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)

Monday, May 13, 2019

Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. ( St. Paisios of Mount Athos )

Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. 
If you ignore them, there is no problem. 
If you pay attention to them, you create an airport inside your head and permit them to land!

St. Paisios of Mount Athos

Thursday, May 9, 2019

How to Recognize the Holy Apostles in Icons...

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

St. Peter

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

St. Paul

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

St. John

John the “Beloved Disciple”

St John theTheologian

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

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

St. Matthew

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

St. Andrew “the First Called”

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

St. Bartholomew

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

St. Simon theZealot

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

St. Thomas

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

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

St. James, Son of Zebedee

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

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

St. Jude

St Jude Thaddeus

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

St. James Alphaeus

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

St. Phillip

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

St. Matthias

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

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot at the LastSupper

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

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

Friday, May 3, 2019

Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring

Theotokos of the Life-giving Spring

Outside of Constantinople, towards the district of the Seven Towers, there was in ancient times a very large and most beautiful church named in honour of the Theotokos; it had been built about the middle of the fifth century by the Emperor Leo the Great (also called "Leo of Thrace," he is commemorated on Jan. 20). Before he became Emperor, he had encountered there a blind man, who being tormented with thirst asked him to help him find water. Leo felt compassion for him and went in search of a source of water but found none. As he became downcast, he heard a voice telling him there was water nearby. He looked again, and found none. Then he heard the voice again, this time calling him "Emperor" and telling him that he would find muddy water in the densely wooded place nearby; he was to take some water and anoint the blind man's eyes with it. When he had done this, the blind man received his sight. After Leo became Emperor as the most holy Theotokos had prophesied, he raised up a church over the spring, whose waters worked many healings and cured maladies by the grace of the Theotokos; from this, it came to be called the "Life-giving Spring." The Church of Christ celebrates the consecration of this church on this day.

After the fall of the imperial city, this church was razed to the ground and the materials from it were used for building the mosque of Sultan Bayezid. Nothing remained of that church's ancient beauty, except for a small and paltry chapel, almost completely buried in the ruins. This chapel had twenty-five steps going down into it, and a transom window on the roof, where from it received a little light. Toward the western side of the chapel was the aforementioned holy Spring, fenced about with a railing, and with fish swimming in it. Such was the condition of the Spring until 1821. Then even that little remnant was destroyed, occasioned by the uprising of the Greek nation against the Ottoman Empire; the sacred Spring was buried with it and disappeared altogether.

But in the days of Sultan Mahmud, when those subject to him were rejoicing in their freedom to practice their religion, permission was sought by the Orthodox Christian community to rebuild at least part of the chapel. Thus the work was begun on July 26, 1833. When the excavation had been made, and the foundations of the ancient church were found, there was rebuilt -- by a later writ of permission from the Sultan -- not merely a chapel of the holy Spring, but another new church, constructed upon the foundations of the ancient one. The building of this spacious, beautiful, and most majestic temple began on September 14, 1833, and the work was completed on December 30, 1834. On February 2, 1835, the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine II, serving the Liturgy together with twelve hierarchs and a great company of clergy, as well as a boundless multitude of Christians, performed the consecration of this sacred church and dedicated it to the glory of the Mother of God. On September 6, 1955, however, it was desecrated and destroyed again by the Moslem Turks; it has been restored again, but not to the former magnificence.

The modern-day Spring, with the Icon above it

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Resurrection of Christ is the mother of us all…( St. Justin Popovich )

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

Христос Воскресе! Воистину Воскресе!

Kristus (ir) augšāmcēlies! Patiesi viņš ir augšāmcēlies!

ქრისტეაღსდგა! ჭეშმარიტადაღსდგა!

St. Justin (Popovich) of Chelije

Man sentenced God to death; by His Resurrection, He sentenced man to immortality. In return for a beating, He gives an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality. Man never showed so much hate for God as when he crucified Him; and God never showed more love for man than when He arose. Man even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by His Resurrection made man immortal. The crucified God is Risen and has killed death. Death is no more. Immortality has surrounded man and all the world.

By the Resurrection of the God-Man, human nature has been led irreversibly onto the path of immortality, and has become dreadful to death itself. For before the Resurrection of Christ, death was dreadful to man, but after the Resurrection of Christ, man has become more dreadful to death. When man lives by faith in the Risen God-Man, he lives above death, out of its reach; it is a footstool for his feet…

Because of the Resurrection of Christ, because of His victory over death, men have become, continue to become, and will continue becoming Christians. The entire history of Christianity is nothing other than the history of a unique miracle, namely, the Resurrection of Christ, which is unbrokenly threaded through the hearts of Christians form one day to the next, from year to year, across the centuries, until the Dread Judgment.

Man is born, in fact, not when his mother bring him into the world, but when he comes to believe in the Risen Christ, for then he is born to life eternal, whereas a mother bears children for death, for the grave. The Resurrection of Christ is the mother of us all, all Christians, the mother of immortals. By faith in the Resurrection, man is born anew, born for eternity. “That is impossible!” says the skeptic. But you listen to what the Risen God-Man says:

“All things are possible to him that believeth!” (Mark 9:23 ).

The believer is he who lives, with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his being, according to the Gospel of the Risen Lord Jesus.

Faith is our victory, by which we conquer death; faith in the Risen Lord Jesus…

For us Christians, our life on earth is a school in which we learn how to assure ourselves of resurrection and life eternal. For what use is this life if we cannot acquire by it life eternal? But, in order to be resurrected with the Lord Christ, man must first suffer with Him, and live His life as his own. If he does this, then on Pascha he can say with Saint Gregory the Theologian:

“Yesterday I was crucified with Him, today I live with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him, today I rise with Him” (Troparion 2, Ode 3, Matins, Pascha).

Christ’s Four Gospels are summed up in only four words. They are:

“Christ is Risen! Indeed He is risen!”

In each of these words is a Gospel, and in the Four Gospels is all the meaning of all God’s world, visible and invisible. When all knowledge and all the thoughts of men are concentrated in the cry of the Paschal salutation, “Christ is Risen!”, then immortal joy embraces all beings and in joy responds: “Indeed He is risen!”

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Ceremony of the Washing of the Feet on the Holy Island of Patmos

Christ washing the feet of the Disciples: "I came not to be served, but to serve..."

The Ceremony of the Washing of the Feet (The Niptir) on the Holy Island of Patmos

For four hundred years now, on the pleasantly cool island of divine visions, holy little Patmos, on Great Thursday every year, there’s been a tradition of re-enacting the drama of the Last Supper, which neither time nor the years of subjugation to the Turks, Italians and Germans were able to expunge.
This re-enactment, a symbolic scene, is a celebration which involves a great deal of grandeur, religious feeling and picturesqueness. It takes place to this day in other places as well, including, in the Orthodox world, Jerusalem and Antioch.
It’s an important event in the holy days of Great Week, not only for the island of Patmos, but for the other islands in the area: Samos, Ikaria, Leros, Kalymnos, and, in former times, for the coastal towns and cities of Asia Minor on the opposite shore.
At the time of the Italian occupation, the number of pilgrims who came to the island to attend this wonderful ceremony was considerably fewer, but since the liberation, the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet has regained its former eminence so that, in the peaceful life of the island, it is, once more, a religious event of great significance.
There is evidence for this religious ceremony of the Washing of the Feet from the 4thcentury, to be precise after the synod of Elvira in about 300 A. D. It was performed in very many monasteries and bishoprics in the middle years. In particular, the Byzantine emperors in their palace, in imitation of the gentle Nazarene, washed the feet of twelve of the poor among their subjects and afterwards presented them with gifts.
The whole ceremony, or rather its symbolic re-enactment, is nothing more nor less than a recollection and replication of the practical teaching of the Lord, who wished simply, by His example of washing the feet of his disciples, to teach stark humility towards the other people who share the planet with us.
On Great Wednesday, in one of the two large squares in Hora (those of Xanthou and Patriarch Theofilos II) alternately, towards the evening, a large, wooden, squarish platform is erected by a construction team of the elders of the town. Around it, the child play wild games of hide and seek. Decorating begins in the very early hours of Great Thursday. Liturgical fans and silver crosses, at intervals, with arches of palms and myrtles and with valuable carpets on the ground make for a grand sight.
The entrance, the central arch, is made of the fragrant spring flowers of the island, dominated by the blossoms on the twigs of spikenard, with its faintest of scents. On the platform, twelve seats have been placed. Six on the right and six on the left. And in the centre, opposite the entrance a chair for the Abbot. In the centre, there’s a little table with a silver bowl on it.
The tall trees surrounding the square- Xanthou, that is- with their verdant foliage cast their protective shade on the congregation of the faithful, beneath the burning spring sun. In complete silence, with moving compunction, they follow the swift development of this religious performance by the monks, brothers of the monastery, who perform the role of the disciples in this re-enactment of the divine drama of the Last Supper.
Great Thursday. The time is eleven in the morning. In the monastery, the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great has ended, with the handing out of the antidoro, the blessed bread, the “pearl” which people on the island keep for difficult times, especially someone’s last moments. With the Abbot at their head, the monks of the monastery move down to the church of the community, that of the Great Mother of God, as if by ancient custom. All the priests are attired in the same, precious, purple and gold, Byzantine vestments, gifts to the monastery from the Byzantine era, which have survived wonderfully to this day, untouched by time.

Priests and Deacons proceeding to the town square for the service (

The great bells of the monastery toll gravely and slowly. The whole atmosphere of the island resounds sweetly to their deep peals. In the delighful natural environment of spring, everything is charming. With heightened religious emotions, with deep compunction, the island lives the holy Passion of Christ for the whole of this week in a unique way and with a special tone.
From the Great Mother of God, the priests, each one with the name of one of Jesus’ disciples, proceed in twos to the appointed square. Behind them comes the abbot in a purple robe, holding his staff- since he’s a Patriarchal Exarch- and a small, gilded Bible, flanked by four deacons. All of them, priests and Abbot, wear their monastic cowls, which lend gravity and a graphic tone to the measured proceedings. Before them walks an ordinary monk, holding a huge basin and the “water of the bowl” in a silver pot. The ecclesiarch brings up the rear. As the best chanter in the monastery, it’s his job to sing psalm 50, “Have mercy on me, God”. The disciples and the Teacher arrive at one of the two chapels- Saint Foteini or Saint George, depending on the square- where the ceremony will take place. The ecclesiarch takes his position first, opposite the platform, at a prominent point, from where he will read the appointed excerpts from the four Gospels.
The four deacons cense the approach and escort the priest-disciples, two by two, onto the platform, where they bow deeply to each other and then take their seats, beginning from the outside and working inwards. They follow that order as given in the Gospels, starting with the sons of Zebedee. And thus they continue until all twelve are seated. The last one is Judas. In former days, his role was assigned to an ordinary layman, who was rewarded with 50 small coins and a cottage cheese. Later, however, the role was given to a monk. Last comes the Abbot and the four deacons escort him onto the platform, standing at his side. In the meantime, the ecclesiarch chants the beautiful Byzantine melodies for “When the glorious disciples were enlightened at the washing of the feet at the supper” (dismissal hymn) and “United in the bond of love, the Apostles…” (katavasia, canticle five).
Once everyone is seated on the platform the whole drama of the Holy Last Supper begins to unfold.

The Abbot of the Monastery of St. John the Theologian in the role of Christ, before 12 Priests in the roles of the Disciples

It has been divided into three parts and in the first there is a wide-ranging lesson from the great teacher of love, concerning the phrase “love one another”, which is full of incident and divinely-inspired significance. After this, there follows the second part, which is the washing of the disciples’ feet as a practical demonstration of Christ’s humility. The third part is a reconstruction of Christ’s anguish at prayer on the Mount of Olives, when He’s tested as a person, finally triumphing as God.
From his prominent position, the reader, methodically and slowly reads excerpts from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, referring to the dialogue conducted between the Teacher and His disciples. The first to be read is from Saint Mark: “At that time, Jesus took his twelve disciples and began to tell them what would happen to him”. Then follows a dialogue taken from John (4, 10-11), Mathew (20, 22-9) and Mark (10, 32-45), explaining to them what was to happen and urging them warmly to love one another.
Then, after this dialogue, comes the second part, the washing of the disciples’ feet: The reader’s text is from Saint John: “Knowing that the Father had given everything into his hands, Jesus arose from the supper and removed his outer garment. He took a towel and fastened it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…”. At that moment, the Abbot ties a dark red, square, velvet vestment, the “towel”, round his waist and begins to pour water from the pot into the bowl. Beginning with Judas, he washes the disciples’ feet, in fact sprinkling them on their shins with rose water through an aspergillum. This is the most impressive part of the scene, together with the role of Saint Peter, who is rebuked for his initial refusal and then goes on to request that the Lord wash “not only my feet, but also my hands and head”.
“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, Sit here, while I go and pray over there. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very troubled”. At this point, the Abbot, together with the three disciples mentioned, descends from the platform and proceeds towards the edge of the square, while the disciples kneel on cushions in front of the platform, obeying His command to “wait here and keep watch”.
This is when the third part of the Last Supper is played out. It is when Christ’s soul is sick unto death and when He cries aloud “not as I wish, but you”. But at the same time, the disciples’ devotion to their teacher is also tested, at the most difficult part of the drama. At the edge of the square, the Abbot prays before the icon of “The Coming One”, a large, very old icon from an iconostas, of rare Byzantine craftsmanship, one of the treasures of the monastery. It’s a symbolic depiction of the prayer of Christ on the Mount of Olives.

A photograph of the procession in prior years. The monks are carrying the historic icon of Christ "The Coming One"

“Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass”. And again: “Nevertheless, not as I wish, but you” (Math. 26, 40-42). Apprehension and sorrow weigh heavily on Him. And He repeats: “Is it not possible for this cup to pass?” When he turns to His disciples, He find then with drooping eyelids. He turns back to pray to His heavenly Father, strengthened now in the role He’s been ordered to shoulder for the salvation of the human race. He shouts to His disciples: “Let’s go. It’s time for the Son of Man to be betrayed in order that he may be glorified”, rousing them from their deep sleep when He approaches them for the third time.
The three get up from their knees and go back to the platform, together with the Abbot. The symbolic re-enactment of the Last Supper ends here. The Abbot takes up position near the platform and holds the Gospel and a small bunch of marjoram with which he will sprinkle the crowd with the blessed water from the basin. The laity kiss the Gospel and embrace, wishing each other “Many years”.
Finally, with the same good order and with the monastery bells tolling, the monks return to their place of abode, the grey Byzantine fortress which has been a sacred ark over many centuries.
And the people, inducted into divine matters and with souls exalted, disperse to their homes, in order to continue the rest of Great Week with the same depth of compunction, on the island of Patmos where Saint John the Evangelist had his divinely-inspired visions.

The Monastery of St. John the Theologian, Patmos

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen! 


Friday, April 19, 2019

Qualities of a true Spiritual Father ( Dr. Constantine Cavarnos )

St. Arsenios of Paros (1800-1877)

The Holy Elder Philotheos (Zervakos) points out the qualities of the good Confessor or Spiritual Father using St. Arsenios of Paros (1800-1877) as his exemplar. These qualities are particularly the following: humility, gentleness, patience, discernment, compassion and love. These virtues, he says, Father Arsenios eminently possessed. Thus, he remarks:

“St. Arsenios received all with love and paternal affection, and gave to all with understanding and discernment the ‘medicines’ necessary for the therapy of their souls. Besides other necessary ‘medicines’ he used to give to all two common ones: the medicine of repentance and the medicine of God’s compassion and love. He exhorted all to repent sincerely, and not to despair on account of their many sins, but to have hope in God’s immeasurable compassion, realizing that God accepts sinners when they repent. As proof of God’s great compassion he cited the examples of the Prodigal Son, the Thief, the Harlot, the Publican, and many others. Through love and gentleness Arsenios led many to repentance and salvation.”

Father Philotheos Zervakos goes on to give a very moving example of how St. Arsenios the New acted as a Confessor. It is as follows:

“A certain girl from the island of Syros (One of the Cyclades Islands, not far from Paros.) went to the Convent of the Transfiguration of Christ on Paros to visit her sister, who was a nun there. The latter had previously been informed that her sister had deviated from the right path; and when she was notified that her sister was outside the gate of the convent and wanted to see her, she at once began to scream and say: ‘Go away, go far away from the convent, because you are defiled and will defile the convent of the nuns.’ “And taking along with her as helpers some other nuns, she went outside the convent. When she saw her sister waiting outside the gate, instead of feeling compassion for her for having been wounded by the soul-destroying enemy, instead of sharing her pain, embracing the kissing her, and taking care to heal her wounds, and leading her to repentance and confession, thereby saving her, she dashed against her like a lioness. And aided by other nuns, she struck her in the face, on the head, wounded her seriously, and with wild shouts and threats drove her away. ‘Go away,’ she kept telling her, ‘you foul harlot, who came here to the convent, to this holy place to defile it also. Go away, I will kill you, to wash away the shame you have brought to our family.’ She replied: ‘I erred, forgive me, my sister, don’t you share my pain?’—’No,’ she replied, ‘you are not my sister, you are a harlot.’— ‘Where shall I go?’ asked her sorrowful sister. ‘Go and drown yourself, go and kill yourself,’ replied the other.

“The miserable girl fled from the convent full of wounds and bloodstained. When she was about 800 yards away, she sat down by the road, weeping bitterly; and groaning painfully she said: ‘What shall become of me the wretch? Where shall I go, when even my sister, to whom I hastened to seek help and consolation, drove me away, wounded me, and filled me with despair? There remains nothing for me now but to go and drown myself in the sea! O my God, help me the wretch.’

“Through the dispensation of God, Who does not want the death of the sinner but his repentance, it happened that St. Arsenios was going up to the convent. When he saw the girl crying and wounded, he felt compassion for her, and approaching her he said: “What is the matter, my child? Why are you weeping? Who has caused you the wounds?’—’My sister, Elder,’ she replied, ‘together with some nuns.’— ‘And why did they wound you?’— ‘Because, Elder, some corrupt men and women led me astray, and I became a harlot. But I realized that I did not do well and I came to the convent to seek protection, help, from my sister. And behold, Father, what they did to me. Is that the way nuns act, having fled from the world in order to save their souls? What do you, Father, counsel me? To go to the sea and drown myself, or to go and hurl myself down a precipice?’ T, my child, do not give you such counsel. I love you as my child, and if you wish I shall take you with me and heal the wounds of your soul and body.’—’And where are you going to take me, Elder?’—’To the convent, my child.’—T beg you not to take me to that convent, where my sister is together with those wicked nuns, because they will kill me—they declared this to me clearly, and if I insisted on remaining there they would certainly have killed me. You, Elder, are a good Father, but those nuns are criminals.’

“Come, my dear child, and be not afraid, they will not kill you, because I shall turn you over to Christ, and no one will be able to harm you.’—’In that case, Elder, since you are going to turn me over to Christ, I am not afraid of them, because Christ is much more powerful than they.’

“After he had encouraged and consoled her, St. Arsenios took her by the hand and led her up to the convent. And like another good Samaritan, by means of fatherly and affectionate words he exhorted her to repentance and confession. When she had repented sincerely and confessed candidly, he cleaned and dressed the wounds of her body and soul. Having clothed her with clean garments, those of repentance, he introduced her into the spiritual fold of the convent and included her with his other rational sheep.

She made such progress in the monastic life — in fasting, self-control, vigils, prayer, temperance and the rest of the virtues, and in the keeping of the Commandments of God — that she surpassed all the other nuns. Thus there was fulfilled the saying of the divine herald Paul the Apostle: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

Wishing to correct the nuns who had acted wrongly towards her, the Saint called all the nuns into the church of the convent and sharply rebuked those who wounded her, especially her sister, saying: “The good father of the parable, upon seeing from afar his prodigal son — who had spent his whole life living prodigally — returning to him, hastened to meet him, embraced him, kissed him, took him to his house, removed his old garments and clothed him with new ones and new shoes. He rejoiced greatly, because his son was dead, and was alive again, he was lost and was found. Christ came down from Heaven not in order to save the righteous, who have no need, but sinners. He came to save the lost sheep. He mingled, conversed and ate with publicans, harlots, sinners, towards whom he showed His love and affection. In this manner, that is, through His love, He saved them. But you did the opposite. Although you knew that the incorporeal wolf, the devil, had seriously wounded her soul, instead of feeling sorry for her, and running to embrace and kiss her, to rejoice, to save her from the danger of further sin, you felt hatred for her and ran to kill her. And because you were unable to kill her, you incited her to go and kill herself, to drown herself in the sea. Now learn from me, your Spiritual Father, that you are not nuns, you are not Christians, you are not even human beings. If you had a sheep and saw that it was at a precipice and was in danger of perishing, I think you would have hastened to save it. Why? Because it is an animal. If you show so much concern for an animal, should you not have shown concern for your sister, who is not an animal, but a human being, has a soul, which is worth more than the whole world? She was on the precipice of perdition, and although she came to seek your help, you pushed her so that she might fall down faster.

“Therefore, you are devoid of compassion, devoid of affection, devoid of sympathy; you are murderesses. For this reason I impose upon you the penance of not receiving Holy Communion for three years, if you do not recognize the great sin which you inconsiderately fell into. Repent, confess your sin, sigh, weep bitterly, and ask for forgiveness from God, from me, your Spiritual Father, and from those sisters who did not agree to your sinful act.”

Inasmuch as the nuns became aware of their sin, repented and wept bitterly, St. Arsenios forgave them and moderated their epitimia. Upon the sister, he imposed the penalty of not receiving Holy Communion for a year, because she provided the occasion and cause of the sin, while upon the others, that of not partaking of Holy Communion for six months, because they shared in the responsibility.

This story appears in Blessed Philotheos Zervakos’ book Life, Conduct, and Miracles of Our Father Arsenios the New, which was first published in 1960 and has been reprinted many times. I translated the story into English for inclusion in my book St. Arsenios of Paros, and present it here because it constitutes a very instructive and powerful lesson for priests with regard to the extremely important Mysterion of Confession and to imposing the proper penance on sinners for their spiritual therapy.

In another book of his, Blessed Philotheos has this to say about a good Confessor:

“The good Confessor’s manner, the cheerfulness of his face, the fatherly affection with which he receives the sinner, the sweet language of his teaching, the courage which he gives to the shy, the consolation which he offers to those who have committed many sins and are in despair, citing the example of any who repented and were saved—all these are conducive to sincere repentance and confession of the sinner…. It is to such Spiritual Fathers and physicians of the soul that the sinner ought to entrust the therapy of his soul.”

One cannot speak adequately about priests serving as confessors without saying something about the possibility of their being adversely affected thereby. In the Old Testament we read: “With a holy man thou shalt become holy, with the perfect man thou shalt be perfected, and with a perverted man thou shalt become perverted.”

We may call the principle involved here “the Principle of Assimilation.” Contemporary psychoanalysis terms it the “Principle of Identification,” and calls attention to instances where this principle operates in a negative manner.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Preaching the Gospel of Christ in the Modern World

A talk given at a conference sponsored by the Northern California Brotherhood of Orthodox Clergy and held at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Sacramento, California, October 21, 2006.


The theme of today's conference, "Preaching the Gospel of Christ in the Modern World," is relevant to everyone here, not only to those who are called to preach sermons from the ambo. Each of us is called to preach the Gospel, first of all by bearing witness to it through our lives, and secondly by making it available to others. This morning I will talk about why we should preach the Gospel, about the prerequisites for preaching the Gospel, and finally about how to bear witness to it in our lives.
The Gospel, of course, is the sum of the message of the Christian Faith, and especially the good news that Christ has saved mankind from the eternal consequences of sin, that He has overcome the central problem of the world — death, both bodily and spiritual — by means of His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection.
In approaching the subject of preaching the Gospel, the first question that arises is: Why should we be preaching the Gospel of Christ in our modern world?
Why, indeed, when the Protestants seem to be doing it much better? They have evangelistic programs, crusades that fill stadiums, mega-churches, television channels, Christian bookstores, a Christian music industry, and all the money they could want. We Orthodox in America are small by comparison. Why can't we just concentrate on our beautiful services and our social functions, and let the evangelicals preach to the unchurched?
The answer to this question is that the Protestants, and the Roman Catholics as well, do not preach the whole, complete, and unadulterated Gospel of Christ. Only the Orthodox Church can do that, because the Orthodox Church is the true Church that Christ founded, and that has continued up to today in a continuous, unbroken line of Holy Apostolic Tradition. This is the Church against which, as Christ promised, the gates of hell shall not prevail (cf. Matt. 16:18). Right before His Crucifixion, Christ told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come and lead them into all Truth. That promise was indeed fulfilled after Christ's Resurrection. But it did not cease to be fulfilled after His Apostles reposed. Christ has continued to fulfill that promise through two millennia of upheaval and tribulation; He continues doing so even now, and He will continue until His Second Coming. During our Church's history, heretical emperors, priests, bishops, and even patriarchs threatened to destroy the purity of the Orthodox Faith, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Church was preserved in Truth, and the heresies were overcome.
The non-Orthodox Christian churches have preserved some of the Truth of the original Christian Faith. But whatever they have that is true — whether it be the Holy Scriptures, the dogma of the Holy Trinity, or the dogma of Christ's Incarnation — they have received from the original, Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church, whether they acknowledge this or not. But, again, they possess only some of the Truth, and the rest they have distorted because they are separated from the true Church that Christ founded. Only the Orthodox Church is the repository of the pristine Gospel and the undistorted image of Christ.
This, then, is why we Orthodox Christians are called to preach the Gospel of Christ. We have something to give that no one outside the Church can give. Since the Christian Faith is the true Faith, and the Orthodox Faith is the true form of that true Faith, we alone can give the fullness of Truth to the searching humanity of our days. It would be selfish of us to keep it to ourselves. Yes, we should care about our beautiful church services, which are the center of our life as the worshipping Body of Christ; and, yes, we should have our social functions, since we need to have fellowship with other members of Christ's Body. But, together with this, we are called to share our Faith, to offer it to those who have not yet been given the great gift of being part of Christ's true Church. This is a tremendous responsibility, and it's time the Orthodox Christians in this country stepped up to it. Of course, much has been done and is being done. Just in the last twenty-five years since I first discovered Orthodoxy, I've seen a tremendous growth in the Orthodox mission in this country. But we can do a lot more, and that's what we'll be looking at and discussing today.
Back in the early 1960s, when the co-founder of our St. Herman Brotherhood, Fr. Seraphim (then Eugene) Rose, was working in the brotherhood's Orthodox bookstore in San Francisco, his ruling bishop, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, walked in, as he often did. Fr. Seraphim asked St. John a question he had been pondering: "Nearly all the peoples of the earth have had the Gospel preached to them. Does this mean that it's the end of the world, as the Scriptures say?"[1]
"No," replied St. John. "The Gospel of Christ must be preached in all tongues throughout the world in an Orthodox context. Only then will the end come."[2]
This is an awesome thing to contemplate. St. John, who in other instances demonstrated that he had the gift of prophecy, is telling us that we cannot leave it up to Protestants and Roman Catholics to enlighten the world with the Gospel. That task ultimately belongs to us Orthodox Christians. It's not enough, for example, that three thousand Chinese are becoming Christian every day, according to the latest statistics. Yes, they are becoming Protestants and Roman Catholics, and that's good as far as it goes, but they are not becoming Orthodox Christians. Ultimately, it will be up to us to preach the Gospel to them in the Orthodox context.
Fr. Seraphim once noted that, "When Archbishop John[3] first came to Paris from Shanghai [in the early 1950s], instead of giving a merely polite and formal greeting to his new flock in church the first time he saw them, he gave them real spiritual meat: The meaning of the Russian exile [he said] is to preach the Gospel over the whole earth, which must happen before the end of the world; and that means not just any Gospel, any kind of 'Christianity,' but Orthodoxy."[4]
What St. John said about the Russian exiles can be applied equally well to the diaspora of all the other Orthodox nationalities: Bulgarian, Georgian, Greek, Lebanese, Palestinian, Romanian, Serbian, Syrian, Ukrainian, etc.
Speaking of prophecy, here is one from a Greek saint of our times (not yet canonized): Elder Paisios of Mount Athos. Before his repose in 1994, he was asked by one of his spiritual sons: "Elder, today there are so many people— billions who don't know Christ and so few of them who do know Him. What will happen?"
Elder Paisios answered: "Things will happen which will shake the nations. It will not be the Second Coming, but it will be a Divine intervention. People will be searching for someone to speak to about
Christ. They will pull you by the hand: 'Come here, sit down and tell me about Christ.'[5]
We don't have to look into the future for this. Already, even now, people are starving spiritually. How can we give them what they need? 

I would now like to outline three things which we should have in place in order to preach the Gospel of Christ in the modern world: First, we must know the Orthodox Gospel of Christ; second, we must live the Gospel; and, third, we must know the modern world, in order to know what we're dealing with.
1. So, to begin with, we must know the Gospel in the Orthodox context. This means that, not only should we know the Divinely inspired Holy Scriptures, but we should know how the Church, which gave us the Scriptures, has interpreted the Scriptures through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We can know this through the writings of the Holy Fathers of the Church who have written extensive commentaries on the Scriptures, especially the book of Genesis and the entire New Testament. Almost all of these commentaries are now easily available in English. They are not hard to understand, even though some of them, like the commentaries of St. John Chrysostom, were written sixteen hundred years ago.
There is no question in our confused times that cannot be answered by a careful, pious, and reverent reading of the Holy Fathers, who give us to understand the true meaning of Holy Scripture and to know the substance of our Orthodox Faith. We must go to the Fathers in order to become their disciples, laying aside our own "wisdom" which we have acquired from the modern secular world." When we find the consensus of the Fathers on any given issue, we find the teaching which has prevailed and has been upheld in the Church. Thus, we find the mind of the Church, which is the mind of Christ, since Christ is the Head of His Church.
Of course, we should read Orthodox books by some contemporary authors also, because they distill the teaching of the Fathers and bring it to bear on modern concerns. But to get a well-rounded view of the Patristic teaching, and to know which modern authors reflect more of the Patristic mind, we should not neglect to go to the writings of the Fathers directly.
The Lives of Saints and righteous ones of earlier times and of our own times are also essential reading, as are the spiritual counsels of these same saints and righteous ones. These writings give us a blueprint for our own Christian life, both instructing and inspiring us to live our lives in Christ, in communion with Him, and on the path to unending union with Him.
St. John Chrysostom once said: "The Christian who is not reading spiritual books cannot save his soul." Commenting on this statement, Fr. Seraphim Rose said: "We must be constantly filling ourselves with the word of God, the Holy Scriptures, and other Orthodox literature, so that, as St. Seraphim [of Sarov] says, we will be literally 'swimming in the law of the Lord.' The science of how to please God and save our souls will become a deep part of ourselves that can't be taken away from us.
"The process of Orthodox education begins with infancy, with the simplest Bible stories and Lives of Saints related by one's parents, and it should not cease this side of the grave. If anyone learning an earthly profession devotes all his energy to studying and gaining practice in it, how much more should Christians be studying and preparing for eternal life, the Kingdom of Heaven which is ours for a short struggle in this life."[6]
2. This brings us to the second prerequisite for preaching the Gospel in the modern world, and that is, we must live the Gospel.
Again, to quote from Fr. Seraphim: "There exists a false opinion, which unfortunately is all too widespread today, that it is enough to have an Orthodoxy that is limited to the church building and formal 'Orthodox' activities, such as praying at certain times and making the sign of the Cross; in everything else, so this opinion goes, one can be like anyone else; participating in the life and culture of our times without any problem, as long as we don't commit sin.
"Anyone who has come to realize how deep Orthodoxy is, and how full is the commitment which is required of the serious Orthodox Christian, and likewise what totalitarian demands the contemporary world makes on us, will easily see how wrong this opinion is. One is Orthodox all the time, everyday, in every situation of life, or one is not really Orthodox at all. Our Orthodoxy is revealed not just in our strictly religious views, but in everything we do and say. Most of us are very unaware of the Christian, religious responsibility we have for the seemingly secular part of our lives. The person with a truly Orthodox worldview lives every part of his life as Orthodox."[7]
As we go deeper into the Orthodox Christian life, with daily prayer, daily reading of spiritual books, regular attendance of Church services, and regular confession and reception of Holy Communion, we will see our entire lives transformed in this way. When we come before Christ every day and speak to Him with love and longing, we will find our relationship with Him deepen, so that He will live in us more fully. When we daily reestablish our connection with Jesus Christ in this way, it will become natural for us to follow His commandments throughout the day, in every aspect of our lives. Then His commandments — even the hardest ones, like loving those who spitefully use us (cf. Matt. 5:44) — will not seem burdensome to us.
Through our life of Grace in the Church, we are to be continually transformed into the likeness of God, which is the likeness of Christ. We are to be united with God ever more fully by acquiring and assimilating His Grace, His Uncreated Energy.
For the Orthodox Church, salvation includes the forgiveness of sins and justification before God (cf. Eph. 1:7; Rom. 5:16, 18), but it is also more than these. It means to abide in Christ the God-man and have Him abiding in us (cf. John 15:4), to participate in the life of God Himself, to become partakers of the Divine Nature (II Peter 1:4) both in the present life and in eternity. In the language of Orthodox Patristic theology, to be saved ultimately means to be deified. As the Romanian Orthodox writer Fr. Dumitru Staniloae explains: "Deification is the passing of man from created things to the Uncreated, to the level of the Divine Energies — Man assimilates more and more of the Divine Energies, without this assimilation ever ending, since he will never assimilate their Source itself, that is, the Divine Essence, and become God by Essence, or another Christ. In the measure in which man increases his capacity to become a subject of ever richer Divine Energies, these Energies from the Divine Essence are revealed to him in a greater proportion."[8]
In a similar vein, we can say that being Orthodox includes having the right beliefs, the right doctrines, the right worship, and the right interpretation of Scripture, but it is more than these. Being Orthodox means being in the Church. We should not only know this intellectually; we should feel it in the depths of our being. By the Grace of God, although we are sinful and unworthy, we are part of Christ's Body; we are members of His one and only true Church. As such, we believe in the Church.
In order to communicate this belief in the Church to those outside the Church, we must experience what it means to be in the Church. In other words, we must experience, gradually and a step at a time, what it means to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, to live in Christ and have Him live in us, to participate in His life, to be deified.
It is significant that, of all the Christian confessions, only the Orthodox Faith understands Grace to be the Uncreated Energy of God, in which God Himself is fully present. In the Orthodox Church, Grace is known to be God Himself. In the non-Orthodox confessions, on the other hand, the grace that is communicated is considered to be a created phenomenon. In Roman Catholic theology, it is said that grace cannot exist apart from the soul, and that it is only a "quality" of the soul.[9]
When in the Orthodox Church we say that we are to be filled with Grace, that we are to acquire the Grace of the Holy Spirit, this means to be literally filled with God Himself. Only in the Orthodox Church do we know and confess that it is possible for a Christian to be deified in the sense of becoming god through His Grace— that is, not God by Nature and preeternal begetting, as only Christ was and is, but a god by Grace and adoption. This is what the Apostle John meant when he wrote in his Gospel: As many as received Him [Christ], to them He gave the power to become sons of God, even to those who believe on His name(John 1:12).
Yes, it is significant that only the Orthodox Church has this understanding of Grace and deification. But it is significant not just in the sense that only the Orthodox Church has the right views on these subjects. Most of all, it is important to consider why the Orthodox Church alone has the right understanding. Of course, one could say that it is because, as I've already mentioned, only the Orthodox Church is the true Church which Christ has preserved from error and heresy for two thousand years. But I would say that it is more than this. Does not the Orthodox Church alone have the right understanding of Grace and deification because she alone makes possible this full participation in the life of God, this union with God, this deification? To be sure, those outside the Church can experience God's Grace. In fact, some Holy Fathers, such as St. Maximus the Confessor,[10] teach that nothing could exist for an instant without God's Grace. But full participation in God's Energies, as much as is possible for human nature, is only available in the Orthodox Church.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, the Gospel of Christ is, most essentially, the good news that the central problem of the world — death, both bodily and spiritual — has been overcome by Jesus Christ. Through His Incarnation, His Death on the Cross, and His Resurrection, Christ has brought Life to the world; He has made it possible for man to live eternally with Him in His Kingdom — not only in soul, but also in body after the General Resurrection. Any Christian confession that has retained the basic teachings of Christianity will affirm this. But only in the Orthodox Church do we find the complete understanding and experience of this salvation that Christ has brought to the world, this Life that He has brought to the world (cf. John 11:25), this Living Water that He has promised to His followers (cf. John 7:38). This Life that Christ gives is the Life of God Himself — it is God Himself— and that is why the Saints and righteous ones of the Orthodox Church are known to be literally filled with God, to be deified by Him. And, in the General Resurrection, it will not only be the soul of man that will be deified; the body will be deified as well. Therefore, the Orthodox Holy Fathers have summed up the Gospel of Christ with a phrase that might seem surprising to Christians outside the Orthodox Church. "God became man," they say, "so that man can become god."
These considerations can help us to appreciate more fully why we, as Orthodox Christians, have a responsibility to preach the Gospel of Christ to those around us. We have the right teaching; we know — or should know — what it means to be in the Church and believe in the Church; and we have all the means that Christ has made available to mankind to be saved— saved, that is, in the maximalist sense of being transformed, even deified, in order to be made fit for the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven.
Of course, we do not have to be fully deified — that is, fully and perfectly penetrated by God's Energies — in order to preach the Gospel. All of us who have been baptized and chrismated Orthodox have already been deified to some extent, since we receive the Uncreated Energy of God united to our souls at Baptism; and all of us who receive Holy Communion experience a kind of deification. St. Symeon the New Theologian, who was deified in the full and strict sense of the word, affirmed that all those who partake of the Holy Mysteries "with sincerity of heart are quickened and deified” [11] — that is, deified in the broader sense. We are to grow toward a more full deification, a more full participation in God throughout our whole lives. As we grow in this way, we will have more and more Grace to give to others when we preach the Gospel of Christ.
3. Now we come to the third prerequisite for preaching the Gospel in the modern world, and that is to know the modern world, or, more specifically, the modern Western society in which we find ourselves. Compared to the countries of Western Europe, our American society has retained a considerable Christian sector, but that sector is becoming smaller and smaller. Recent polls have found that every year, there are two million fewer Christians in America. At the same time, there are two million workpeople who say, "I'm not religious; I'm spiritual." In other words, they are abandoning churches and are opting for a spirituality of their own devising: personalized spirituality.
Fr. Seraphim Rose identified the sickness of the modern world as "nihilism": the abandonment of belief in absolute Truth, which is grounded in faith in God. As Fr. Seraphim taught, the philosophy of the modern age can be summed up in the following phrase: "God is dead, therefore man becomes God and everything is possible."[12]
We have to be aware of the effects of this underlying nihilistic philosophy on the life around us, and on ourselves. Although many people give lip service to God, they live as though He doesn't exist. And we ourselves, sadly, if we will only admit it, also behave sometimes as if God doesn't exist, being also under the influence of the spirit of the times.
If there is no God to Whom we are answerable and Who gives meaning and purpose to our lives, then our lives are all about "me": what I want, my personal gratification, my personal fulfillment, my "quality of life." According to this view, there is no absolute or objective meaning to life; there is only a relative or subjective meaning: what it means to me, how it suits me. This idea is very strong in our society; we breathe it in with the contemporary air, so to speak.
In preparing this talk, I was reading over the talks that Fr. Seraphim gave at our monastery nearly twenty-five years ago, which I have already been quoting from. Back then, he was saying that the current generation has been described as the "me" generation. Many of us here are from that generation. But what of the generations that have come after the "me" generation? They have been called "generation X" and "generation Y." These generations have also grown up in a society characterized by a gradual loss of belief in absolute Truth and by a concurrent absorption in self-gratification. At the same time, noticeably more than the "me" generation, they have felt the angst of this empty philosophy of life. As society moves further away from God, we are supplied with more sophisticated ways of distracting us from the pain that comes from being separated from God, and more medications to numb that pain. Generation Y has more access to entertainments than any other generation in history, but at the same time, with its use of antidepressants, it has been called the most medicated generation in human history.
In the meantime, to fill in the vacuum caused by the abandonment of Christian Faith, numerous forms of false spirituality have been on the rise for decades. Today, the fastest growing religion in the United States, in terms of percentage, is witchcraft. This is not unrelated to the fact that numerous movies, television shows, books, and games present young people with the idea that witchcraft is "cool" and "fun." Members of Pagan and Wiccan groups say that, whenever a popular book, movie or TV show comes out with this theme, they get a surge of phone calls from young people.
This is only the latest sign of the times. There are many other such signs, from the growth of Eastern religions to the UFO subculture, to the pseudo-Christian experiences seen at such gatherings as the "Toronto Blessing."
And, while all of this pseudo-spirituality is being put into the air, there is a concerted effort to obliterate what is left of traditional Christian society in contemporary America. Not a year goes by without several cover stories in such major national magazines as Time, Newsweek, and US News and World Report, which attempt to undermine Christian faith under the guise of "objective" reporting. Not only is the reality of the Biblical account of creation and the global Flood rejected, but the historicity of the Prophet Moses is dismissed, the historicity of the Gospels are called into question, and the lives of Christ and His Apostles are reinterpreted according to heretical Gnostic notions which were condemned by the Church many centuries ago. The aim of these articles — and of much else of what we see and hear in the media nowadays — is to denature Christianity. In order to fit in with the nihilistic, secularistic, self-worshipping spirit of the times, Christianity must be reinterpreted so as to abandon any claims to absolute Truth, and to abandon faith in Christ as the Only Begotten Son of God. Instead, Christ is made out to be some kind of New Age guru who leads each of us to the realization that each one of us is God: not god by Grace as in the Orthodox understanding, but God by Nature in the New Age, Gnostic understanding. To a self-worshipping society for which absolute Truth has been replaced by "me," nothing less than this false form of self-deification is satisfactory. It is precisely with this idea that Lucifer tempted Adam and Eve: Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as Gods (Gen. 3:5).
As we Orthodox Christians reach out to the modern world, we need to take into account this barrage of propaganda that is thrust on people in our society, that makes them forget God, give up on Christ as traditional Christianity understands Him, and live for themselves, live for this world only, live for today. It so happens that we Orthodox Christians have answers to all the misguided attempts to deny the historicity of the Old and New Testaments, and to turn Christianity into something that it is not. Books and articles have been written by Orthodox theological writers, historians, and scientists to defend the historical interpretation of Holy Scripture that is found in the writings of the Holy Fathers. Some of these only exist in Russian, Greek, or Serbian, but some are in English, and others will be translated. It can be helpful for us to avail ourselves of these materials in order to defend our Faith, but we must also realize that, ultimately, it is not arguments that persuade people to come to the Orthodox Church, but something that moves their hearts. And, to move hearts, we must first of all have our own hearts turned to God.
With all the so-called spirituality available to people today, which they can find literally at their fingertips on the internet, people's souls are empty. They are desperately in need of the fullness of Christ's Uncreated Grace, which only the Orthodox Church can give. 

Now that we have looked at three prerequisites to preaching the Gospel in the modern world — knowing the Gospel, living the Gospel, and knowing the modern world — we can now go on to discuss how to preach the Gospel.
In preaching the Gospel, we should not take the in-your-face approach that is occasionally found among Protestants. Sometimes Protestants will place pressure on people to convert. Perhaps this stems, at least in part, from the Calvinist doctrine that denies free will — even though most Protestant churches have rejected the strict interpretation of that doctrine. In any case, the Orthodox approach in preaching the Gospel is, contrary to Calvinism, to honor a person's free will just as God honors it. Our task is simply to bear witness to the Truth, and to make it available to others. Each person must make his own choice, without any coercion, as to whether or not to become a member of the Orthodox Church.
What does it mean to bear witness to our Faith? In one of the talks he gave toward the end of his life, Fr. Seraphim Rose said: "Once we are learning of the Orthodox Faith, we must be ready, as the Apostle Peter teaches, to give an account of it to those who may ask (cf. I Peter 3:15). Nowadays there is no one who is not asked at some time about his Faith. We must make our Faith something deep, conscious, and serious, so that we ourselves know why we are Orthodox — and this will already be an answer to those outside the Faith.
"And further, in our times of searching, we should be on the watch for those who are searching. We should be prepared to find them in the most unexpected places. We should be evangelical? — and this does not mean just sticking Bible verses into one's conversation or asking everyone, 'Are you saved?' It means living by the Gospel, even with all our weaknesses and falls — living the Orthodox Faith. Many outsiders, just seeing that we try to lead a life different from the pagan and semi-pagan society around us, can become interested in the Faith just by this."[13]
To illustrate this last point, I will relate a few stories. In the early history of our brotherhood, some Orthodox pilgrims were on their way home from our monastery, when they stopped at a restaurant in Williams, California. Before the meal, they crossed themselves and prayed aloud. Some people at an adjacent table asked them what Faith they belonged to. They struck up a friendship with the Orthodox pilgrims, and went on to become Orthodox Christians themselves.
Just by doing such a simple things as making the sign of the Cross and praying, one can change the lives of those who are looking for something authentic in Christianity.
Here is another story which provides an even better example of what Fr. Seraphim said about "outsiders" becoming interested in the Orthodox Faith just by seeing us live that Faith. About five years ago, a young mother in Santa Rosa, California was in a toy store with her two-year-old son. As she was walking around looking at things, she saw a woman older than herself, modestly dressed, who had come to the store with her teenaged son. The young mother noticed that there was something different about this woman and her son. They were calm, peaceful, not distracted; but it was their relationship that impressed her most of all. The older mother and her teenaged son obviously had a close relationship; the boy showed respect and consideration for his mother, and she was kind and loving to him. The younger woman thought to herself: That's the kind of relationship I want with my son when he gets older. So she went up to the other woman and asked her, "Do you go to a church?" It so happened that the older woman was the wife of a priest, and her church was in Santa Rosa. She talked with the younger woman, told her about her church, and told her that there was an Orthodox bookstore just a few blocks away. The young woman went directly to the bookstore, which serves as an outreach center for the Orthodox Faith, and talked with the man who runs the store. She then started attending the church with her husband and son, and in time they all became Orthodox. They still attend the church regularly, and now have another boy in the family.
In discussing what it means to bear witness to our Faith, we should emphasize that, in all situations, we must act and speak with love. Christ told His disciples: By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:35). We have the fullness of Truth, yes, but this Truth must be spoken and given in love, lest it be corrupted in the very manner in which it is presented. People will look for God in us, and if they see no love there, they will not recognize the presence of God, even if we know all the Orthodox dogmas and can recite Scripture verses and the Nicene Creed by heart.
Fr. Seraphim stressed this in one of his talks. He said: "Being filled with the Gospel teaching and trying to live by it, we should have love and compassion for the miserable humanity of our days. Probably never have people been more unhappy than the people of our days, even with all the outward conveniences and gadgets our society provides us with. People are suffering and dying for the lack of God — and we can help give God to them. The love of many has truly grown cold in our days — but let us not be cold. As long as Christ sends us His Grace and warms our hearts, we do not need to be cold. If we are cold and indifferent; if our response to the need for a Christian answer to those who are miserable is only: 'Who cares? Let someone else do it; I don't feel like it' (and I have heard Orthodox people say those very things!) — then we are the salt that has lost its savor and is good for nothing but to be thrown out (cf. Matt. 5:13)."'
May these words warm our hearts, so that we will go forth and bear witness to the Orthodox Gospel with love — a love that flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ, and from the Grace He bestows on us in His Church. 
[1] Cf. Matthew 24:14.
[2] Hieromonk Damascene, Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works (Platina, Calif.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2003), p. 314.
[3] I.e., St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. He was glorified as a saint in 1994 by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
[4] Letter of Fr. Seraphim to Fr. Neketas Palassis, St. Thomas Sunday, April 23/May 6, 1973. Quoted in Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, p. 314.
[5] Athanasios Rakovalis, Talks with Father Paisios (Thessaloniki, 2000), p. 137. 2Cf. Fr. Seraphim Rose, "The Holy Fathers of Orthodox Spirituality I," The Orthodox Word, no. 58 (1974), p. 195.
[6] Fr. Seraphim Rose, "The Search for Orthodoxy" (a talk given at the 1981 St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage), The Orthodox Word, no. 226 (2002), pp. 252-53.
[7] Fr. Seraphim Rose, "Living the Orthodox Worldview" (a talk given at the 1982 St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage), The Orthodox Word, no. 105 (1982), pp. 169-70.
[8] Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Orthodox Spirituality (South Canaan, Penna.: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2002), p. 373.
[9] The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 edition, vol. 6, p. 705.
[10] See St. Maximus the Confessor, "Four Hundred Texts on Love" 3:27, in The Philokalia, vol. 2 (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), p. 87.
[11] Preparatory Prayers for Holy Communion.
[12] Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, p. 396. Fr. Seraphim took this phrase from Friedrich Nietzsche and from the character Kirillov in Fyodor Dostovevsky's The Possessed.
[13] Fr. Seraphim Rose, "The Search for Orthodoxy," p. 253.

Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen)
Orthodox Word, No. 250, 2006

06 / 09 / 2007