Friday, August 30, 2019

Bearing your cross ( St. Innocent of Alaska )

If you bear your cross with perseverance and seek comfort only from Him, then He, through His mercy, will not abandon you but will touch your heart and will impart to you the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

It is then that you will feel an indescribable delight, a wonderful inner peace and joy such as you have never experienced before, and at the same time you will feel an influx of spiritual strength. Prayer will become easier and your faith stronger. Then your heart will be kindled with love of God and all people.

St. Innocent of Alaska

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Τhe Desire for Heaven..( Saint Gregory of Nyssa )

But so as not to fatigue your mind in vain by gazing out over the infinite, we’ll desist from poring over the nature of God Who lies beyond, because it’s impossible to understand Him. From what we’ve looked at, we’ve formed some sort of notion of His greatness, but all we’ve really gained is the knowledge that we’re unable to understand much else. And the more superior we believe the nature of God to be to our knowledge, the greater our sorrow is, because the summum bonum, from which we’ve been separated, is so great, and is such that we can’t bear any real knowledge of Him.

And yet, sometimes we find ourselves in such close communion with God that it defies any attempt at explanation. And this God, Who’s beyond our comprehension, is so profoundly entrenched in our nature that we can actually be transformed in accordance with the original image, so that we seem to be new persons because of the absolute likeness. Because, whatever we think now about God, all of it was – once upon a time – inside people. People once enjoyed incorruption and blessedness and composure and freedom. They didn’t know sorrow or the cares of life. They were closer to God and saw Him with a clear and free intellect, unhindered by any intermediate impediment. In short, all of this suggests to us the reason for the creation of the world, when it says that people were made in the image of God, that they lived in paradise and enjoyed the trees planted there. The fruit of these trees was life, knowledge and so on.

If we had all that, how is it possible not to mourn the disaster that befell us, when you compare and contrast the blessedness we knew then and today’s misery. We who were elevated have been humbled; we who were made in the image of the heavenly, have become dust; we who were destined to become royalty, are slaves; we who were created immortal have been destroyed by death; we who enjoyed the delights of paradise have been transported to this afflicted and wearisome place.

We’ve exchanged the ambience of freedom from the passions for this tedious and mortal life. We, who were once free and autonomous, are now dominated by so many and such varied evils that it’s not easy even to number our vicissitudes. Because each of the passions we have within us, when it becomes dominant, takes control of the person who’s subject to it. And just like any tyrant, when it captures the citadel of the soul, it exploits the occupants with the things that should be subject to them: each passion uses our very thoughts to our detriment, in order to benefit from them.

In this way, anger, fear, cowardice, audacity, excessive sorrow or joy, hatred, contentiousness, callousness, harshness, envy, flattery, resentment, heartlessness, and all the passions, which are all ranged in antipathy towards us, are simply an enumeration of some of the tyrants and oppressors who subjugate our souls as captives. And if you think about the bodily tribulations which have become part and parcel of our very nature, meaning the many and varied forms of illness we suffer from and yet which, initially, we had no experience of, you’ll weep all the more at seeing woe where there was once weal and at comparing what is bad with what is so much better.

It appears that this is what the Lord is teaching when He praises mourning, that is that the soul looks to the real good and doesn’t wallow in the essential falseness of this life. Because, if you look carefully at things the way they really are, how can you live without tears? In the same way, if you don’t – and are absorbed in the pleasures of life- how can you understand that you’re actually floundering in a pernicious morass and are in no better state than dumb animals? The way their bodies have been formed is miserable. What could be worse than being deprived of reason?

They’ve got no idea of their distressed condition, yet their lives go on, with some sort of pleasure. A horse, for example, will whinny when it’s pleased, and a bull will paw the ground and send up dust; a pig raises the hairs on its back and dogs play; calves gambol. You can see in each of the animals how they express their pleasure by certain signs. If these animals had any understanding of the value of reason, they wouldn’t spend their dumb, miserable lives in sensual pleasure. The same is true of those people who have no cognizance of the good things of which our nature’s been deprived. For them, enjoyment of the present life means sensual pleasure.

True Beauty

What words can describe the magnitude of the damage done by the failure of the effort to know God? What more can your intellect conceive of? How can you manifest and describe the ineffable in words, and that which is beyond conception by the intellect? But if the eye of your intellect is so well cleansed that you can somehow see what Christ promises in the Beatitudes, you’ll scorn all human discourse, because it’s unable to express what you think. But if you’re still bound to the bodily passions and have the eyes of your soul closed, as though from illness, because of your impassioned condition, then the whole power of rhetoric is of no avail, for that very reason. It’s the same for those who are insensitive, whether you play down or overstress the wonders of words.

In the same way, describing a shaft of sunlight in words is neither use nor ornament to somebody who’s been blind from birth, because you cannot convey the brightness of a ray through the hearing. In a somewhat similar manner, you have to have special eyes adjusted to the spiritual and true light in order to see this beauty. If, by divine dispensation and in an inexplicable manner, you’ve seen this, you preserve the wonder deep in your consciousness. But those who haven’t seen it can’t even begin to comprehend the damage to those who’ve been deprived of it.

How can you describe to them the good they’re missing out on? How can you show anybody something which is beyond expression? We don’t know any special words that would do justice to that beauty. There’s nothing in creation that we can use as a reference. And comparisons wouldn’t do it justice either. How can you compare a small spark with the sun? Or a drop of water with the boundless oceans? Because the ratio between a drop and the enormous masses of waters in the deeps, or a little spark and the great rays of the sun, is retained with regard to everything we view as good when seen in relation to the beauty that is to be perceived around the first good, and beyond and above any other good.

So how can we present the magnitude of this catastrophe to those who have suffered it? I think David expresses this inability very well. On one occasion he was caught up in his mind with the power of the Holy Spirit and, as if transcending his self, in this state of blessed ecstasy, he saw this indescribable and unimaginable beauty. He saw what is possible for a person to see if they’re relieved of their corporeal impedimenta and are able to enter, through the intellect, into contemplation of conceptual and bodiless things. And since he wanted to say something commensurate to what he’d seen, he let out this great cry, which everyone repeats: “All people are liars” (Ps. 115, 2).

Now this, as I understand it, means that anyone who tries to interpret the indescribable light by using words, is really a liar. Not because they hate the truth, but because they’re unable to describe it. Because with visible beauty, such as we have in our lives on earth, whether in inanimate objects or animate beings with dazzling colours, we have the potential to admire them and accept them and to tell others about them, painting their description in words, like an image of their beauty. But how can words reveal something, the original of which is beyond understanding, when there’s no means of description? We can’t talk about colour, or shape, size or even harmony of form or any other such irrelevance in general. How can you perceive something through the things that can be understood by the senses alone, when it’s so far away, and is shapeless, unformed and foreign to the very idea of size and to all the things that are manifest in and around materials and the senses.

But just because it appears to be beyond our powers of comprehension is no reason to despair that our desire will be forever unrequited. On the contrary, however much greater and more sublime the thing we desire is shown to be, the more it’s necessary to elevate our intellect and to bring it up to the mark of our desideratum, so that we’re not excluded from communion with God. Because there’s a great danger that we’ll stop thinking about Him completely, precisely because He’s so sublime and so far beyond description, since we can’t base our knowledge of Him on any of the things we know.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Μυστική Θεολογία, selected texts, pubd. by Epektasi, pp. 103-9.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The struggle between good and bad- Angels and Demons

God sent us angels to be our traveling companions and our guides in this life, to guard us and protect us from all evil. They are also our most faithful allies in our struggle against the forces of evil.God is absolute Love, and this love impelled Him to create intelligent beings who would be able to comprehend love, to love God and participate in His bliss. The first such beings to be created were the angels. God endowed them with great abilities and settled them in His heavenly abode. However, though the angels possessed a great deal of perfection, they were not absolutely perfect, and so were open to the influence of passions.

Thus it came about that some of the angels, seduced by the thought of their limited perfections, entered a state of pride, which became the cause of their fall. Lucifer was the first to rebel in pride against his Creator, and he was followed by many other angels who left God. But to leave God means to leave life and embrace death. The rebellious spirits left God of their own accord, and the just Lord also left them, leaving them to their own will. And what consequently happened? The faithful angels separated themselves from the rebels and rejected them with horror, while the rebellious ones turned from bright angels into angels of darkness. Those who had just recently shone with divine glory, now became an object of revulsion and horror throughout the entire heaven and even to themselves. Those who had just recently sung the glory of God, now began to curse and blaspheme. Driven out from heaven by the bright angels and tormented by their own rage, they fell with the speed of lightning into the abyss of hell.

The angels who had remained faithful to God now became absolutely perfect. The Lord rules the universe together with them and uses them as His faithful messengers. The angels are like a model of the perfection and the majesty of God. Their minds and knowledge have no other limits except those imposed by God upon His own creation. The angels are also endowed with superior strength and might, by means of which they are able, in accordance with God’s will, to act upon bodies and the physical world.

But as much as the bright angels are perfect and blissful, so the fallen angels, together with their leader Satan, are horrible and evil. They are eternally tormented by an intense hatred of God, a desire for revenge and utter despair. This is what the struggle of good and evil is all about: it is the struggle of Satan against God and all His creation.

The action of evil forces in the world is quite evident, especially in our times. But from whence springs this great rage with which they are trying to destroy us? Being unable to attack God Himself, they attack Him through His creation, especially through man, who has been created in His likeness and image. What hellish pleasure they find in defiling this image and taking away from the Creator His favorite creation! Being unable to do good, the evil spirits feel a great satisfaction in making man participate in their crimes and share their punishment. And can Satan remain indifferent to us, knowing that we live in the hope of attaining the eternal bliss which he himself has lost? He becomes greatly enraged at the thought that the faithful followers of Jesus Christ, together with the bright angels, will judge him at the end of time. This envy burns him more powerfully than the flames of hell. For this he tries to move heaven and earth, just to lure us into his net. He turns all his anger against us and becomes most dangerous when he attacks not openly, but with the various enticements and wiles of his devious mind.

But it is at this point that the angels come to help us! In order to encourage and support His creation, His faithful sons, in their fierce and unequal battle with the forces of evil, the Lord sends us His angels, His heavenly troops. To each of us He assigns one of them, who becomes our guardian angel, our protector. And it is not only each Christian who has his own guardian angel, but each family, each pious society, each nation. The angels are the friends and brothers of the people on earth. They are so imbued with the love of God, that they immensely love us, too, because in us they see the same gifts of God’s grace which they themselves possess. Truly, in the words of King David, man is a being who is only slightly lower than the angels.

The angels love us and participate wholeheartedly in our salvation, which is just as precious to them as their own holiness. They feel great joy at our salvation and do their utmost to keep us on the right path.

Guardian angel

Let us love and value these wonderful friends and helpers of ours, especially our guardian angel; let us constantly turn to them in prayer, as to our nearest and dearest, so that together with them we would be able to enjoy eternal life in heavenly bliss!!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

"The Choice between Light and Darkness" ( St.Paisios )

"The Choice between Light and Darkness"
In the book 'The Gurus the Young Man and Elder Paisios', by Dionysios Farasiotis p.238-242, St Herman Press 2008, we read the most amazing description of that moment when a searching soul is presented with the terrifying choice, eternal life or eternal death.

One afternoon at the beginning of Holy Week, having made a stop in Thessaloniki, I was by myself in our home there, when, suddenly, my surroundings vanished. There were no images to be seen, sounds to be heard, or objects to be touched. My five senses had ceased functioning. It was as though the light switch had been flicked and the room plunged into total darkness.
My mind turned its full attention to a spiritual realm that it found utterly riveting and captivating. In one direction, I saw a soft but intense light- brilliant yet gentle. In the other direction, I saw a thick, cavernous darkness. Initially, I turned my attention towards the awesome, yet fearful, darkness. It made my flesh crawl, but I was overcome by curiosity, the desire to understand what it was. My mind advanced towards the darkness, and I began to sense the magnitude of its negation. The deeper I went, the greater this negation became, and the thicker the darkness.
It had a vast power and, if I dare put it this way, a certain grandeur. It represented a negative perspective on reality, unhesitatingly extending into reality as depth, even as the light stretched infinitely into reality as height. On one side, there was immense love; on the other immense hatred. The light was overflowing with unconditional altruism, while the darkness pulled away in utter self-centeredness.

Though I could not see into the darkness, I could feel the presence of souls in it, leaping about and shrieking with insane, wicked laughter as they were pulled deeper and deeper into the ocean of darkness , until the sound of their voices disappeared altogether. Frightened by this savage madness, I headed towards the light, seeking its protection. Just reaching its outskirts, I felt the relief of having being rescued from a grave danger.

Although I didn't advance very far at all into the darkness, I was able to fill the depths of its evil ocean. I could understand the very essence of the enticing power of sin to tempt, as well as its laughable powerlessness, utter dependence, and shadowy non-existence. The darkness, I saw, is fearsome when it has won you over, but it is absurd and feeble when you reject it- it can not defeat even a small child if he does not fall on his own. In the same way, I did not advance far into the light- only so to speak, skating its edge -but even there I felt confident and comforted by a fullness of life, peace, joy, and knowledge. The light loved me greatly in spite of my unworthiness and granted me its gifts, gifts I never dreamed existed.

At this point, I realized that the light created the world and
every living being. The existential space in which each person dwells is itself a creation fashioned by the light, which also fills and permeates these spaces. One being decided to stay outside of the existential space created by the light, thus creating a sort of space for itself, though only by denying the light, turning from it and driving it away. The darkness has no existence of its own, but only in that it denies the ever-existing and sovereign light....

Just as the light's love wishes to unite all things, being the source of existence and creation, so the hatred of the darkness wants to divide all things, being the source of non-existence and destruction.

Within a matter of minutes, I had received a lesson of immeasurable depth. It was not only a revelation beyond words, of subtle differences of profound meaning and great importance, but also -and even more- a test and trial of the deepest inclinations and intentions of my heart, to see whom I would follow and whom I would leave behind. Fortunately, although my heart initially moved towards the darkness, it ultimately found repose in the light, and fortunately, the light still accepted me."

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Flock of the Theotokos

The Most-Holy Theotokos "Gerontissa" ("The Abbess"), depicted with Holy Angels and several Monastic Saints

M.M. Elder, let us move onto a different topic. Speak to us on the relationship that you and every Athonite has with the Panagia.

Elder Markellos: It is Her Garden, and we are her children. Once, an Athonite monk was sick. In order to be healed, he took refuge in the Panagia of Tinos. There, of course from reverence, he slept at night within the church. In reality, therefore, Panagia visited him, but in a...unique manner. She gave him a motherly slap, saying at the same time: "What do you want here?"

He replied: "My Panagia, I came to find my health."

"Well, why didn't you call me and entreat me in my Garden? I'm there every day along with you. Was there a need to come here?" Then the poor monk lost it, and awoke thinking: "Wow, what a fool I am, what am I doing here?"

This motherly position Panagia has before all of us, and when we are pleasing before Her--according to Her promise--she gives us everything. The blessed Elder Ephraim of Katounakia said: "Are you being tempted? Grab hold of the Panagia by her dress and call upon Her! She is a mother, she will hear you." He said this with joy, and also with faith that it would thus occur. When he sought for something from the Panagia, She gave it to him.

There is a story regarding an astonishing vision having to do with the Athonite Fathers and the Most-Holy Theotokos, which depicts her many times as an Abbess, as the Gerontissa of the Holy Mountain, with Her rod and mandya. She visits, she keeps vigil, she cares for Her children.

An Elder saw this astonishing vision: "The Second Coming, the Last Judgment had come. The Panagia as an Abbess passed by the cemetaries of the Holy Monasteries, by the Sketes, by the Hermitages, where there were the graves of the Fathers. As she passed by the place of the Fathers' rest, she would hit Her staff on the graves, and the Fathers would rise!"

An astonishing vision... All the resurrected Fathers followed the Panagia, who went before them, and arranged them into a large flock, the flock of the Most-Holy Theotokos. The Athonite Fathers were and are Her children, and she led them and leads them to the Kingdom of the Heavens.

An incredible vision. But once in a while, from certain graves, the Panagia did not take the Fathers. She left them there. They were those monks who did not take care in their life, who did not keep their monastic promises and their monastic duties. These cried out, mourned, wailed, entreated: "Take me too, Panagia! Take me together with You!" However, she did not take them, and they remained complaining and estranged from the great brotherhood, the Synodeia of the Most-Holy Theotokos.

Every Athonite monk senses the Panagia as his Mother. Whatever he asks of Her with faith and purity, the Panagia brings about, but he must try to always be pleasing before Her in his life. In other words, he must try to not make his life something that would sadden his Mother.

From Elder Markellos of Blessed Memory, Former Abbot of Karakallou Monastery, Mount Athos. From the Book: Logos Athonos, by Manolis Melinos.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

I am at this moment in some pain, and I call on the Name of Jesus ( Fr. Seraphim Rose )

“Why do men learn through pain and suffering, and not through pleasure and happiness? 
Very simply, because pleasure and happiness accustom one to satisfaction with the things given in this world, whereas pain and suffering drive one to seek a more profound happiness beyond the limitations of this world. 
I am at this moment in some pain, and I call on the Name of Jesus,not necessarily to relieve the pain, but that Jesus, in Whom alone we may transcend this world, may be with me during it, and His will be done in me. But in pleasure I do not call on Him; I am content then with what I have, and I think I need no more. And why is a philosophy of pleasure untenable?,because pleasure is impermanent and unreliable, and pain is inevitable. 
In pain and suffering Christ speaks to us, and thus God is kind to give them to us, yes, and evil too—for in all of these we glimpse something of what must lie beyond, if there really exists what our hearts most deeply desire.”

Fr. Seraphim Rose