Monday, November 12, 2018

An Explanation On The Holy Memorial Services

The subject of this paper is, “The Holy Memorial Services”, that is, the intercessions of the Church on behalf of our departed brothers and sisters. We shall attempt a review of the tradition regarding memorial services and the practice of the Church from the beginning until the liturgical practice became established. This reference to history, both in the present instance and in any other issue concerning worship, is made not simply for reasons of historical curiosity, but because there is a really important reason for it: it is in this way that we validate the legitimacy of our liturgical practice, in this case intercessions for the departed, which the Church conducts for the repose of their souls and the consolation of the living.

This is the way in which a traditional Church, as the Orthodox is, thinks, theologizes and acts. Tradition justifies and verifies our practice today. We don’t innovate, but rather we follow the practice we’ve inherited from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church. We rest upon this with humility and confidence and in its name we continue our spiritual life of worship within the bosom of the Church, invoking the mercy of God and believing that His loving-kindness will overcome the multitude of our sins. We say as much at the kneeling prayers at Vespers on the Sunday of Pentecost, which, fundamentally, are prayers for the dead; “Measure our transgressions against your forgiveness; set the depth of your mercy against the multitude of our wrongdoings” (1st. kneeling prayer).

To the questions from believers and non-believers regarding the efficacy of and benefit that our intercessions on behalf of the departed might have, since “there is no repentance in Hell”, we reply by invoking the centuries-old practice of the Church. The apparently simplistic attitude that: “This is the way we’ve received it”, demonstrates our complete confidence and unwavering and vibrant hope in the mercy of God, as well as our certainty that the action of the Church, which expresses its faith and the truth of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus to the world, is, for all of us, the guarantee that our prayers are in accordance with the will of God and that they are beneficial for the souls of the departed. As to the manner in which this occurs, we leave it to the unsearchable depths of God’s sagacious love. That, roughly, would be our answer on the matter of memorial services, from a liturgical point of view.

Historically, the Christian Church, from the very beginning, instituted special prayers for the repose of the souls of our departed ancestors and relatives. This was a consequence of its faith and teaching that dead believers live in Christ beyond the grave and that the communion of faith and love among the living and the departed does not cease to exist, but rather that it is expressed through reciprocal prayer. The living pray for the departed, and the departed, especially the saints who have boldness of speech towards Christ, pray for the living. In this way, prayers and memorial services were established in memory of the departed. Thus, the Church continues a tradition and practice to be found among all peoples, in this case the funeral customs which existed at the time of Christ’s coming and of the establishment and expansion of the Church, and which, Christianized and purified of shibboleths and superstitions, took on new content and meaning.

There is evidence in the Old Testament concerning the Jewish practice before Christ. In Tobit (4, 17), there is the exhortation: “pour out your bread on the graves of the righteous”, which implies the holding of funeral meals at the graves or the offering of alms to the poor, clearly in remembrance of the departed. In II Maccabees (12, 43-5), there is mention of sacrifices conducted “for sins”, on behalf of “those asleep in piety”. Judas Maccabeus sent what was required to the temple in Jerusalem for a sacrifice on behalf of those who had fallen in the war. The relationship to the analogous, though, of course later, Christian practice is clear.

But pagans also performed sacrifices and offerings on behalf of the dead. Funeral feasts, at which the dead person was believed to be eating with those present, were known from the time of Homer. These memorial meals were held on specified days following that of death: the third, ninth, thirtieth and on the annual birthday- not date of death- of the dead person. The similarity here to the Christian practice is even more obvious.

As was to be expected, Christians continued the above, in two ways: alms on behalf of the departed as an expression of love towards them and towards those in need; and prayers. As early as the end of the 4th century, the “Apostolic Constitutions” suggest that alms should be given to the poor “from the estate” of the departed “in remembrance of them”. (VIII, 42). The same is proposed by Chrysostom, Ieronymous, Tertullian, pseudo-Athanasios and other Early Fathers and Church writers. At the same time, however, funeral feasts were held at the graves of the departed and these have survived to this day in a variety of local guises.

The funeral feasts were not unrelated to the practice of alms-giving, since it was not only family and friends who were invited, but also the clergy, the poor and strangers (Ap. Const. VIII, 44; Augustine Confessions, VI2; Valsamon and so forth). It is worth noting that the spiritual meaning attributed by the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, 44) to these common meals is that they are an act of prayer and intercession on the part of the living on behalf of the departed (“and at these memorials eat in all propriety and fear of God, as being able to pray for the departed”).

But already, in the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, 41), there were special prayers and petitions by a deacon “for our brethren who have reposed in Christ” and which basically have the same content, and sometimes phraseology familiar to us from the prayers now in use (“forgive him/her every sin, witting and unwitting… place in the land of the righteous, … remaining in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… from which all pain, sorrow and sighing have fled”. There is also evidence that memorials were established, by the apostles, to be held on the third, ninth and fortieth days as well as on the annual anniversary of the date of death.

A Biblical or elementary theological interpretation is given for each: “Let prayers and readings be said for the departed on the third day, for Him Who rose on the third day; on the ninth, in remembrance of those present and the departed; on the fortieth, because, in the old manner, the people mourned Moses thus; and annually, in remembrance of them” (VIII, 42). Many similar theological interpretations deriving from the Old Testament or from the theological significance of the numbers or, particularly, from the post-Resurrection appearances of the Lord, are used in order to justify the choice of days for holding memorial services: the Holy Trinity, the three days of the Lord in the grave (the third day); angelic ranks, or the sacred number 3X3, or the appearance of the Lord on the eighth day after His resurrection (ninth), the Ascension of the Lord (fortieth) and so on. Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki mentions other interpretations, which were in circulation in his time, which linked the days for memorial services to the corresponding phases in the conception and development of the embryo on the one hand, and of the natural decomposition of the body after burial on the other. These were based on the medical knowledge of the day and Symeon does not adopt them, correctly preferring “to understand everything spiritually and in accordance with God and not to interpret things of the Church through the senses” (Dialogue, chap. 371). One thing is clear: that the Church retained certain pre-Christian customs which did not contradict its teachings, gave them Christian significance and altered some of them for theological reasons. This is how it acted when it transposed the memorial from the thirtieth to the fortieth day, obviously under Jewish influence and by correlation with the Lord’s ascension. So also, it celebrates the annual anniversary not on the irrelevant day of the natural birth of a person, but on that of their birth and perfection in Christ and their entry into the true life, that is, the day of the “falling-asleep” of the believer and his or her new birthday. It does not engage in pointless polemics or shadow-boxing, but re-makes the world, in Christ. A very wise tactic.

From the extant Rules of various monasteries we learn the funeral customs that were observed in the monasteries and, in all likelihood, in the churches “in the world”. For the first forty days, a special supplication was made at Vespers and Matins on behalf of the departed and the bloodless sacrifice was performed on his or her behalf. From the time of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century), who emphasizes that “great benefit” is afforded to the souls “on behalf of whom the supplication is offered of the holy and most dread sacrifice (Mystagogical Catechesis V, 9), until that of Symeon of Thessaloniki (15th century), the Fathers mention the especially great importance of the celebration of the Divine Eucharist on behalf of the departed, the commemoration of them during it and the benefit they derive from it. Saint Symeon links it to traditional liturgical theology, especially the benefit of the commemoration of the departed at the extraction of the portions of bread at the preparation table, because in this way, through their portion on the paten, they partake mystically and invisibly in the grace; they commune, are comforted, saved and rejoice in Christ (Dialogue chap. 373). If someone died during the period of Lent, or if the time of the forty liturgies coincided in part with it, an easy readjustment was made. The third day was held on the first Saturday, the ninth on the second and the forty liturgies began on the Monday after Thomas Sunday. The main point is that the memorial service for the departed is indissolubly linked to the celebration of the Divine Eucharist, as was the case with baptisms, weddings, anointing and so forth, in earlier times.

Apart from the individual memorial services which took place on the third, ninth and fortieth days after death and on the annual anniversary, the Church has also introduced prayers at all services for the repose of the souls and blessed memory of our departed ancestors and relatives. These are general intercessions and prayers which can be particularized by the commemoration of specific names. Thus, we have the great litany at Vespers, Matins and in the Liturgy (“Have mercy upon us, Lord… Again we pray for the blessed memory and eternal repose of the souls…”); the service of preparation for the liturgy; diptychs in the liturgy after the consecration; “Let us pray…” at the Midnight Office and Compline; the tropario for the dead at the Third and Sixth Hours, and particularly the second part of the Midnight Office, which is called, in the sources, a “thrice-holy on behalf of the dead” and contains two psalms (120 and 133), a thrice-holy and so forth, three funereal troparia (“Remember Lord, as you are good”… and so forth), a hymn to the Mother of God as well as the funereal prayer (“Remember Lord, those who in hope of the Resurrection…”).

Every Saturday in the year is dedicated to the departed and to prayers on their behalf. On these days, hymns are sung for the departed and there is a canon in the tone of the week, as well as memorial services. Exceptionally, two Saturdays a year, the Saturday before Meat-Fare Sunday and that before Pentecost, are days of common, universal commemoration, since on these days “we celebrate the memory of all Orthodox Christians throughout the ages who have fallen asleep in the Lord”. The choice of Saturday as the funereal date is due, on the one hand, to the fact that in Genesis it is called the day “of rest” from His work for God, the Creator of the world (2, 2), and also because the Lord spent the Saturday of Passion Week in the tomb. There were similar feasts for the dead in pre-Christian times which were replaced by common memorial services and the two Saturdays of the Souls. On the Saturday before Meat-Fare Sunday, between odes six and seven of the Matins canon, there is a wonderful reading by Nikiforos Kallistos Xanthopoulos, in which he analyzes the teaching of the Church regarding life after death and where matters concerning memorial services are set out in detail, and their benefit to the souls of the departed explained.

Ioannis Foundoulis, Τελετουργικά Θέματα, vol. III, pubd. by Apostoliki Diakonia, Athens 2007, pp. 29-36.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

How to Give Alms to the Homeless..

We meet homeless people nearly every day on our life's path; people who are often contemptuously called ”bums.” We see them at the train station, near the subway, in town squares and parks, and of course, at the churches, asking for money. Each time we see them, our hearts deliberate painfully over the question, ”Should we give them alms, or not?” Then, other questions immediately arise, ”How much? How should we give them? Is there any sense in giving at all?”
People are generally divided into two groups. The first are those who give according to their means to all, without thinking about it or asking any questions, following the Lord's words, Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away (Mt. 5:42). The second group is of those who do not give money to ”bums,” considering that we mustn't indulge the ”bum mafia,” for we participate in their sin of drunkenness and sponging, lying, etc. by giving money to them. These people are ready to fulfill Christ's commandment and are willing to help people, but only those who really need help. They cite the words of the holy fathers in support of this—that the greatest virtue is discernment, for fasting, prayer, alms, or any other virtue will bring a person no benefit if done beyond our strength or out of season. Truly, no one would give anyone money for a rope to hang himself, no matter how tearfully or insistently he begs it. That rope could be a bottle of liquor, which strangles the neck of the beggar each day with increasing strength, or the rope of lies that you would indulge by giving money. There are hundreds and thousands of such ropes.
So what must we do to fulfill the commandment of Christ and please the Lord in the best way? The answer is simple: love. Try also not to do anything without love. Then everything will settle into place, and even the question itself will seem silly. As we know, Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). Of course, it is hard to just up and love every homeless person, but it is usually quite possible to show compassion for every person that the Lord has brought to us. I would like to share a little practical experience in helping the homeless under various circumstances.
For example, you are walking to work, and a tipsy beggar asks you for money. What should you do? Don't be lazy—ask him why he needs money. They are often asking for food. This is the simplest case. Then you need to go with him to the nearest grocery store and buy him something he hasn't had for many long years. Give him a holiday, as if this were your old classmate. Something tasty and filling, like good sausage, chicken, cheese, yogurt—in other words, something that they could never get for themselves because it is too expensive to eat in sufficient quantities. Even if the homeless person was lying to you at first about food, he will nevertheless be thankful. Try to transfer this thankfulness to the Lord, let him thank the Lord, and not you personally. For example, tell him that it was Christ Who sent you to him today. Then it will be both bodily and spiritual alms. Try to see a deeply suffering person in him; and if you cannot see in even the last ”bum” the image of God, perhaps very soiled, clouded over, but nevertheless the great image of God, then perhaps you need to discuss this with your spiritual father and pray about it.
Ask the homeless person what his name is, where he hangs out and how often, when is his birthday, is he baptized. Be sincere and kind with him. Homeless people are very sensitive to insincerity. Do not hasten to judge him. We do not know what we ourselves would be if the Lord had deprived us of His protection and hadn't guarded us from the demon of drunkenness and other vices. Wouldn't we be much worse than that person? In a word: love him. Love him to the extent of your heart's capacity; love him sincerely, for Christ's sake. And if even a little love is born in your heart for this person, then the next time, when you are leaving your house, you will probably be prepared for another meeting with him: take some food from home, some warm clothing, a book, or something he might like. You will leave fifteen minutes early for work and find him; wait for him, call him by his name, show some concern for him, and increase love in this world, the lack of which is felt ever more sharply. Thus, from day to day you can live for the sake of Christ, taking care of one poor person. Do not just buy yourself off with money, do not limit yourself to one-time help. It is good, but it is not a perfect fruit. You can't just love for a half an hour and then forget about it.
The only warning is: do not give money for any reason, and do not cave in to their persuasion! Those on the streets in such difficult straights, spiritually sick, are in the absolute majority of cases not capable of using money properly. Buy him the thing he needs, get into his shoes, and understand his problems.
It is important to care for a person's body, but it is even more important to care for his soul. Do this without being intrusive: let your heart tell you when to talk to him about confession, prayer, or about God's infinite mercy; about how true life and healing are possible only through the Lord's healing of his soul, which cannot happen unless he wants it. Sometimes a person hungers for this and wants to hear it right away, but sometimes this happens only years later. St. John of Kronstadt writes about this: ”Know that material alms should always be followed by spiritual alms: with affectionate, brotherly, and pure-hearted love for your neighbor. Do not allow him to notice that he is become beholden to you, do not appear proud. See that your material alms do not lose their value through your failure to provide the spiritual.”
Of course, not all possible instances are limited to food, and there are many others.But it is all united by one thing: It is impossible to fulfill Christ's commandment to Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful (Lk. 6:36) without love. With regard to the homeless, this becomes especially obvious. But this relates to other instances: if you help a sick person, you must not just buy medicine; you can't just send a prisoner a package; you can't just send toys to a children's home, etc. This is all very good, but without sincere love this all often loses value, gives cause for sin and vice amongst those who receive it and those who dispense it. Medicines can make other sick people jealous, prisoners can lose your food packages in a card game; and children in children's homes can become little extortionists. We return again and again to the same question: what should we do? And the answer is always the same: love, love for the sake of Christ. Pray for the sick one, visit him, console him, buy him medicine, talk with other patients, give them little joys and holidays, talk about God's greatness and mercy; correspond with the prisoner, send him packages, console him and preach, give him hope and make him think about the life he has lived; visit children, bring them toys, draw with them, sing, treat them to cakes, teach them to pray, hope and trust the Lord God, etc. And live this way from day to day for the sake of Christ. Of course, many do not have enough time for all of this. In that case, at least help those who sincerely do these things, and pray for them with your whole heart, which was undoubtedly created for love.
But never take on labors beyond your strength: never take a homeless person to your own house for the night, do not go alone to places where they congregate, do not borrow money from someone else to give to the homeless. You have to be frank about the fact that the majority of people in this social stratum are spiritually very sick, often psychologically as well, and always physically. Such attempts often end tragically. They are often just the consequence of pride and neophyte zeal.
In the mind of some people lives a myth that if you give a person an apartment and work, he will get better. Practical experience shows that this is not the case. Without peace with God, without a divine miracle of healing of the soul, this is not possible. But we can be God's co-laborers, increasing love and helping a person to turn and face God.
Furthermore, it has to be said that mercy need to be shown toward all—the rich and the poor, the good and the bad; only we must not indulge mortal sins of lying, drunkenness, promiscuity, and others, and we must approach everyone with love and discernment. ”He who gives alms, in imitation of God, does not discriminate in bodily needs between the mean and kind, the righteous and the unrighteous”.
Thus, in very complicated situations I have had to say sincerely to a persistently lying homeless person that I absolutely do not believe him, but I will help him for Christ's sake, for the sake of the love that Christ has given for him. It is important that without love, even such a great virtue as discernment can turn into judgment, justification of one's own greed, and laziness. We have to pray that God would give us the gift of discernment. This gift is given for a life in Christ that is kind and full of mercy.
When going to do works of mercy, we must not forget to pray to God that He would give us the strength and knowledge to fulfill His commandment as is pleasing to Him. In general, prayer is an inalienable part of works of mercy. Without prayer, it is almost impossible to do anything pleasing to God. We can calculate, make agreements, be sure of success; but if there was no prayer, then our works are like a house built upon sand. A homeless person who has not eaten meat for a long time can feel sick after eating it now; a new jacket can become the cause of his getting beaten; renewed identification documents can be stolen by his ”friends” and used for criminal purposes which could have unforeseen consequences; medical help could cause complications; and the list goes on.
If we have talked with someone it would be good to pray briefly about that person, even if we do not know his name, but especially if we do know it. Some pastors bless to read the prayer, ”O Heavenly King,” especially if the conversation turns to spiritual matters. When you approach someone, it would be good to smile sincerely. After all, it is wonderful to be a participant, fulfiller, and conduit of God's mercy.
You must never combine your gifts with reproaches against his way of life, with moralizing and unsolicited advice. You have to help him simply, without trying to teach him. It is hard enough for him, even if it is his own fault; added reproach and moralizing would only be one more aggravating circumstance for him. Our job is not to aggravate, but to try to ease his burden if only for a second. You can only give advice after getting to know and love the person, if he trusts you, and only with prayer and inner humility.
When talking with ”bums,” we have to watch that presumption does not show up in our speech. And if while giving alms we allow ourselves to be high-minded toward the person or vainglorious, this will wipe out our virtue, make our behavior vile in the Lord's eyes; and He will without fail punish us for this if we do not repent of it.
This may all seem hard to fulfill, but it is worth the effort. These labors of mercy are real, active proof of our faith and love for Christ. Most important of all: the Lord helps us when we do acts of mercy. He gives us special grace, often even despite our vanity and laziness. If a person sincerely tries to please and love the Lord, the Lord covers and corrects him; even more than that—He turns our mistakes into something glorious. Grace begins to transform our souls, and the grain of the Kingdom of Heaven begins to grow. A person begins to feel this special joy of a new spiritual reality more and more each day: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field (Mt. 13:44). Abiding in this grace so transforms the soul that work which seemed impossible becomes simple and even desired.
By helping people, do not hope to change the world and all the homeless, do not expect them to thank you—do it all for the sake of Christ's love. Do not despair or be afraid if after all your efforts someone turns your alms toward evil. ”Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what.… And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.”
It goes without saying that in our time there are saintly people living, but for ordinary sinful city dwellers, worn out by the rat race of consumerism, deprived of prayer of the heart, not capable of perfect fasting, not having time for apostolic service, sunk in credit card bills and everyday affairs, ”Alms given for the sake of Christ, for the sake of love for Him, cleanses us of sins more than sacrifices, opens the heavens more than virginity, and can make one equal to the apostles.”
A few words must be said also for those who never give alms at all to ”bums,” considering that these people are themselves at fault for all their problems. I will say this: Perhaps you are right, but isn't the Lord able to help and resurrect even the dead? Does the Creator of the universe, heaven and earth and all that exists need our pennies and millions? Is it really important to Him which pocket carries our ten-dollar bill? Or can't He feed the hungry, clothe the freezing, give shelter to the homeless? The good Lord can do all these things, but He has entrusted them to us. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Mt. 25:4–40). And in order to serve Christ we don't have to have lived two thousand years ago; we can simply give a bowl of soup to a homeless person and say to God: ”You are hungry, Lord. Here, eat.”
* * *
This article was written from experience in the Russian reality, but it is no less true anywhere. It is regrettable, however, that the abundance of Russian commentary to the article remains untranslated, for it shows how much thought was given to the problem. Here is but one short thread:
From Natasha and son:
For those who are not bums: if you have to spend the night (any time of the year) in the city, but not in a home, without comforts [running water, etc.], without a bed, in your clothes, on a cold stone or cement floor, in a desolate or dirty place, it is utterly impossible to get some sleep without alcohol or sleeping pills. After one such night your whole organism hurts, especially your head, your eyesight deteriorates to half, your thought and speech processes slow down, and you have a horrible feeling of untamable hunger, boredom and hopelessness.
I did not drink or gamble away my home—I was simply sent out to the streets by the owner as someone who is not a member of the family. That is, I am a poor person with a child, and not a professional beggar, and I pray for my benefactors each time they give me alms…
I am a bum, I have AIDS and hepatitis C. I don't have the appearance or strength it takes to get work or an apartment—serious pains, distracted attention, sudden allergy attacks (Bannister's disease), endogenic toxicity. I don't drink or smoke, but I look like a homeless nothing (my kidneys and liver can't handle the toxicity). Precious Almsgivers are goodness! Give, give under the condition that you are giving to a person unto salvation in Christ, and not for this senseless fallen life; tell him, ”Here, I am giving you this so that you would go to Church and pray to Christ in the church for yourself and me!...” Give with a name: ”Pray for me (name)!!!” Then there is sense to giving every day (also for those for whom you can't pray in church or at home).… Remember, O Lord, my benefactors—Your righteous ones, for through their alms they have given me faith in You and hope in Your mercy!!!
From Tatiana:
A very good article, but I was most of all touched by the commentary from Natasha and son. Poor woman. How can I help you?

Teimuraz Kristinashvili

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Joyous Feast of Pumpkin ( Archbishop Kyrill )

It is that time of the year when the secular society in which we live is preparing for the festival of Halloween. Many do not know its spiritual roots and history, and why it contradicts the teachings of the Church. The feast of Halloween began in pre-Christian times among the Celtic peoples of Great Britain, Ireland and northern France. These pagan peoples believed that life was born from death. Therefore they celebrated the beginning of the "new year" in the fall (on the eye of October 31 and into the day of November 1) when, as they believed, the season of cold, darkness, decay and death began. A certain deity whom they called Samhain was believed by the Celts to be the Prince of Death and it was he whom they honored at their New Year's festival*.

From an Orthodox Christian point of view, we can see many diabolical beliefs and practices associated with this feast which have endured to this time. On the eve of the New Year's festival, the Druids, who were the priests of the Celtic cult, instructed their people to extinguish all hearth fires and lights. On the evening of the festival, a huge bonfire built from oak branches (oak was regarded by the Celts as sacred) was ignited. Upon this fire sacrifices were burned as an offering in order to appease and cajole Samhain, the Prince of Death. It was also believed that Samhain, being pleased by the offerings, allowed the souls of the dead to return to their homes for a festal visit on this day. It is from this belief that the practice of wandering about in the dark dressed up in costumes imitating ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, fairies, etc. grew up. For the living entered into fellowship and communion with the dead by what was, and still is, a ritual act of imitation, through costume and the activity of wandering around in the dark of night, even as the souls of the dead were believed to wander.

The dialogue of trick or treat is also an integral part of this system of beliefs and practices. It was believed that the souls of the dead who had entered into the world of darkness, decay and death, and therefore into total communion with and submission to Samhain, bore the affliction of great hunger on their festal visit. Out of this grew the practice of begging, which was a further ritual enactment and imitation of what the Celts believed to be the activities of the souls of the dead on their festal visit. Associated with this is the still further implication that if the souls of the dead and their imitators were not appeased with "treats", i.e., offerings, then the wrath and anger of Samhain would be unleashed through a system of "tricks", i.e. curses. Such is the true meaning of this pagan feast. It is then evident that for an Orthodox Christian participation at any level is impossible and idolatrous, resulting in a genuine betrayal of God and Church. If we participate in the ritual activity of imitating the dead and wandering in the dark asking for treats or offering them to children, we then have willfully sought fellowship with the dead, whose Lord is not Samhain, but rather Satan. It is to Satan then that these treats are offered, not to children.

There are other practices associated with Halloween from which we must stay away, such as sorcery, fortune telling, divination, games of chance, witchcraft and the carving of an ugly face upon a pumpkin and then placing a lit candle within the infamous Jack O' Lantern. The pumpkin (in older days other vegetables were used) was carved by the Celts in imitation of the dead and used to convey the new light (from the sacred oak fire) to the home where the lantern was left burning through the night. This "holy lantern" is no other than an imitation of the truly holy votive light (lampada) offered before an icon of Christ and the saints. Even the use and display of the Jack O'Lantern involves participation in this "death" festival honoring Satan.

The Holy Fathers of the first millennium (a time when the Church was one and strictly Orthodox) counteracted this Celtic pagan feast by introducing the Feast of All Saints. It is from this that the term Halloween developed. The word Halloween has its roots in the Old English of All Hallow E'en, i.e., the Eve commemorating all those who were hallowed (sanctified), i.e. Halloween Unfortunately, either due to lack of knowledge or understanding, the Celtic pagan feast being celebrated on the same day as the Christian feast of All Saints (in western Christiandom) came to be known as Halloween.

The people who remained pagan and therefore anti-Christian reacted to the Church's attempt to supplant their festival by celebrating this evening with increased fervor. Many of these practices involved desecration and mockery of the Church's reverence for Holy Relics. Holy things, such as crosses and the Reserved Sacrament, were stolen and used in perverse and sacrilegious ways. The practice of begging became a system of persecution designed to harass Christians who were, by their beliefs, unable to participate by making offerings to those who served the Lord of Death.

One can see in contemporary Western society that the Western Church's attempt to supplant this pagan festival with a Christian feast failed. How then did something that is so obviously contradictory to the Holy Orthodox faith gain such acceptance among Christian people?

The answer is spiritual apathy and listlessness which are the spiritual roots of atheism and turning away from God. Today's society urges one that Halloween and other such festivities, notwithstanding their apparent pagan and idolatrous origin, are nonetheless harmless and of no consequence. Upon closer consideration these pagan festivals are the source for destroying any kind of spiritual foundation and lead to disbelief and outright atheism.

Halloween undermines the very basis of the Church which was founded on the blood of martyrs who had refused, by giving up their lives, to partake in any form of idolatry

Holy Mother Church must take a firm stand in counteracting any such (pagan) events. Christ taught us that God is the judge in all our actions and beliefs and that we are either FOR GOD or AGAINST GOD. There is no neutral or middle of the road approach.

Today we witness a revival of satanist cults; we hear of satanic services conducted on Halloween night. Children are kidnapped by satanists for their ritualistic sacrifices. Orthodox clergy are ritualistically killed as has happened more than once in California. Everywhere Satan reaches out to ensnare as many innocent people as possible. The newsstands are filled with material on spiritualism, supernatural phenomena, seances, prophesies and all sorts of demonically inspired works. These works all serve Satan, for they are not the fruit of the Holy Spirit, but the fruit of the spirit of this world.

by Archbishop Kyrill

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fasting therapy and energy diets : The fasting of the new age

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth”.

(I Timothy 4:1-3)

The secret recipe of “New Age” philosophy is the reversal of Christian teachings and its false imitation. Within the frames of its “ecological” mask we are being taught vegetarianism (Vegan) as a salvaging nutrition method with soteriological implications.

Man, according to the “New Age Bible”, is a small God, capable to do anything, through knowledge offered to him by the “Great Teachers”. So he is capable of doing everything the teacher Jesus did, and more! The man of the “New Age” can self-heal from any disease, bodily or mental, as long as he follows the primordial laws of…fasting. By avoiding the consumption of food, the body will dedicate every amount of energy available to self-heal even from an incurable disease as cancer. 

In the first phase of “Fasting Therapy”: “…we force our body, with positive thought and patient absence from any food, to bypass the stomach and seek the fat which is stored in each and every one of us, for such circumstances. We all posses it even the thinnest among us”. 

In the second phase: “Our wise body, will enter the “general cleaning” process, after consuming the main quantity of fat, it targets to other unnecessary things created by the chronic intoxication, or other un-harmonic manifestations such as, stains, moles freckles, lipomas, cysts, fibroids, benign or malignant tumors etc.
The detoxification of the body, through fasting, affects beneficially and successfully against: rheumatism, arthritis, asthma, uremia, stomach ailments, ulcer, chronic indigestion, conditions of the liver, intestinal disorders, heart disease, anemia, many forms of cancer, conditions of the blood, hormonic disorders, sexual incapability and sterility, stress, depression, mental illness even to its most severe form which is schizophrenia. According to them, there are also some indications that “Fasting Therapy” has beneficial results even against AIDS!”. 

Essential supplement to this “fasting therapy” is: “Daily exercise, fresh air, swimming, daily long baths, massage, protected exposure to the sun, and especially good mood, mental rest and the avoidance of negative emotions. Sexual intercourse must be replaced by tenderly caresses or mild lovemaking, without ejaculation for the men (!).

Most important however is that: “once we enter this process, we realize the power of resistance and the self-healing mechanisms of our body. The admiration is converted into trust, and that’s the first step towards getting our lives in our hands! In our own strong hands that know how to sow, to reap, to create, but also how to caress…”. 

The prospect of this Self-Theosis through a nutritious technique is a fact, for the followers of the “Fasting Therapy” movement. Positive thought, avoiding negative emotions and sex without ejaculation, refer directly to Hinduistic methods of meditation and “Tantric Sex”. The separation of foods in good and bad, not only does not exist in the Church and has been condemned, but in The Holy Bible is described as teachings of demons (I Timothy 4:1-3). 

The Christian is called to reach “Theosis” and not to evolve, through various techniques, the (imaginary) God inside him. Christian fasting is the mean by which the faithful will be released from the passions that deprive him the grasp of Paradise and not some self-healing method…Besides disease in Orthodoxy is evaluated positively towards the goal of “Theosis”. 

The “Energy Diet” promises to put an end to food intolerance, with a simple test. This test: “Is based on the measurement, through electrodes, of the bioelectric condition of the various points of acupuncture, according to the “distribution of the 12 meridians of the body” which were discovered and described by the Chinese, and some extra points discovered by Dr. Reinhold Voll . 

The purpose of this test is to assess the energetic and functional organs and tissues by measuring the points of acupuncture so that any damage and malfunction can be located through these points. The conductivity of an organ or a tissue is being measured, so that anomalies can be located in the specific parts that reflect on the function of the body. 

The energy balance of the organism can present disorders and be affected by medicine, poisons, conservatives, viruses, bacteria, foods, electromagnetic waves etc. The body operates as a transmitter and receiver of various electromagnetic messages. The whole human body is a circuit of vibrations which is capable, if submitted to electromagnetic stimulation, to respond with an echo which corresponds to one of those waves. This particular wave is the one corresponding to the frequency of the circuit”. 

We observe the total absence of scientific terminology and an effort to present the occult technique of acupuncture behind a scientific mask. “For acupuncture, the key of diagnosis lies in the examination of the various nuances of the face as well as the hearts pulse. The acupuncturist must be well aware that the internal organs are projected in specific and predefined positions of the facial midline and, and that in the middle of this line respond the lungs, under that the heart, ever lower the liver and even lower the spleen. At both sides of the facial midline, the bowels are being projected, with each having its own specific position. The acupuncturist, according to them, can by examining the nuance of each organ predict not only the development but also the final outcome of the disease. 

The examination of the pulse and the facial nuance, is related to the rules of the “five elements” (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) of the “four seasons” (autumn, winter, spring, summer), of the “eight winds” and the “six pairs” of the “twelve meridians”. 

Mans disease, according to them, originates from the imbalance of the “five energies”, and it gets deteriorated if the energy of the sky is not to his favor. These, they say, are “the most hidden secrets of mans destiny”. The most favorable moment to observe the sky’s energy status, in order to perform a correct diagnosis, is during dawn…of New Year’s Day. The five energies of the sky, good or bad, enter man “through the nose” and remain in the heart and the lungs, from where they spread their effect on the body, as the acupuncturists believe. 

It’s not easy of course to make a minimum reference on the various diagnoses, and based on which facts they were established, so that they could be the foundation of acupuncture, which can cure, according to them, almost anything!
It still worth mentioning though, on how acupuncture was spread in China starting from the “mythological era”.

Where is “Energy Diet” based on? The theory of the “Energy Diet” “…is based on the season of the birth, which gives us the biochemical composition of the organism, based on climatological conditions…So people depending on the season of their birth, have a unique chemical composition. Each of us is different”.

“Energy Diet” is the application of the occult principles of Acupuncture, Alchemy and Astrology for the creation of the “Super Human” through the selective use of certain foods. Besides according to this methods slogan: "What is food to one, is to others bitter poison" (Titus Lucretius 75 B.C.). 

The “Holy Bible” says: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them” (Hebrews 13:9). 

The teaching of the “New Age” wants us autonomous and entirely cut off from our Lords grace. It wants us to believe with all our soul (positive thought) not to Jesus Christ, but the small “God” hidden inside us, who can come forward by using various techniques. For that reason disease is evaluated negatively and it relies on our own will and the use of various techniques to self-heal. The people of the “New Age” don’t need salvation, don’t need a Savior. The “New Age” can teach them how to be salvaged on their own…

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The theory of evolution is wrong ( St. Nektarios )

They who reduce man to the ranks of the irrational animals and who liken man’s soul to that of the animals deny the soul’s grandeur, the soul’s unique qualities and spiritual powers, and man’s sublime destiny. They are blind and unable to see the supremacy of the human soul, even though it is apparent through her works and clearly confirmed throughout the centuries. They close their ears to the voice trumpeted by the soul’s powerful achievements. Man’s soul is an exquisite entity that is adorned by divine virtues, which, in turn, sanctify his earthly domain. Man was truly created to sanctify the earth.

Proponents of the theory that man evolved from apes are ignorant of man and his sublime destiny because they deny that man has a soul and refuse that he is capable of experiencing Divine revelation. They rejected the spirit, and the Spirit deserted them. They abandoned God, and God abandoned them. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). “God gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not fit” (Rom. 1:28). A certain poet says very appropriately: “When the malicious demons want to harm someone, first they strip a person’s mind of sound reasoning and then persuade him to espouse a corrupt belief, so that man can no longer comprehend that he sins.” This is true because if people were aware of what they were saying, they would not debase themselves or pride themselves on being descendants of the genus of primitive animals. The prophet very fittingly said about them: “Man, being in honor, did not understand; he is compared to the mindless animals, and is become like unto them” (Ps. 48:20).

Man is more of a spiritual being than a physical being. This is why he finds pleasure in spiritual contemplation more than in material enjoyment. Is it possible for the soul, which possesses such desires, which ascends to God, which always seeks Him, and which becomes perfected
through knowledge of God, to be a part of matter and to return to matter after death? No! Ten thousand times no! To believe such an idea is a defamation of the truth; it is an insult to the soul and to the spiritual world itself. No! The spirit is not matter; it is not an outflow of the brain but a special creation of God, that was made to mirror the image of the Creator upon the earth and to live eternally in the spiritual cosmos. Yes! Man was created to live eternally.

They who have the audacity to group and compare the survival instincts of animals with the psychological qualities of man demonstrate that they are superficial and purblind because they perceive neither the restricted features of animals, nor the general, free, independent, and infinite character of man...

It is impossible, right from the onset, to compare man to animals because there is an infinite chasm separating the two from each other...They who equate the traits of animals (when taken collectively) to the virtues and qualities of man, or the works and actions of animals to the works and accomplishments of the human intellect, and draw conclusions concerning their similarity err upon the very fundamental basis of the comparison; thus, their conclusions are incorrect...

What type of comparison and can be made between the works of animals and the technological advancements or the miracles of science attained by man? How greatly is poor man deceived as a result of superficial examination! What is there in common between the instincts and the never-changing capacities of animals and the scientific achievements of man? Man is extremely deceived, nearsighted, and blind! Why can he not discern and distinguish the difference between human beings and animals? How have educated people strayed away from true science to such an extent as to classify humans and animals together! How are they able to recognize the similarity that exists in their anatomical composition yet unable to perceive the difference that exists in their spirits? What is there in common between man and monkeys? If their similar physical appearance brings them together, their dissimilar spirit sets them apart to such an extent that the ability to compare the two vanishes. Was God perhaps obliged to create a different [anatomical] form for the embodiment of man, totally unlike any other found within the animal kingdom, prior to breathing His Divine breath into man, in order to render him an image of God? No, dear reader. God’s divine breath is so magnificent and noble that it was capable of rendering man an exceptional and preeminent being even by using an inferior template [for his body].

The harmony that exists between man’s body and his rational soul is so perfect that the careful observer will magnify in astonishment the extreme wisdom of the divine Creator, Who made all the bodily members compatible with and capable of fulfilling the demands of the soul...What purpose would man’s brilliant intellectual thoughts have if they could not be externalized through the body? What would be the purpose of man’s intellect, mind, spiritual powers, feelings, emotions, and the entire ensemble of spiritual qualities that distinguishes him from all the irrational animals, if man was just another animal?...

Man advances toward perfection daily. Man not only looks after himself, he is concerned for the well being of all of humanity in general, and he improves both himself as well as animals. Where do we see a trace of such preoccupation and improvement amongst the animals? Are not their accomplishments always the same? What comparison can be made between the shelter of monkeys that have remained unchanged for eons and the diverse range of buildings erected by man? What is there in common between man and monkeys, even if they have similar external characteristics? What if monkeys can build huts, if swallows can make nests, if bees construct hives, and other animals have dens.

What relationship is there between the chimpanzee that shatters nutshells with a stone and man who has devised an array of instruments to do the same? What is so remarkable if a monkey’s hand was designed in such a precise way (as was deemed necessary for its perpetuation), just as the elephant was given a dexterous trunk, and other animals analogous body parts according to their needs? What is so remarkable if God’s providence bestowed animals with adroitness, in order for them to preserve, sustain, and perpetuate themselves? Who can confirm that a monkey would have ever felt the need or thought of using a stone to help it consume its food if its hand was not constructed the way it is. Never will an animal benefit from the skillfulness and adroitness of another animal. A monkey can watch a beaver build a dam for centuries; however, it will never mimic the beaver’s accomplishment. Nor will a dog, or a bird, or any other animal (whether it be a simple organism or a highly-developed animal) mimic the skills of another animal....

Which intellectual accomplishment of any animal documents their ability to contemplate, judge, and reason? Which animal ever turned an idea into knowledge? When did an animal ever have an opinion on a certain matter? When did any animal think about the origin of its existence, the end of its life, or concerning life and death? None of the admirers of monkeys and the theory that man evolved from apes can substantiate that any such thing has ever taken place with any animal throughout the centuries. Therefore, to support the opinion that animals and man have similar spirits that differ only in degree [of development] is completely incorrect and illogical.

Man, this mysterious being, was created by God as the pinnacle of creation, in order for him to acquire knowledge of his Creator. In accordance to his great destiny, man was formed analogously. He received the honor of being fashioned in an entirely extraordinary and unique manner and was brought to life through God’s Divine breath. While all of creation was brought into existence from nothing by a single phrase—“let there be”—that externalized God’s volition, man alone had his body formed by the hands of the Divine Creator, only he received a living soul created through God’s inbreathing, and only he is made in the image and likeness of his Creator. What a marvelous creation indeed! What an honor for man! What a great destiny! Truly, his destiny is great, and his honor is sublime; however, more marvelous is the manner in which his body and soul were created. Because he became the image and likeness of God and was created in order to live eternally and dwell in the same place as the heavenly angels.

How noble was man made! How much did sin debase and ignorance humble him! But this is not so! Man was endowed with nobility, and he will remain noble, even if certain people degrade themselves, even if certain people have forgotten about their sublime descent...Yes! Man is a supreme creation, and nothing can be compared to him. The prudent portion of the human race, all who are truly wise, confirm this truth. Behold what M. Frederic de Rougemont states concerning man in his wise and insightful essay entitled Primitive mankind; its religion, history and civilization: “Man is of noble descent. He was born in Paradise and not within the wilderness. The sound of angelic hymns, not the roars of tigers and cries of wolves, echoed in his homeland. God was vigilantly watching over him even before man came to know Him. It is not at all true that man created the idea of God in order to invent a certain divinity to worship. Humanity departed not from atheism but from faith; not from deception but from the truth; not from ignorance but from revelation.”

Unfortunately, they who pride themselves on their resemblance to the animals seek to recruit new followers. They seek young laborers to overturn humanity’s moral and ethical principles; they are looking for new diggers to help undermine the foundations of society and deprave mankind. Behold the unethical moral principles that constitute their “civilized” mission: “Pleasure,” they say, “debauchery, and love are good; but so is hatred...The truth is good as long as it provides us with some enjoyment; however, deception, hypocrisy, and deceit are also good if they can help us increase our assets. Faith is good as long as there is something to gain from it; however, treachery is also good if it can secure for us greater profit. Marriage is good as long as it makes us happy; however, adultery is just as good when marriage no longer satisfies our desires...Life is good as long as it remains an enigma; however, suicide is also acceptable when this puzzle has been solved.”

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Why does God allow the existence of evil?

Many people wonder: 
“How is it that God, the Benevolent, the Omnipotent, Who is Love - allows evil to exist?”

If one does not think this question through, it can often lead to a denial of God’s existence. “If God knows everything, foresees everything and yet allows evil to exist, then He is either not Benevolent, or not Omnipotent!” Thus say those who doubt… And the logical conclusion follows: “If God is not Benevolent or not Omnipotent, then He cannot be God, or, in other words, there is no God.”

Such doubts and such atheism are sometimes inherent to serious and honest people as, for example, the French writer Albert Camus. But even deep believers such as Dostoyevsky are also beset by doubts before they reach the final stage of absolute belief.

These doubts are based either upon a lack of knowledge of the basic truths of the Christian faith, or upon an inability - or more often an unwillingness - to accept the Truth.

From ancient times to our own days the Church Fathers and many other Christian writers have provided us with conclusive answers to these doubts. The answer is quite simple, but it is not enough to understand it and remember it, one must likewise experience it, because supreme truths are revealed not only to the mind, but also to the heart.

The Church teaches that, naturally, God is benevolent, that God is omnipotent, but that His omnipotence is the omnipotence of love, because God is Love. For this reason God has not created evil and one may even say that He could never have created it.

According to the teaching of the Church, evil appeared only because God made His highest creations - angels and men - in His image and likeness, i.e. beings who are totally free and can thus even follow a path not planned by God.

God is Love first and foremost, and man embodies the image of God, i.e. becomes most like Him, when he loves, when his capacity for love grows. But is it possible to love not freely, but out of necessity or constraint? Of course not! Love can only be given freely; consequently, it must be said that love is the true incarnation, manifestation or realization of freedom.

It is for this reason that God has created angels and men as free beings. He has created them for Love, in order that they may share in that rapture of mutual love in which He Himself, the Triune God, dwells.

But, as it was said, freedom presupposes the risk of making the wrong choice, the risk of deviating from the true path and, unfortunately, this wrong choice was made by some of the angels and by the first people, which gave rise to evil.

It is impossible to explain why this treacherous choice was made. Each creation, having been made by the All-wise God, is filled with deep substance and can be described. Evil, however, has not been created by God, and thus in itself it lacks substance, it is nonsense that is hard to explain. The Holy Fathers teach that evil, not having been created by God, does not exist in reality.

Evil is a phantom, a vice, an illness, a negative value, a minus, but a minus which can dominate by force. This force is like the force of a parasite, (and evil is a parasite), it lives only by means of the organism on which it feeds. The power of evil lies only in its acceptance by the will of a free being that has been created by God. Evil can exist on earth only while the will of man inclines towards evil, and this situation shall continue until man freely returns to the only true path of a voluntary and loving acceptance of God’s benevolent will.

God naturally foresaw that angels and men could make the wrong choice; moreover, He knew that the wrong choice would be made, and He pre-eternally (speaking in human terms) “took measures” to correct man’s terrible mistake. In accordance with His boundless love, God responds to all man’s mistakes, all man’s evil, all man’s suffering with Self-sacrifice. He takes all the mistakes, all the evil, all the suffering upon Himself, as though He - innocent of all evil - is to blame for it.

Man turns away from love, strays from the path of love, but God always remains Love and only Love. The meaning of the Lord’s sacrifice is that it gives mankind the opportunity to once again choose the right path. God does not wish to and even “cannot” save mankind by force. He only calls us and encourages us, but in Jesus Christ God now calls men to Himself in a totally new way. Now the fullness of divine love has been revealed to us (Christians), the curtain has fallen and in the Lord’s sacrifice divine love has revealed itself fully, while His glorious Resurrection has revealed the all-victorious power of this love. It is only left to us to partake of this divine love: “O taste and see how good is the Lord.”

Such is the teaching of the Church on evil and escape from evil, and this is how St. John of Kronstadt, one of the last righteous ones in the Russian land, comments on the matter: “The Creator is accused - why did God not create us in such a manner that we would not fall into evil? Should He rather not be considered more benevolent for having given us this gift (freedom), disregarding our ingratitude? And has He not indeed proven His boundless love in granting us freedom, when after our fall He sent His Only-begotten Son to us and gave Him unto suffering and death for us?” Evil has obviously no positive basis and there could not be and should not be any justification for it, but since it exists, God wishes to turn it to good use, and for this reason temporarily allows its existence. St. John says the following about this: “If you do not experience the actions of the evil spirit upon yourself, you will never know or truly value the bounties bestowed upon you by the benevolent Spirit; if you do not learn to recognize the spirit who kills, - you will not recognize the Spirit Who gives life…”

Archimandrite Alexander
 (Semenov Tian-Shansky).

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Homily on Life After Death ( St. John Maximovitch )

Limitless and without consolation would have been our sorrow for close ones who are dying, if the Lord had not given us eternal life. Our life would be pointless if it ended with death. What benefit would there then be from virtue and good deed? Then they would be correct who say: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!" But man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who have believed in Him and have lived righteously. Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death. "It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). Then a man leaves all his earthly cares; the body disintegrates, in order to rise anew at the General Resurrection. Often this spiritual vision begins in the dying even before death, and while still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what others do not see .

But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them .

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres . At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called "toll-houses," at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God Herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of Her approaching death, answering Her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself .

Then, having successfully passed through the toll-houses and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitations and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day is its place appointed until the resurrection of the dead . Some souls find themselves (after the forty days) in a condition of foretasting eternal joy and blessedness, and others in fear of the eternal torments which will come in full after the Last Judgment. Until then changes are possible in the condition of souls, especially through offering for them the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Liturgy), and likewise by other prayers .

How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: "I thank you for laboring with me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents" — and he gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria). "How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God's mercy?" the priest-monk asked. "Yes, that is true," replied St. Theodosius, "but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer."

Therefore, panikhidas (i.e., Trisagion Prayers for the Dead) and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial to them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition "for those in hell."

Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and particularly by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints." We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy. Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations. The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care of their souls . Before us all stands the same path, and how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead. As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the Prayers appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death. Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in Church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral. Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days. 
(NOTE: If the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives should take care to order the forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services.) It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places. Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before us, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Sunday, October 7, 2018

War With Sinful Thoughts ( Elder Ephraim of Vatopaidi )

Q. What are sinful thoughts and what are their spiritual substance?

A. They are thoughts opposed to God's will and operate in the area of the human intellect either by their own will or not. The mind is restless and it either produces thoughts or external factors are continuously displayed on the screen of the mind.

Q. Where do such thoughts come from?

A. Their source is either the passionate heart of man or demons themselves. Christ Himself reveals: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, blasphemy" (Matt. 15:19).

The passions of man are produced and fed with sinful thoughts. Demons are certain beings that feed on excessive hatred for humans and impinge in any way the salvation of man. Their main job is to sow evil, wicked, vile, sinful, blasphemous thoughts in the intellect of man.

There are of course divine thoughts as well whose source are in God Himself and the Saints, who encourage the sinner to repentance, and bring consolation in any way to those who are troubled, illuminating the virtuous so that "they can know the deep things of God" (1 Cor. 2:10).

The spiritual advancement of man appears primarily in the quality of one's thoughts. We must cultivate the pure, holy and divine thoughts. We must make our mind into a factory of good thoughts, as the blessed Elder Paisios would say.

Q. How do we identify these thoughts and how do we distinguish them from sinful thoughts?

A. Only with watchfulness (nipsis) can we observe the mind, and be careful to identify our thoughts. Watchfulness is temperance, the attention I impose on my mind.

This is achieved by invoking the all-honorable, majestic and sweet name of our Christ. The prayer, the "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me", is the greatest weapon against the demons and passions, and it is able to uphold the mind that is controlled by and observes the thoughts.

Thoughts are like airplanes that fly in the air. It doesn't depend on us if airplanes fly continuously in the air. It does depend on us and we must not allow thoughts to land within us, to accept them, to give them consent.

Q. What is the difference between desire and thought?

A. Desire is the mood we have to do something, to ask for something is a movement of the heart, while thought moves in the area of the intellect.

First we desire and after this desire it is expressed internally through thoughts. Desire is the beginning, the root. By cutting off sinful desires we are essentially freeing ourselves from sinful thoughts.

This is why our Lord emphasized: "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman with desire has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). He wanted to cut off the root of the passions.

Saint Gregory Palamas says that the intellect of the believer who struggles in prayer is easily purified of thoughts, just like the heart of a person (which is the power that produces thoughts), cannot be purified unless all the other powers of the soul, the appetitive and spirited, are purified.

Q. Must we confess all of our thoughts?

A. The thoughts that come into our minds daily by the thousands are countless. Most of these thoughts are vain, vile and sinful. The demon knows his job well and cultivates these thoughts. We are liable only when we consent to them, when we implement these thoughts into practice.

Depending on what spiritual state a person is in, so they are judged on how they deal with their thoughts. For example, for the perfect, who have perfect spiritual knowledge and supervision of thoughts, consent to a sinful thought is sinful. For someone who has now begun the spiritual life it may not be sinful.

The person who struggles correctly confesses their thoughts that do not cease to press on them, which through prayer and struggle alone cannot be resisted. It is not possible for someone to confess all their thoughts. This is psychological illness. Many come to confession with a notebook in which is written their thoughts, hundreds of thoughts that pass daily through their intellect. This is not right. They not only tire the Confessor/Spiritual Father but they themselves do not benefit. This is not observing one's thoughts, it is not a fruit of watchfulness and spiritual progress, but it is a situation of illness.

Q. Can we come to the Holy Chalice in a situation where right before Divine Communion there comes to us a sinful thought?

A. Of course we come forward. What do we read from Saint John of Damascus right before Divine Communion?: "I stand before the doors of Thy temple and I still do not forsake my wicked thoughts."

The war with thoughts is described by the Fathers as difficult. In this particular case we need to have contempt for this thought because it was brought by the enemy to rob us of the blessing of Divine Communion. Unless it is a thought connected with a deadly sin that has not been confessed, though I think such a thought would not battle us at that moment, since it would already be rebuked by our conscience.

Q. Are there certain pernicious thoughts that lead to spiritual death?

A. Yes, the thoughts of despair and hopelessness. These thoughts, say the Fathers, are like cutting off the head of a struggler. The believer must never forget the love and mercy of God our Father no matter what depth of sin they have fallen into. They must never forget that hope exists and repentance exists.

Christ did not come to judge the world but to save the world. Christ accepted the repentance of the thief, the villain on the cross who was at the throes of death, saved him, and placed him in Paradise.

Q. Should couples confess to one another the thoughts they have towards each other?

A. I think not. It is better to say their thoughts to their common spiritual father. Be aware that the devil, from the moment when certain people are united with the crowns of marriage, has placed upon them a target to separate them at some point. This is why there is a war that unfortunately most couples do not recognize. While the beginning of marriage is all milk and honey, and love united them both, but then disagreements begin, and quarrels, and "I don't like you", and "I don't love you". All this is war.

Why? What happened after ten years of marriage or more and the one doesn't love the other? It is better in the beginning for a couple to address such problems to their common spiritual father, who through the illumination of the Holy Spirit will guide them accordingly and with his prayer will banish the demonic energy that has come between them to separate them. And by God I am not saying that couples should not discuss things between each other, as this is essential for there to be unity and love, but do not tell each other your sinful thoughts which are sowed by the devil.

Q. How can we fight against thoughts?

A. With watchfulness and the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me". Saint John of Sinai in his book The Ladder says: "The name of Jesus plagued our enemies." Our enemies are our passions, our sinful thoughts, the demons. There is no more effective way, than when the prayer is said with self-reproach and pain of heart.

If you see a thought persists despite your effort and prayers and does not leave you alone, then it is good to bring this thought to confession. Confession is practical humility, and "God gives grace to the humble" (Jam. 4:6). The shame we feel before our spiritual father through the confession of this sinful thought, will justify us before God and God will relieve us from the energy of this passion, this sinful thought.

It is also very good to cultivate good thoughts and despise the sinful ones, or bad thoughts, but this requires much diligence.

The contempt we show towards bad thoughts sown by the devil will make the same devil deflate, be trapped, to flee, because the devil is arrogant, and he wants us to care for him and be occupied with him, and he cannot tolerate being despised.

If you can cultivate in this way, it is the most bloodless, as Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva would say. Let us ask for peace, joy and the love of Christ and not care for our evil selves, our passions, our sinful thoughts. Let us turn our face - our whole being - towards Christ and seek His face, His mercy. Thus slowly, without realizing it, we will be sanctified, and the old man with its desires and thoughts will flee, which bothered us, and we will be clothed with the new which is "created by God" (Eph. 4:24).

Saturday, September 29, 2018

On the Beginners’ Spiritual Shortcomings ( Father Arsenie Boca )

Propensity for Haughtiness
They are more readily inclined to give lessons, rather than to receive them. They condemn within their heart those who do not understand faith as they do and they manifest that condemnation – at first, secretly held in their hearts – through their words – and that is when you feel like you hear the Pharisee who thought he was worshipping God when he was vaunting himself for his own deeds, while despising the tax-payer. That sort of attitude is to please the devil. All of these things drive one’s soul to pride and haughtiness. They are of no use whatsoever to the beginners (on the contrary, they change whatever else they have good in them, into sins), as they cease bearing with one another and if anyone comes up to belittle their fellowman, that pleases them. They will see the straw in their brother’s eye yet will fail to notice the beam in their own eye; they will make a big deal out of the other’s minor deeds and will efface their own – greater – faults.
They don’t like confessor Fathers who do not praise them for their actions and don’t appreciate their good behaviour – because such spiritual sons’ sole pursuit is to be praised and commended in everything they do.
They even try to convince others that they have an accomplished spirit and harbor true piety.
They even go as far as not confess their sins anymore, lest they should downplay themselves in the process and they avoid mentioning their mistakes in order to render them lighter. They will avoid by all means praising others, but they do not like not being praised by others. Sometimes they will go as far as to ask others to praise them. Beginners very seldom escape such weaknesses.

Propensity for Spiritual Stinginess

They complain whenever they don’t receive the comfort they expected from their spiritual Fathers or their fellowman. They always look to filling up their minds with spiritual advice and teachings. They dedicate all their time to reading and have no more of it left for the spiritual work, which should be their first and foremost duty.

Propensity for Anger

They are always in a bad mood.
They do their duty sloppily.
They get upset for the slightest thing and end up being unbearable to the ones around them.
They blame others.
They badmouth others.
They give moral lectures in a bitter and high voice, as if they were the only ones who would have access to being virtuous.

Propensity for Spiritual Greed

They exhaust themselves carrying out prayer rules.
They apply themselves to fasting without limits.
They keep away from people who would invite them to take bodily food.
They lack discernment.
They work against the commandments.
They want bodily canons (rules) rather than mind-based canons.
They don’t listen to their spiritual Fathers.
They take pride in making various efforts without discernment.
Such spiritual “sons” are encouraged by the devil to behave this way.
They always look for pulling out counsels that suit them, from their spiritual Fathers.
In case one rejects their ideas, they sulk like children.
Whatever they do, they do superficially, because they are convinced that they do nothing good before God, whenever He doesn’t work [in their life] as they would like Him to.
They take the Eucharist many times, without their spiritual Father’s approval.

Propensity for Envy and Worldliness
Their fellowman’s spiritual wellness always gets into their eyes.
They suffer when they hear someone else being praised.
Another person’s virtue makes them sad and if given the chance, they will belittle and persecute it, in order to break off all praise for that person.
They want to be the first in everything.

Excerpt from CĂRAREA ÎMPĂRĂTIEI – ”The Way to the Kingdom” – by Fr. Arsenie BOCA