him in secret, I saw Satan and all his army standing beside him; and behold one of the chief devils came to bow before him. 

Satan said, 'Where have you come from?' He answered, 'I was in a certain place and made much blood flow, and I have come to tell you about it.' Satan asked, 'How long did it take you to do this?' He replied, 'Thirty days.' Then Satan commanded him to be flogged, saying, 'In so long a time have you done only that?' 

And behold, another demon came to bow before him. Satan asked him, 'And you, where have you come from?' The demon replied, 'I was on the sea, and I made the waves rise, and small craft foundered, and I have killed many people, and I have come to inform you of it.' He said to him, 'How long did it take you to do this?' and the demon said, 'Twenty days.' Satan commanded that he also should be flogged, saying, 'That is because in such a long time you have only done this.' 

Now, a third demon came to bow before him. he asked, 'And where have you come from?' The demon replied, 'There was a marriage in a certain village, and I stirred up a riot, and I have made much blood flow, killing the bride and bridegroom, and I have come to inform you.' He asked him, 'How long have you taken to do this?' and he replied, 'Ten days.' Satan commanded that he also should be flogged because he had taken too long.
After this, another demon came to bow before him. He asked, 'And where have you come from?' He said, 'I was in the desert forty years fighting against a monk, and this night I made him fall into fornication.' When he heard this, Satan arose, embraced him, and put the crown he was wearing on his head and made him sit on his throne, saying, 'You have been able to do a very great deed!'
The old man said, 'Seeing this, I said to myself, "Truly it is a great contest, this contest of the monks," and with God assisting me for my salvation, I went away and became a monk.'"

from "The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers," by Benedicta Ward, (Oxford: SLG Press, 1986)