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

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

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

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

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

Saturday, April 6, 2019

How do you know whether you are living according to the will of God? ( St.Silouan the Athonite )

How do you know whether you are living according to the will of God? 
Here is a sign: 
If you long for some thing, then you have not submitted to the will of God, even though you may think that you live according to His will. Whoever lives according to the will of God does not concern himself with anything. And if he needs some thing, then he submits himself and that thing to God; and if he does not receive it, then he remains content as though he had received it. 
The soul which has submitted to the will of God, fears nothing: neither storm nor bandits; nothing. And whatever should happen, it says, "It is God’s will." If the body is ill, the soul thinks, "Then I am in need of this illness, otherwise God would not have given it to me." And so the body and the soul remain at peace.

St.Silouan the Athonite

Monday, April 1, 2019

Our Orthodox philosophy must not become part of some kind of cult or sect, but rather part of our daily life. ( Father Seraphim Rose )

The one thing that can save us is simplicity. It can be ours if in our hearts we pray to God to make us simple; if we just do not think ourselves so wise; if, when it comes to a question like, "Can we paint an icon of God the Father?" we do not come up with a quick answer and say, "Oh, of course it's this way—such-and-such Council said so-and-so, canon number so-and-so." And so either we, "knowing" that we must be right, have to excommunicate everyone else—in which case we have "gone off the deep end"—or else we have to stop and think, "Well, I guess I don't know too much." The more we have this second attitude, the more we will be protected from spiritual dangers.

Accept simply the faith you receive from your fathers. If there is a simple hearted priest near you, give thanks to God. Consider that because you are so complex, "intellectual" and moody, you should be able to learn much from him. The more you grow in Orthodoxy by reading and exposure to Church and contact with Orthodox people, the more you will be able to "feel your way" in the whole realm of Orthodoxy. You will begin to see the wisdom behind things and people you had dismissed before. You will begin to see that even if the people who are the "links" to the past are not consciously "wise," nevertheless, God is guiding the Church. We know that He is with the Church until the end; there is no reason to "go off the deep end," to fall into apostasy and heresy.

If we follow the simple path—distrusting our own wisdom, doing the best that we can, yet realizing that our mind, without warmth of heart, is a very weak tool—then what Kireyevsky talked about will begin to happen: an Orthodox philosophy of life will begin to be formed in us.

We are confronted with the same obstacles Kireyevsky faced, only to an even greater degree. Living in the midst of Western culture, we have to try to assimilate a philosophy and theology which has come from almost 2,000 years ago and has become totally estranged and foreign to the world. Our Orthodox philosophy must not become part of some kind of cult or sect, but rather part of our daily life. By taking one small step at a time and not thinking that in one big leap we are going to get anywhere, we can walk straight into the Kingdom of Heaven—and there is no reason for any of us to fall away from that.

Father Seraphim Rose