Sunday, August 19, 2018

The snakes that venerate icons!!

Icon of Panagia Fidousa (Virgin of the Snakes)

In a tiny Greek village in the south of Kefallonia, a miracle occurs every year after the feast of the Transfiguration (Aug 6). Around the bell-tower of the chapel at Markopoulo, small venomous snakes appear. These snakes crawl around the church, and upon the icons of the Mother of God in an act of apparent veneration. The snakes remain in the confines of the chapel, docile throughout, until the feast of the Dormition (Aug 15), when they disperse and become almost impossible to find on the island. This is a strange miracle, especially given the association of the serpent with Satan, so what is the significance?

Snakes on Dormition icon

The chapel at Markopoulo is built on the ruins of a convent. In the early 18th-century, the nuns there were attacked by pirates. After praying to the Mother of God for help, the church was filled with snakes; when the pirates entered the convent they were terrified by the sight and fled. Every year since then, snakes have appeared during the Dormition fast around the church, venerating the icons there, leaving after the feast itself. In recent years, the snakes have failed to appear twice: in 1940, the year Greece was brought into the Second World War, and 1953, the year of a devastating earthquake on Kefallonia. Because of this, it is believed to be a portent of coming disaster if the snakes do not appear, or appear in small numbers. The first, straight-forward, meaning of the snakes appearance in Kefallonia is simply to remind us of one of the many times the Mother of God has helped those who prayed to her.

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman (Gen 3:15)

Yet there is much symbolic history associated with snakes in Christianity, much of it relating to the serpent being a representation of the devil (Gen 3; Ps 91:13; Rev 12:9; 20:2) and evil in general (Num 21:4-9; Matt 3:7; 23:33). This symbolism is so deeply implanted in our historically Christian culture that it may seem as though the snake by its very nature is a wily, slippery, evil creature. Yet the holy fathers remind us that our current instinctive revulsion to vipers is something that came after the Fall:

The serpent tempting Eve

Do not regard the present serpent; do not regard how we flee it and feel revulsion towards it. It was not such in the beginning. The serpent was the friend of man and the closest of those who served him. and who made it an enemy? The sentence of God: “Cursed are you above all the cattle, and above all wild animals… I will put enmity between you and the woman” (Gen 3:14-15). It was this enmity that destroyed the friendship. I mean not a rational friendship, but one of which an irrational creature is capable. Similar to the way that now the dog manifests friendship… just so did the serpent serve man. As a creature who enjoyed great closeness to man, the serpent seemed to the devil to be a convenient tool (for deception)… Thus, the devil spoke through the serpent, deceiving Adam. -St John Chrysostom, On the Creation of the World; 6.2
Blessed Theodoret and St John Damscene set forth the same teaching, the latter summarizing:

The serpent was accustomed to man, and approached him more readily than it did other living creatures, and held intercourse with him in delightful motions. and hence it was through it that the devil, the prince of evil, made his most wicked suggestion to our first parents. -On the Orthodox Faith; 2.10

Th curse is lifted

The serpent – in all its varieties and species – were thus cursed because it was used as an instrument of Satan:

But perhaps some will say: If the counsel was given by the devil, using the serpent as an instrument, why is this animal subjected to such a punishment? This was also a work of God’s unutterable love for mankind. As a loving father, in punishing the murderer of his son, breaks also the knife and sword by which he performed the murder, and breaks them into small pieces – in similar fashion the All-good God, when this animal, like a kind of sword, served as an instrument of the devil’s malice, subjects it to a constant punishment, so that from this physical manifestation we might conclude the dishonour in which it finds itself. -St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis; 17.6

“In my name…they shall take up serpents”

The world suffered from the condemnation given to Adam, Eve, and the serpent, as it still does today. However, with the advent of Jesus Christ in the world, His death, resurrection, and ascension, the curse is lifted, and the means of our restoration is available. And through our restoration to our pre-fallen state, the fallen state of the world is also reversed. This is why St Paul was unharmed by the snake that bit him (Acts 28:3-5), why Jesus said we would be able to pick up serpents with our hands (Mk 16:17-18), and why numerous other Saints have lived in peace with wild beasts. These examples show to us that with faith and through God, the harmony of Paradise is restored even in this life.

The miracle bestowed upon Kefallonia every year is just another example, and a particularly fitting one. As one Sunday hymn proclaims:

You are exceedingly blessed, O Virgin Mother of God, for Hades has been taken captive by him who was incarnate of you. Adam was recalled, the curse was abolished, Eve was delivered, death was put to death and we were given life. Therefore, praising you we cry aloud: Blessed are you Christ our God, who thus was well pleased, glory to you.
Jesus redeems mankind and the entire created world, so what is true of Adam and Eve is true also of the snake. And so this animal, through which the devil tempted Eve, comes to venerate icons of the “second Eve”, Mary: the woman who brought forth the seed, Christ, through Whom “the curse was abolished.”

Thursday, August 16, 2018

New Heresies ( Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina )

New Heresies by +Metropolitan Augoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina[1]

“We will not deny you, beloved Orthodoxy” – Joseph Vryennios (St. Mark of Ephesus’ spiritual father)

Of late, certain theologians, under the influence of contemporary, world-wide currents, have begun to savour the words “ecumenicity”, “ecumenical spirit”, and “ecumenical movement”, as if they were hard-candy. Ecumenicity; what a beautiful word! And yet, behind these words, lay hidden a most fearful danger for Orthodoxy. What is this danger? We will show you by means of an example.
Imagine a woman, a woman faithful to her husband, a woman who will allow no third party to enter into their relationship, ever mindful of the promises which she had made before God and before men. She is a woman of exceptional beauty, drawing the eye of many a man. On account of her uprightness, however, anyone who dares to touch, or to proposition her, immediately meets with her anger. Should such a one persist, this honourable woman will deliver a strong slap to his face in order bring him to his senses.
Those men who are learned in this vile business, however, will try another method. These will try to uncover what it is that this woman likes; does she perhaps love poetry, or philosophy, or art? By means of these things the secret admirer will trap her. With great deftness he will begin having innocent conversations with her on those subjects that are beloved to her. “What a wonderful poem!”; “What a beautiful painting!”; “What a wonderful play!”; “How sweet a piece of music!” And thus begins the dialogue. Gradually the unsuspecting woman is lured into longer conversations with the deceiver who, while his tongue speaks of philosophy and art, his heart leaps at the hope of taking the woman for himself. Finally, after an air of great familiarity and mutual understanding has been achieved through these conversations, the door is opened to the foul deed, the shameful union. Just as the most-evil serpent succeeded in beguiling Eve by means of a simple conversation, in like manner the seed of shameful union was sown.
Did you catch what we are trying to say, beloved? We have spoken in a parable.
The woman concerning which we have spoken is our Orthodox Church. She is this beauty. She is the woman who, according to the Book of Revelation is “clothed in the Sun”, who wears “upon her head a crown of twelve stars”, and who has “the moon under her feet”.[2] It is the Orthodox Church which has remained faithful to the Lord, to the eternal bridegroom. It is she who has kept pure the tradition of the Lord and of the Apostles – both written and unwritten – in accordance with the God-inspired call to, “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”[3] It is she, the Orthodox Church, which for nineteen centuries has fought the hard and bloody battle against various deceptions, against the various heresies which have sought to pollute and corrupt her holiness. One of the worst of these heresies is Papism, which, on account of its delusions, its authoritarian spirit, and its atrocities, caused the rise of Protestantism and the fracturing of all of Christendom. Yes, the Papists are heretics. The enemies of the Orthodox Church, including Papism to be sure, know well that she has persevered in the faith of her Fathers. Yet, having been persuaded through many examples that they cannot conquer that fortress which is Orthodoxy by means of a frontal attack, these enemies have recently begun trying by other means. They have begun a new war, a war of peace, a war worse than the Crusades. Do you not hear the voice of the serpent, seeking to corrupt the minds of Orthodoxy, leading us away from our simplicity?[4]
Here is what the serpent says: O, Orthodox Church! Why do you keep your distance? Why are you afraid of me? I am no dragon; I am a sweet angel bearing the message of love. I am not going to hurt you. Keep your dogmas and your traditions. Leave these things to the theologians…I invite you into my room to discuss other matters. Let us make a common stand against hunger, against poverty, against atheism, against communism, against war. Do these matters not move you? Does this proposition not excite you? Come then, let us begin our conversation on high, on the level of ecumenicity, on the level of mutual understanding. You will see just how beautiful our coming together can be!
O, Orthodox Church! Our suffering mother! Will you accept this proposition? Will you enter into dialogue with Papism? Can you not see the danger inherent in this proposition? That those who ineptly and unworthily represent you are creating conditions favorable to your enemies to such a fearful degree that you, without even taking notice, will fall into the arms of Papism. And what will follow then? A union, a pseudo-union, spiritual adultery, a most vile act; something which ought never to have occurred, and which will require centuries of repentance from those Orthodox who played the role of pimp for the Orthodox Church. The hour will come when these will sigh and say: “Let the language which we spouted concerning ‘ecumenicity’ and ‘mutual understanding’ cease; let these feet which ran to bring together Orthodoxy and wolves in sheep’s clothing become leprous; let these hands which signed ecumenical epistles and documents fall off!”
This, my beloved, is the famous ‘theory of ecumenicity’ which our leaders savour!

We repeat: the Ecumenical Movement, under whose umbrella gather all manner of heresies, represents a danger to the Orthodox Church. It deprecates the importance of the dogmas which, having been miraculously articulated in the brief definitions of the Ecumenical Councils, and which are the skeleton, the backbone without which the body becomes a limp and formless lump. It deprecates the Holy Canons, which the ecumenists call obsolete, rusty weapons. To put it concisely, the ecumenists deprecate the Orthodox Church as a whole, saying that it is self-centered, that it is a blasphemy for us to consider her to be the one true Church, possessing the genuine truth of Divine Revelation. Within this context the dogmas and the moral life, inseparably joined in the Orthodox Church, tend to evaporate, leaving behind nothing but a fraudulent version of love. The theory of ecumenicity, the theory which calls all different peoples to live together in the name of some tenuous peace, a theory supported within worldly and political circles in our century and which has already been applied to the spiritual sphere where compromise is unacceptable, will ultimately lead to conflict and turmoil, truly, to Babel.
Leaven, if it becomes contaminated, loses its ability to make things rise; Orthodoxy, the most excellent leaven, the leaven of truth, is capable of leavening the whole lump, but only so long as it remains unpolluted by foreign ingredients, so long as it remains pure. For this reason the followers of this theory of ecumenicity are the enemies of Orthodoxy. For this reason we do not hesitate to call this movement – the Ecumenical movement – a new heresy, from which the Orthodox Church must be protected.
In conclusion, during these critical moments when the Orthodox Church stands in danger, we call out to the faithful from our own watchtower: “Orthodox faithful! Remember that Church, of which you are children. Remember the rivers of blood our Fathers spilt to keep our Faith unadulterated; not one iota did they permit to be subtracted or added to our Faith. Remember the rallying cry of the heroes of the Revolution of 1821. These men – may their memory be eternal – struggled first for the faith, and then for their homeland. All of these heroes and martyrs – known and unknown – call to us from their graves: “Stand firm upon the bulwark of Orthodoxy!”
[1] This article may be found under the title, “Νέα Άιρεσις” in the book, “Πνευματικά Σαλπίσματα Ορθοδόξου Ζωής και Ομολογίας” (Thessalonki: 2008), 109-114.
[2] Revelation 12:1-2.
[3] 2 Thessalonians 2:15.
[4] See 2 Corinthians 11:3. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Homily On The Dormition Of The Mother Of God By Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

I thank the Lord and the Most Holy Mother of God that He has willed to embellish this feast day of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos through the angelic voices of the children who sang so beautifully. This reminds me of the days of my youth, before the war, when I was a monk in the holy Patriarchate of Pech, the Serbian Zion as some call it. The choir from Pech used to sing the responses at Holy Liturgy every feast day at the monastery. It was a mixed choir, very well organized, and the choir director was a remarkable person. I have heard many choirs from Belgrade and other places, but that choir from Pech was quite extraordinary. Today, when I said, "Blessed is the Kingdom …,” the children responded with "Amen." This reminded me of those days of my youth and it touched my heart.

When the chanting is as beautiful as this, we are freed from all our cares and our interest for earthly things and we ascend into eternity with the Lord, His angels, and the saints, where our true Fatherland and our Kingdom is. If our Fatherland were of this world, then we would live here in a state of well‑being, peace, and joy. However, this life for us Christians is, so to say, an epitimia. In this life we must prepare ourselves for life in the Heavenly Kingdom and we must attain Divine peace. No one can give us that peace; only God can give peace to created beings and to us if we seek Him and long for Him with all our heart and if we desire to become one with Him. He wants our souls to be united with Him, with His Divine will. He wants our entire being to become one with Him in order that we may feel the joy of living. We, on the other hand, get very involved in this material life and we have no time to think about our soul, about our inner peace. We are always shattering our inner peace.

We have many examples by which we can learn. The Lord gave us first of all the Most Holy Theotokos. It was His will that the Most Holy Theotokos remain with the holy Apostles to comfort and encourage them after His Resurrection and Ascension. One of the God‑bearing Fathers, a native of Athens, St. Dionysios the Areopagite, wished to see the Most Holy Mother of God. When he arrived in Jerusalem, they took him to the home of St. John the Theologian, where the Most Holy Theotokos lived. When he entered her chamber, he was at once free of all cares and worries and was overcome with ineffable joy and peace. This is how he describes his meeting with the Most Holy Theotokos: "Had I not learned in my Youth about the True God, for me the Most Holy Theotokos would have been God."

See what peace, stillness, and joy radiate from the Most Holy Theotokos! God has allowed peace and joy to radiate from every soul that is one with Him. Divine peace and joy emanate from such a person and we feel good in his presence. Do you see what the Kingdom of Heaven means? The Kingdom of God is… righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14: 17).

The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly,. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.

You have seen that in this life anyone, even our closest of kin, can abandon us. We all have our weaknesses and often hurt the people closest to us. They can turn their backs on us because of our rudeness, or they can forgive us but still be hurt. But the Lord and His Most Holy Mother ... Oh, how many times have we insulted God and the Most Holy Theotokos, but when we repent and turn to them in our hearts, they forgive us everything, never remembering our sins and evil deeds!

You have already realized how unbelievably quickly life goes by. One does not notice this as much in one's youth, but when the years bear down upon us, we see that a lot of time has passed and that very little is left of this life. Where do we go when the end of our life comes? We know where we are going while we are still here, but what happens afterwards? Where are we going? Have we prepared for the Heavenly Kingdom, for our true homeland? Only the meek and those with pure hearts will enter it. Have we taken care to cleanse our heart while in this life, the heart that gives us such a hard time in this life? Have we said to ourselves, "Heart, you have caused me enough pain; humble yourself and be a patient, long‑suffering heart!"

The Lord has said that we save our souls by patient long-suffering. We know that many misfortunes and sorrows come upon both the pious and the impious, both the righteous and the sinful. We all receive our share of misfortunes––this is a means of learning to accept everything in peace. On our own we have no strength, but God has strength. It is to Him that we must turn, deep down in our heart, and He will give us the strength to overcome all difficulties, for it is very important to rise above all those little things that take away our inner peace. We rarely pay any attention to this but allow the injustice that we come across everywhere in our lives to shatter our inner peace. Often we are the ones who do injustice to others. It may seem to us at the time that we are doing the right thing, but later it turns out that we were very wrong. We must learn to overcome all these little things with peace, united with the Lord, so that disquiet will not enter us from the outside, and so that we will always have our inner peace.

God is at the center of every persons life. He is in our heart whether we accept Him or not. He never separates Himself from us because He is the Giver of life Who gives life to every created being. We have buried Him with our worries and worldly cares, which destroy the peace within us, and that is why we have no peace or rest. No one on earth can give us unshakable inner peace. Money cannot give us peace, neither can fame, honor, a high-ranking position, nor even our closest friends and family. The only Giver of peace and life is the Lord. He gives peace, stillness, and joy to the angels and the saints, to us and to every created thing. Therefore we must repent and turn to the Lord.

What is repentance? Repentance is a change of one's way of life; it is discarding the old man and all of his evil habits and turning toward God, toward the Truth. Repentance means becoming quiet, peaceful, humble, and meek. Everyone knows that it is very pleasing to be in the company of a person who is meek, peaceful, and kind. A person who has no peace generates restlessness and radiates it all around, so that in the company of such a person we feel unsettled, and we too become restless. This is because we have not united with the Lord through unceasing prayer. We have peace when we are with the Lord and His Most Holy Mother; she is always here to help whenever we call upon her. In her we have unshakable support, which remains the same for all ages and which will not change. We cannot find this support anywhere else on earth, not even among our family members, let alone in things like riches, earthly power, and honor. We can be left without all these things, but the Lord and His Most Holy Mother will never leave us.

And so, my children, as we celebrate the great feast day of the Most Holy Theotokos, let us prepare ourselves for the heavenly life, let us teach our hearts to always long for God as the angels do, and for the Most Holy Theotokos, for she is our Intercessor and prays unceasingly for us weak ones before the throne of her Son. Whenever we turn to her in our hearts, she is always there to help. Countless are those on this earth whom she has comforted, and countless are the souls she has led from the depths of hades to the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us, therefore, learn to become accustomed to the Heavenly Kingdom while we are still in this life. The Heavenly Kingdom is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We need to humble our hearts, which take insults so deeply, and also our so‑called dignity, for we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven in pride, as when we take to heart each slander our neighbor casts. We must accept our lessons from everyday life, for each day brings us cares, worries, and insults. We must learn not to take insults to heart, for who knows what awaits us during the course of our earthly lives? God is merciful to us and has concealed our future from us. Otherwise, not one among us would be able to go on, knowing what the future holds for him. We must live through many misfortunes and sorrows in order to learn how to rise above all these problems that disturb our inner peace. We must learn to acquire the Divine peace and joy of the angels and saints, for the Kingdom of Heaven is acquired while we are still in this life.

In this life we are in heaven one moment and in hades the next. You can see this for yourself and learn from it. When our thoughts are quiet and kind, when we forgive every slander and insult, we have Divine peace, joy, and stillness! But when we become angry because of someone's unkind words, we are at once in hades! Everything collapses, and we lose all the joy of living that we had before. Can you see how terrible living in hades is? Here, in this life, we are given the chance to taste both the heavenly life and the life of hades. We should choose that which gives us peace, the Heavenly Kingdom. We all desire this, without any exceptions, whether our lives are good or bad. All people long for peace and goodness, for ineffable love that never changes, and only God is this kind of love. He alone is unchangeable. He is always the same, and He is the basis of all things––preeminently of mankind. He is ever waiting for us to return to His embrace, but all we do is shy away from Him. He wants to give us peace and to comfort us so that we may experience the joy of living, but all we ever see are the cares and worries of this world.

From the beginning of our lives, we have all sinned gravely. The Lord has warned us to be very careful lest we have a life of hardship and sorrow, and endure much pain until we humble ourselves and realize that we have sinned. For the Lord has said, Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee (Ex. 20:12). That is the law. The Lord showed us how to honor our parents by His own example when, as His suffering on the Cross was nearing an end, He entrusted His Most Holy Mother to His beloved disciple, John. He said to His Mother, Woman, behold thy son! (John 19:26). And to His disciple He said, Behold thy mother! (John 19:27).

(In the Aramaic tongue in which our Lord spoke, the word “woman" implies greater honor than the word "mother." Today it is difficult for us to understand how the Lord could have addressed His mother as "woman." Likewise, when the Lord was in Cana of Galilee, the Most Holy Theotokos turned to Him and said, They have no wine (John 2:3). And He said to Her, Woman, what is that between Me and thee? Mine hour is not yet come (John 2:4). In our language, when we say "woman" this has a somewhat disrespectful meaning, but when we say "mother" it is much more intimate and affectionate. But in the Aramaic tongue, the word "woman" is much more respectful.)

See how the Lord took care of His Mother in His last hour upon the earth! What do we do with our parents? God forbid that we should continue to treat our parents the way we do. Even from our childhood we do not honor our parents, but we want to live long and well. How can we live well if we have disobeyed this God-given law from our childhood? 'The law of this world, which is ever changing, punishes every violation against it. How then do we expect not to be punished for disobeying the Heavenly Law?––the Word of God, which never changes, but stays the same for all ages, for it is Spirit and Life.

We are the offspring of disobedient parents. When disobedience entered our forebears Adam and Eye, our nature suddenly changed. It became corrupt, foul smelling, prone to decay, and mortal. Death entered us. Before the Fall our forebears were immortal. Only God, our Creator, can bring us back to our original state, as He created us. It is for this reason that He Who is love came down to earth and was born of the Virgin as a child. It is for this reason that He lived for thirty‑three years among men. He wanted to teach us the truth and to show us that He is love. We need to look to the Lord, His Mother, the apostles and the saints as examples and renew our life. We must repent and leave behind our former way of life with all our bad habits, and we must strive to learn obedience. If anyone has hurt us––our parents, our brother or sister, a neighbor––then we must forgive them all from the heart, and when we have done so, the Lord will know. Our forgiveness must not be confined to words only. The Lord wants us to forgive from the heart. Our neighbor will then feel our forgiveness and no words will be necessary. The person will know in his heart that we have forgiven him.

How does a person know in his heart that he has been forgiven? People have thoughts. We are like a fine thought‑apparatus. We are connected to each other by our thoughts. When we think of a person, he immediately receives our thoughts. But since we are distracted and our thoughts are scattered, we cannot discern who it is that is sending us thoughts or the kind of thoughts he is sending us. On the other hand, the person who has peaceful thoughts, who is united with the Lord and whom the Lord has freed from distractions, this person knows exactly which thoughts are his own, which ones come from the enemy and which ones are from friends. Feelings and thoughts coming from the minds of our fellow men reach us. This is why I say to you that when we forgive from the heart, our neighbor can feel this and the burden that has been oppressing his soul is no more.

This is the way to learn about the heavenly life and to acquire inner peace. Let us turn to the Most Holy Theotokos in our hearts and ask her to intercede for us, that the Lord might give us strength and that He might number us among His angels and saints who glorify God throughout all eternity. Amen.

Reference: Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, pp163 - 170

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Do not forget your sin. ( St. Seraphim of Sarov )

The Lord sometimes allows people who are devoted to Him to fall into such dreadful vices; and this is in order to prevent them from falling into a still greater sin-pride. 
Your temptation will pass and you will spend the remaining days of your life in humility. Only do not forget your sin.

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Don't worry too much about how spiritually poor you are... ( Father Seraphim Rose )

Don't worry too much about how spiritually poor you are, God sees that, but for you it is expected to trust in God and pray to Him as best you can, never to fall into despair and to struggle according to your strength.
If you ever begin to think you are spiritually,"well off", then you can know for sure that you aren't! True spiritual life,even on the most elementary level,is always accompanied by suffering and difficulties. Therefore you should rejoice in all your difficulties and sorrows.
Father Seraphim Rose

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Homily of St. Luke of Simferopol on the Transfiguration of Christ

The Holy Transfiguration of Christ

Homily of St. Luke of Simferopol on the Transfiguration of Christ (delivered in 1956)
The great feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord causes us to remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14: 10-11)

Great and uncountable were the wonders of our Lord Jesus Christ: with one word alone He raised the daughter of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, the son of the widow of Nain, and also Lazarus, who was in the tomb for four whole days. With one word alone, He commanded the winds and the waves of the lake of Gennesaret and they became totally calm. With five loaves and two fish, He fed five thousand men, not counting women and children, and with four loaves, four thousand.

Let us remember how, every day, He would heal the sick, curing every form of infirmity, and driving out the evil spirits from the demon-possessed. How again He gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf with only one touch. Do these not suffice?

These all, however, were not enough for those people who envied Him, for those people of whom the great Prophet Isaiah spoke: "'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'” (Matthew 13:14-15)

To all of those people hard of hearing and with darkened eyes, however, for whom these were not enough, our Lord Jesus Christ offered the great wonder of His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. To Him Who shone with an astonishing divine light, the prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, appeared, and worshipped the Creator of the Law. With fear and trembling, the apostles Peter, James and John saw this wondrous sight. And afterwards, from the cloud which covered them, they heard the voice of God: “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5)

The holy apostles preached throughout the world, that our Lord Jesus Christ is “truly, the radiance of the Father.” [Kontakion of the Transfiguration]

The whole world, when they heard this, should have knelt before our Lord Jesus Christ, and worshiped the True Son of God.

The appearance on Tabor of the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament and the worshiping of the Lord Jesus Christ at His Transfiguration, should have forever shut the abominable lips of the scribes and Pharisees, who hated the Lord Jesus, and perceived Him as the violator of the Law of Moses. But even till today, the Jews do not believe that He is the Messiah.

Not only do the Jews not believe in Him, but even many Christians [doubt Him], those who had been dazzled by the divine light of our Lord Jesus Christ. The little flock of Christ is becoming smaller yet, for which the divine light of Christ shines with the same strength with which it shone upon the apostles Peter, James and John then on Mount Tabor.

However, do not loose hope, because our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Do not fear, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

The faithlessness among the people took on alarming proportions, and the light of Christ shined from within the dark cloud of atheism. Today, more constantly than ever, we bring to mind the fearsome word of Christ: “When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Let us not loose hope, however, because He, speaking of the signs of His Second Coming, said: “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21:28)

Therefore, may your lives be such that at the terrible day of Judgment, we might lift up our head, and not stoop down in deep despair. Amen.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Differences Among Trials

A section taken from “Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles, Experiences, Teachings,” by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi

Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959)

Trials, or temptations (πειρασμοὶ -- peirasmoi) are so called because they engender experience (πεῖρα -- peira), since in the unseen warfare they do indeed afford spiritual knowledge to those who are mindful. Anything is called a temptation if it is in opposition to our struggle for faith and true piety as we press on towards submission to God, but they are sub-divided into various kinds, according to the understanding of the Fathers. There are the trials of those actively engaged in the struggle, so that they may make additional gains and progress in their struggle. There are the trials of the slothful and unwilling, to make them beware of things that are harmful and dangerous. There are the trials of those who are drowsy or sleeping, in order to wake them up. Then again there are the trials of those who have distanced themselves and gone astray, to make them draw near to God. Different again are the trials of the righteous and friends of God, so that they may inherit the promise. There are also trials of the perfect, which God permits in order to bring them forward in the Church for the strengthening of the faithful and as an example to be emulated. There is also another kind of trial, again of the perfect, such as those endured by our Lord and the Apostles, who fulfilled the law of communion with the world by taking up the trials which are ours.

Spiritual fathers also participate in this law of ‘communion’ by bearing the burdens and the weaknesses of their spiritual children through prayers and other struggles, supplementing what is lacking in others. There is also another way, according to the Fathers, in which one person may be a sharer in someone else’s trials, and this is as follows: the accuser shares in the trials of the accused, the slanderer in those of the slandered, the wrongdoer in those of the wronged -- especially when those who are wronged endure the harm done to them without a murmur.

We shall speak at this point of the trials of those who are making progress as a result of their attentiveness and willingness to struggle, which -- again in the judgment of our Fathers -- are usually the following: indolence, heaviness of body, languor of the limbs, listlessness, confusion of the mind, suspicion of bodily sickness -- faintheartedness, in other words -- darkening of the thoughts, being abandoned by human help, deprivation in their external needs and the like. All these things, when -- by God’s consent -- they befall participants in the struggle, give rise to a sense of dereliction. Their faith then begins to waver, as if the hope which had given them heart up till then had been cut off. But secretly grace consoles them so that they do not change their regime, because it convinces them that the trial has not come from themselves, since everything testifies that they have not abandoned their consistent good practice. After facing this difficulty and receiving the mystical consolation of grace, they turn with faith and yearning towards God who has power to save them, and fall down in humility asking His salvation, which is the end to which they have endured these trials. Such, according to the Fathers, are the trails of those who are advanced and making progress in spiritual matters.

In those who chance to neglect their duties or, which is the most terrible, fall into self-conceit and pride, the trials are different and harsher, in the same way as surgical operations and excisions are called for in cases of serious illness. The demons at first make war on them openly and quite shamelessly and insistently, and beyond their strength (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). They experience a darkening of the mind so that they lose the power of discrimination altogether, and imbecility and idiotic thoughts abound; an intense war of the flesh, pressing their will to go contrary to nature; anger for no reason and intractability in whatever concerns their own will; quarrelling on the spur of the moment and rebuking people at random; blasphemous thoughts against God; a loss of courage in the heart; being mocked by the demons, secretly and openly; lack of restraint in idle talk and, in general, a desire for the world and for idle vanities. After that, trials which are severe and hard to dispel: strange and unusual symptoms of illness and painful wounds, a poverty and dereliction that is extraordinary and defies consolation, and all other things that seem impossible and insoluble, giving rise to despair and fear because the heart is devoid of hope. All these things are consequences mainly of pride, and come upon the person who has been led astray into believing in himself; these are all also the medicines for his healing, to make him sober up and humble himself and vomit out the bile of this devastating perversion.

Just as in matters of grace there are means of assistance which augment our progress both in time and in quantity, so also on the side of error there are factors which contribute to its fluctuation. On the side of grace, when by the grace of Christ someone treads the strait and narrow way (Mt. 7:14) of the commandments according to the measure of his understanding and accompanied by humility and compassion in the service of love, he increases the aid and illumination given by grace.

Something comparable happens on the side of deception. If impatience and grumbling are added to it, one’s cross becomes twice as heavy, if not more. Faintheartedness and lack of hope are the most excruciating horrors of the unseen warfare, and are reserved for hard and unhumbled characters as the harshest lesson, which is a taste of hell itself and of punishment, a palpable sign of desertion and dereliction. Here it takes the prayers of saints and the intervention of a miracle for the heart to be softened. Many prayers and tears are needed for this sick soul to be reunited with grace and to be healed: otherwise it is inevitable that error will conquer, and that way lies madness and destruction.

O blessed humility and gratitude! Who is wise and will keep thy ways and understand thy statutes, that he may win thee totally and have thee as his intimate companion: that thou mayest go before him and follow him in all his ways, until thou presentest him to thy Master and King, who has taken thee as His delight and sharer of His throne and has revealed thee to us! For he says, ‘Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart’ (and not just in appearance) ‘and you will find rest for your souls’! (Mt. 11:29).

It was not our intention to repeat so many problems and explanations that are familiar to us from the Fathers; we were carried away by our train of thought, since almost unintentionally we found ourselves amidst the whirlwinds of trials to which we so often fall victim through our many deficiencies and lapses in attention.

The ever-memorable Elder [Joseph] never stopped explaining to us at every stage of our life, in his own winsome way, the aim and purpose of these misfortunes that befall us. We understood the movement and functioning of these misfortunes constantly within the framework of the spiritual law which regulated everything in our lives in detail. Indeed, how much wisdom is concealed here for those who have understanding in the science of the spiritual life, when they chart their course over this ocean of life using nothing but this lodestone of the spiritual law, ‘the law of the spirit of life’ (Rom. 8:2).

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Nothing smells worse than pride ( St. Kosmas Aitolos )

There was a virtuous hermit who frequently prayed to God, and who received revelations of many divine mysteries. One day he set out from his hermitage to travel to a distant region. Along the way, he met another man who was journeying in the same direction. This individual was actually an angel, but the hermit did not realize this and assumed he was a regular human being.

As they journeyed together, along the path they
encountered a dead horse. The hermit covered his nose and held his breath; the angel did not. A short while later, they came across a dead calf. The hermit again covered his nose and held his breath; the angel did not. Not long after, they found a dead dog in their path. The hermit covered his nose and held his breath; the angel did nothing.

Eventually they approached a certain village
where they crossed paths with a beautiful young lady, who was wearing extravagant clothing and
ornate jewelry, and taking great pride in her appearance.

The angel then immediately covered his nose. When the hermit witnessed this, he stopped and
asked, “Who are you? Are you an angel, a human being, or a demon? ...

We passed by a dead horse that stunk, but you did not cover your nose. We also passed by the dead calf and dog, and I did not see you cover your nose. Now that we passed by such a beautiful young lady you decided to cover your nose and hold your breath?” Then the angel made himself visible to the hermit and replied, “Nothing smells as bad as pride does to God.” Having said this, the angel disappeared.

The hermit then returned back to his hut and
began weeping for his sins, beseeching God
to protect him henceforth from the devil’s traps, and not allow him to fall into the sin of pride and
thus lose his soul.

St. Kosmas Aitolos

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Our individual persona isn’t terminated on death ( Elder Marcel of Karakallou, Mt Athos )

(Skulls of the monks on Mt. Athos, Greece)

From the time we’re created, each individual has a particular mode of existence, which is not extinguished when we die. Saint John the Damascan says that the union of soul and body occurs at the beginning of our formation. ‘Body and soul are formed at the same time’. This specific persona of each individual is not dismantled even on our death. The soul may indeed be separated from the body at death, but the personhood remains the same.
Each person is a unique and inimitable personality. This special individuality, this specific persona, never ceases to exist. This is why, in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the Lord says that the rich man saw Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, not merely Lazarus’ soul.
The aim of the divine incarnation was to bring fallen humankind into their inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is why all the Fathers declare that the Word of God became human in order to deify human nature.
When we talk about the deification (glorification) of human nature, we agree that the righteous become sharers in divine nature, although always with the proviso that their human nature isn’t obliterated, but participates in the divine glory of our inapproachable God to the extent that we’re able to do so.
In other words, the individuality of each person is retained, elevated through the resurrection, approaches divine glory, but still remains finite.
And all of this depends on the incarnation of the Divine Word. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, took human nature upon Himself and united with it as a Person and a Persona. Both natures remained unconfused. When the flesh was deified, it didn’t lose its own nature. This is Jesus, perfect God and perfect human. It was over the dogma of the two natures and one hypostasis of Christ that all the battles with the Monophysites were fought.
By grace, not by essence, the righteous take part in divine glory and communion, but each person continues to retain his or her personality. But this is where God’s magnificent and infinite wisdom and loving-kindness come in.
The Word as infinite God ‘dwells in inaccessible light’ (I Tim. 6, 16) and no-one can approach His divine brilliance, but all of us saved Christians are united to His divine human nature, and, all together constitute His body, ‘the fullness of Him who fills all in all’ (Eph. 1, 23). Since Christ is the Head of the Church and we are the members, then the body becomes perfect when we’re all united in Christ. The Church is His body, the fulfilment of Christ as a person.
What has been said so far is enough to prove that the incarnate Word of God is the root cause of the fact that people retain their personalities even after death. This becomes even clearer from the teachings of the holy Fathers.
This indissoluble persona, consisting of the soul and the body, is described for us by Gregory the Theologian in his funeral oration for his brother Kaisarios: ‘I await the voice of the Archangel, the last trump, the transformation of the heavens, the alteration of the earth, the liberation of the elements, the renewal of the world. Then I’ll see Kaisarios himself, without having died, without us accompanying him to the tomb, without lamentation, without us feeling sorry for him. He’ll be bright, glorious, elevated…’
The notion that the separation of the soul from the body doesn’t eradicate a person’s individual identity is also accepted by Saint Gregory of Nyssa. In his dialogue with his sister, Saint Makrina, he uses two wonderful examples and with stunning precision demonstrates that the soul always recognizes its own body, both as it was when they were united and after their separation.
He uses an example from painting. In order to paint a subject, the artist mixes a variety of colours, but can still discern the individual colours he’s applied in making the mixture.
A second example he uses is from pottery and again demonstrates that the soul has no difficulty in identifying its own body, even when it’s mixed with other, foreign elements. Ceramic objects are made from the same clay. The potter creates a variety of objects which don’t have the same form or the same use. A pitcher is one thing, a wine-jar another and a plate something else. All of these objects have their own shapes and particular features, by which they’re recognized by their owners.
And then again, if they’re broken, they can be mended and become recognizable: which bits belongs to the wine-jar, to the pitcher, to the cup. And if the broken pieces get mixed up with unworked clay, then it’s even easier for the owner to recognize the baked pieces.
From the above we can understand very clearly that death, that is the separation of the soul from the body, doesn’t eradicate a person’s individual identity. People stay the same.
The separation of the soul from the body is temporary and lasts as long as they’re in what we call the middle situation of the departed. At Christ’s second coming, the soul and body will be united. We shall rise, with new bodies, not subject to decay, as Saint Paul teaches us: the Lord ‘will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of His glory’, (Phil. 3, 21).
And Saint Makarios the Egyptian affirms the permanent integrity of human nature with great clarity: ‘At the Resurrection, all the members rise and not a single hair is lost, as has been written, “Not a hair of your head shall be lost” (Luke 21, 18). And everything will be lambent, bathed in light and fire and transformed, not, as some say, broken up and consumed by the fire so that their nature no longer exists. Because Peter’s still Peter, Paul Paul and Philip Philip. People remain in their own nature and specific identity, filled with the Holy Spirit’.

(†Markellos Karakallinos, Η φύση του σώματος μετά την Ανάστασιν, Holy Monastery of Karakallou, pp. 20-24).

Saturday, July 21, 2018

St. Porphyrios and the Hippies

St. Porphyrios once said:

One day a hippie visited me. He was dressed in something colorful, strange clothes, and wore an amulet and jewelery, and he asked to see me. The nuns were worried, so they came and asked me, and I told them to have him enter. As soon as he sat across from me, I could see his soul. He had a good soul, but was wounded which was why he was a revolutionary.

I spoke to him with love and he was moved. "Elder", he said, "nobody until today has ever spoken to me like this." I had told him his name, and he was confused as if I knew him. "Well," I told him, "God revealed your name and that you travelled as far as India where you met a guru and you followed him." He was in even greater wonder. I told him other things about himself, and he left pleased. The next week he arrived with a group of hippies.

They all gathered together within my cell and sat around me. A girl was also with them. I liked them very much. They were good souls, but wounded. I did not speak to them about Christ, because I saw they weren't ready to hear of it. I spoke their own language about topics that interested them. When we were finished and they got up to leave, they told me: "Elder, we would like a favor: allow us to kiss your feet." I was embarrassed, but what could I do, I allowed them. After they gave me a blanket as a gift. I will call for it to be brought, so you can see it. It's very nice. After a time the girl visited me, the hippie, by herself. They called her Maria.

I saw that Maria was more advanced in her soul than her friends and she was the first I spoke to about Christ. She received my words. She has come other times, and has taken a good path. Maria also told her friends: "Hey naughty children, I would never have imagined that I would come to know Christ through hippie friends."
St. Porphyrios