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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Comparing Orthodox Spirituality & Other Traditions ( Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos )


Orthodox spirituality differs distinctly from any other “spirituality” of an eastern or western type. There can be no confusion because Orthodox spirituality is God-centered, whereas all others are man-centered.
The difference appears primarily in the doctrinal teaching. For this reason we put “Orthodox” before the word “Church” so as to distinguish it from any other religion. Dogmas are the results of decisions made at the Ecumenical Councils on various matters of faith. Dogmas are referred to as such, because they draw the boundaries between truth and error, between sickness and health. Dogmas express the revealed truth. They formulate the life of the Church. Dogmatic differences reflect corresponding differences in therapy. If a person does not follow the “right way” he cannot ever reach his destination. If he does not take the proper “remedies,” he cannot ever acquire health; in other words, he will experience no therapeutic benefits. Again, if we compare Orthodox spirituality with other Christian traditions, the difference in approach and method of therapy is more evident.


A fundamental teaching of the Holy Fathers is that the Church is a “Hospital” which cures the wounded man. In many passages of Holy Scripture such language is used, for example in that of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, the Samaritan represents Christ who cured the wounded man and led him to the Inn, which is to the “Hospital” which is the Church. It is evident here that Christ is presented as the Healer, the physician who cures man’s maladies; and the Church as the true Hospital. It is very characteristic that Saint John Chrysostom, analyzing this parable, presents the truths emphasized above.


Man’s life “in Paradise” was reduced to a life governed by the devil and his wiles. “And fell among thieves,” that is in the hands of the devil and of all the hostile powers. The wounds man suffered are the various sins, as the prophet David says: “my wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness” (Psalm 37). For “every sin causes a bruise and a wound.” The Samaritan is Christ Himself who descended to earth from Heaven in order to cure the wounded man. He used oil and wine to “treat” the wounds; in other words, by “mingling His blood with the Holy Spirit, he brought man to life.” Then the Good Samaritan, i.e. Christ, took man to the grand, wondrous and spacious Inn - to the Church. He handed man over to the innkeeper, who is the Apostle Paul, and through the Apostle Paul to all bishops and priests, saying: “Take care of the Gentile people, whom I have handed over to you in the Church. They suffer illness wounded by sin, so cure them, using as remedies the words of the Prophets and the teaching of the Gospel; make them healthy through the admonitions and comforting word of the Old and New Testaments.” Thus, according to Saint Chrysostom, Paul is he who maintains the Churches of God, “curing all people by his spiritual admonitions and offering to each one of them what they really need.”


In the interpretation of this parable by Saint John Chrysostom, it is clearly shown that the Church is a Hospital which cures people wounded by sin; and the bishops and priests are the therapists of the people of God. And this precisely is the work of Orthodox theology. When referring to Orthodox theology, we do not simply mean a history of theology. In Patristic tradition, theologians are the God-seers. Saint Gregory Palamas calls Barlaam [who attempted to bring Western scholastic theology into the Orthodox Church] a “theologian,” but he clearly emphasizes that intellectual theology differs greatly from the experience of the vision of God. Theology is the fruit of man’s cure and the path which leads to the acquisition of the knowledge of God.


Western theology, however, has differentiated itself from Eastern Orthodox theology. Instead of being therapeutic, it is more intellectual and emotional in character. In the West, scholastic theology evolved and is now based on rational thought whereas Orthodoxy is hesychastic. Scholastic theology tried to understand logically the Revelation of God and conform to a philosophical methodology. The Scholastics acknowledged God at the outset and then endeavored to prove His existence by logical arguments and rational categories. In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the Holy Fathers, faith is God revealing Himself to man. We accept faith by hearing it not so that we can understand it rationally, but so that we can cleanse our hearts, attain to faith by theoria (see note, end of article) and experience the Revelation of God.


Scholastic theology reached its culminating point in the person of Thomas Aquinas, a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. He claimed that Christian truths are divided into natural and supernatural. Natural truths can be proven philosophically, like the truth of the Existence of God. Supernatural truths - such as the Triune God, the incarnation of the Logos, the resurrection of the bodies - cannot be proven philosophically, yet they cannot be disproved. Scholasticism linked theology very closely with philosophy and with metaphysics, and is accountable for much of the tragic situation created in the West with respect to faith and faith issues.


The Holy Fathers, however, teach that natural and metaphysical categories do not exist but speak rather of the created and uncreated. Never did the Holy Fathers accept Aristotle’s metaphysics. Theologians of the West during the middle Ages considered scholastic theology to be a further development of the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and from this point on, there begins the teaching of the Franks that scholastic theology is superior to that of the Holy Fathers. Consequently, Scholastics, who are occupied with reason, consider themselves superior to the Holy Fathers of the Church. They also believe that human knowledge, an offspring of reason, is loftier than Revelation and experience.


It is within this context that the conflict between Barlaam and Saint Gregory Palamas should be viewed. Barlaam was essentially a scholastic theologian who attempted to pass on scholastic theology to the Orthodox East. Barlaam’s views -- that we cannot really know Who the Holy Spirit is exactly, that the ancient Greek philosophers are superior to the Prophets and the Apostles (since reason is above the vision of the Apostles), and that the hesychastic way of life (i.e. the purification of the heart and the unceasing noetic prayer) is not essential -- are views which express a scholastic and, subsequently, a secularized point of view of theology. Saint Gregory Palamas foresaw the danger of these views and through the power and energy of the Most Holy Spirit and the experience which he himself had acquired as a successor to the Holy Fathers, he confronted this great danger and preserved unadulterated the Orthodox Faith and Tradition.


If Orthodox spirituality is now examined in relationship to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the differences are immediately discovered.


Protestants do not have a “therapeutic treatment” tradition. They suppose that believing in God, intellectually, constitutes salvation. Yet salvation is not a matter of intellectual acceptance of truth; rather it is a person’s transformation and divinization by grace. In the Holy Scripture it appears that faith comes by hearing the Word and by experiencing “theoria” (“The vision of God”). We accept faith at first by hearing in order to be healed, and then we attain to faith by theoria, which saves man. Protestants, because they believe that faith by hearing saves man, do not have a “therapeutic tradition.” It could be said that such a conception of salvation is very naive.


The Latins as well do not have the perfection of the therapeutic tradition which the Orthodox Church has. Their doctrine of the Filioque is a manifestation of the weakness in their theology to grasp the relationship existing between the person and society. They confuse the personal properties: the “unbegotten” of the Father, the “begotten” of the Son, and the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause of the “generation” of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit. The three Disciples of Christ (Peter, James and John) beheld the glory of Christ on Mount Tabor; they heard at once the voice of the Father, “This is My beloved Son,” and saw the coming of the Holy Spirit in a cloud, for the cloud is the presence of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Gregory Palamas says. Thus the Disciples acquired the knowledge of the Triune God in theoria and by revelation. It was revealed to them that God is one essence in three hypostases.


A faith, thus, is a true faith inasmuch as it has therapeutic benefits. If it is able to cure, then it is a true faith. If it does not cure, it is not a true faith. The same thing can be said about medicine: a true scientist is the doctor who knows how to cure and his method has therapeutic benefits, whereas a charlatan is unable to cure. The same holds true where matters of the soul are concerned. The difference between Orthodoxy and the Latin tradition, as well as the Protestant confessions, is apparent primarily in the method of therapy. This difference is made manifest in the doctrines of each denomination. Dogmas are not philosophy, neither is theology the same as philosophy.


Since Orthodox spirituality differs distinctly from the “spiritualities” of other confessions, so much the more does it differ from the “spirituality” of eastern religions, which do not believe in the Theanthropic nature of Christ and the Holy Spirit. These traditions are unaware of the notion of personhood and thus the hypostatic principle. And love, as a fundamental teaching, is totally absent. One may find, of course, in these Eastern religions an effort on the part of their followers to divest themselves of images and rational thoughts, but this is in fact a movement towards nothingness, to non-existence. There is no path leading their “disciples” to theosis-divinization (see note below) of the whole man.


This is why a vast and chaotic gap exists between Orthodox spirituality and the eastern religions, in spite of certain external similarities in terminology. For example, eastern religions may employ terms like ecstasy, dispassion, illumination, noetic energy, etc. but they are impregnated with content different from corresponding terms in Orthodox spirituality.


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Notes


Theoria is the vision of the glory of God. Theoria is identified with the vision of the Uncreated Light, the uncreated energy of God, with the union of man with God, with man’s theosis. Thus, theoria, vision and theosis are closely connected.


Theosis-Divinization is the participation in the Uncreated grace of God. Theosis is identified and connected with the theoria (vision) of the Uncreated Light (see above). It is called theosis in grace because it is attained through the energy, of the divine grace. It is a co-operation of God with man, since God is He Who operates and man is he who co-operates.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Most Holy Theotokos - Image of an Ideal Woman


One of the most terrible manifestations of our times is the complete distortion of the image of an ideal woman. The ideal image depicted for us by the mass media shows a sort of attractive witch, unashamedly half-naked, with loose and disheveled hair, impudent glance, business-like, energetic, fearless, unfettered by moral laws or conscience. In consequence, unfortunate young girls and women – mothers, wives, daughters, – striving to imitate this devilish image, corrupt their souls, ruin their families, hopelessly destroy their own and others’ lives.

Yet at the same time we – Orthodox Christians – always have before our eyes the image of the One Who was more beautiful and wondrous than all the people on earth and even all the celestial denizens, the cherubim and the seraphim, the One Whom the Pre-eternal Council chose to become the Mother of God. As St. Dimitry of Rostov says: “After Adam’s transgression the Word of God did not forthwith come down to earth to be incarnated and save fallen mankind,” because “there was not yet a single maiden on earth who was pure not only in body, but also in spirit.” Thus the Theotokos’s major characteristic is Her virginal purity.

Another characteristic of this greatest Handmaiden of God is Her humility. Of all the personages in the Gospel, there is no one about whom we know so little as the Holy Virgin; Her entire life is shrouded in mystery, and yet She was undoubtedly the spiritual center of the first Christian Church after Her Divine Son’s Ascension; however, under the cover of modesty, She preferred to remain in the shadows.

The third characteristic of the Holy Virgin, according to St. Dimitry of Rostov, was Her all-encompassing and boundless love for God, which is mentioned in the following spiritual song: “O Mother-Virgin, miracle of chastity! Thou art daughter of the heavenly Father, the bride of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of Christ – the Son of God.”

There was not a single one among the Holy Fathers who did not laud the Theotokos! Foretold and presaged by the Old Testament prophets, She is glorified by all the ancient and contemporary Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.
As St. Gregory of Neocaesaria says, what amazes us in the Holy Virgin is not only Her chaste and pure physical beauty, but above all the beauty of Her soul. She was holy both in body and soul. Her garments were modest, Her gait was dignified, Her speech was brief, pouring out of a humble heart; all Her thoughts and all Her desires were turned only towards God.


The Church historian Nikiforos Kallistos adds: in conversing with others She retained Her modesty, did not laugh immoderately, did not express indignation, did not argue, never thought of Herself, and was characterized by total humbleness.
More than anything else in the world She loved Her Son, loved Him so much that She was ready to die with Him, yet with what courage and firmness She accompanied Him when He went on His path of suffering, was present at Golgotha when He was being crucified, stood at His Cross and attended His burial. “She wears the crown of martyrs, – says Leo the Philosopher, – because as She stood at the Cross, with Her soul pierced by the greatest anguish, She suffered more than all the martyrs.”




She loved and respected Her family members, but also loved and welcomed all strangers. St. Ambrose of Milan says: “She never offended anyone, never denigrated anyone, even the poorest person. Her modest belongings, consisting of two robes, She gave away before Her death to the two widows who served Her.”

Each person’s death sums up his life and brings recompense from the Lord – either reward or punishment. The most-glorious Dormition of the Mother of God revealed Her in all Her majesty and glory. Three days before Her death the Archangel Gabriel appeared before Her, announced Her repose and gave Her a shining branch from paradise – symbol of victory over death and corruption. On the third day after Her Dormition, the Mother of God appeared to the apostles in indescribable glory, surrounded by a multitude of angels, and said: “Rejoice, I am with you forever.” The apostles, filled with joy, instead of saying their usual “O Lord Jesus Christ, help us!”, exclaimed: “O Holy Mother of God, help us!”

And thus all Christians pray to the Holy Mother of God to help them. Help us then, O Most Holy Theotokos, grant our children the enlightenment to see in Thee the purest and most beautiful example of behavior, save and protect them from the vices and temptations of these evil times!


Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 16, 2003..

Monday, July 9, 2018

The children, their joys and their difficulties ( St. Paisios )

Q.: I’ve noticed, Elder, that sometimes babies smile at the time of Divine Liturgy.

A.: They don’t do that only at the Divine Liturgy. Babies are in constant contact with God, because they’ve got nothing to worry about. What did Christ say about little children? ‘Their angels in heaven continually gaze upon the face of my Father who is in heaven’. They’re in touch with God and with their guardian angel, who’s with them all the time. They smile in their sleep sometimes, and at other times cry, because they see all sorts of things. Sometimes they see their guardian angels and play with them- the angels stroke them, tease them, shake their fists and they laugh. On other occasions they see some kind of temptation and cry.

Q.: Why does temptation come to babies?

A.: It helps them to feel the need to seek their mothers. If there wasn’t this fear, they wouldn’t need to seek the comfort of being cuddled by their mothers. God allows everything so that it’ll turn out well.

Q.: Do they remember what they see as babies when they grow up?

A.: No, they forget. If a little child remembered the number of times it had seen its guardian angel, it might fall into pride. That’s why, when it grows up, it forgets. God’s wise in His doings.

Q.: Do they see these things after baptism?

A.: Of course after baptism.

Q.: Elder, is it all right for an unbaptized child to reverence relics?

A.: Why not? And they can be blessed with the holy relics. I saw a child today, it was like a little angel. I asked, ‘Where are your wings?’ It didn’t know what to say! At my hermitage, when spring comes and the trees are in blossom, I put sweets on the holm-oaks next to the gate in the fence and I tell the little boys who come: ‘Go on, boys, cut the sweets from the bushes, because if it rains they’ll melt and spoil’. A few of the more intelligent ones know that I’ve put them there and laugh. Others really believe that they’ve grown there and some others have to think about it. Little children need a bit of sunshine.

Q.: Did you put lots of sweets, Elder?

A.: Well, of course. What could I do? I don’t give good sweets to grown-ups; I just give them Turkish delight. When people bring me nice sweets, I keep them for the kids at the School [the Athoniada]. ‘See, last night I planted sweets and chocolates and today they’ve come up! See that? The weather was good, the soil was well-turned because you’d dug it over well and they came up just like that. See what a flower garden I’ll make for you. We’ll never need to buy sweets and chocolates for kids. Why shouldn’t we have our own produce?’ (Elder Païsios had planted sweets and chocolates in the freshly dug earth and put lilac blossoms on top to make it seem that they were flowering).

Q.: Elder, some pilgrims saw the chocolates you planted in the garden because the paper stood out against the soil. They didn’t know what to make of it. ‘Some kid must have put them there’, they said.

A.: Why didn’t you tell them that a big kid put them there?



Q.: Elder, why does God give people a guardian angel, when He can protect us Himself?

A.: That’s God looking after us especially carefully. The guardian angel is God’s providence. And we’re indebted to Him for that. The angels particularly protect little children. And you wouldn’t believe how! There were two children once, playing in the street. One of them aimed at the other to hit him on the head with a stone. The other one didn’t notice. At the last moment, apparently, his angel drew his attention to something else, he leapt up and got out of the way. And then there was this mother who went out into the fields with her baby. She breast-fed it, put it down in its cradle and went off to work. After a bit, she went to check and what did she see? The child was holding a snake and looking at it! When she’d suckled the child, some of the milk had stayed on its lips, the snake had gone to lick it off and the baby had grabbed hold of it. God looks after children.

Q.: Elder, in that case, why do so many children suffer from illnesses?

A.: God knows what’s best for each of us and provides as necessary. He doesn’t give people anything that’s not going to benefit them. He sees that it’s better for us to have some sort of defect, a disability instead of protecting us from them.

Source: Discourses 4, Family Life, published by the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki

Friday, July 6, 2018

“NO THANKS, DOC” Rejecting spiritual medicine



It will be no surprise to learn that most people seek out the help of spiritual council at times they are in real need. The Church recognizes the sickness of sin and death in the world, and the Lord gives His Church to be the world’s spiritual hospital. Just like a hospital dedicated to healing physical illness, it makes good sense when those who are spiritually sick (which includes all of us) seek the therapy and medicine where it can be found. For the Church, this medicine is particularly to found in the Holy Mysteries of Communion and Confession.
For those who seek the advice of a doctor to treat their cancer, it would seem strange indeed to reject medical advice. We go to see a doctor because we are confident that the doctor has everything to offer us that his or her particular hospital can give for our sickness. For example, if cancer were so serious that it called for a strict regime of chemotherapy, radiation, and a special diet, we would not expect to see beneficial results merely by sitting at home in front of the television, or by devising our own method of treatment. If we plan in the first place to devise our own method, it would make no sense to consult the physicians. Why would we waste everyone’s time?
In the case of the spiritual hospital that is the Church, the grace of the Holy Spirit actively works through the Holy Mysteries which are conveyed to us in the priesthood. Unlike a physician of our bodies, the human “qualifications” do not stand in the way of our obtaining sufficient medicine for the healing of our souls. The grace of the priesthood allows the grace of God to work, such that the spiritual guidance given in Holy Confession is sufficient for our spiritual health. While spiritual “specialists” exist in the form of holy elders, we can benefit from Christ’s spiritual medicine in the Holy Mystery of Confession with any priest.





Do we in fact approach Confession this way, if we approach it at all? Do we consider ourselves to be better spiritual advisors than the priest, who does not give his own “advice”, but in fact, speaks the words given by grace? Many fathers testify that the words they speak in Holy Confession are not the words they intend to say to their spiritual child; many even leave hours of Confession wondering where the words come from! Of course, we know the real answer: the real physician is the Great Physician, Who leaves the priesthood dependant not on itself, on its seminary education, on psychology courses or counseling training, but on His Grace.
If we accept the reality of the grace of the priesthood and the Holy Mysteries of Communion and Confession, we have no choice but to accept in total the word which the Lord gives us through the Holy Mysteries. All Orthodox Christians – even priest and bishops – must take this critical step each time they place their head beneath the priestly stole seeking the absolution of their sins. Each time we do this, we will to accept the Lord’s medicine, and to strive as much as it is in our power to take the medicine as it is prescribed, not second guessing the spiritual prescription, or forgetting about it, or neglecting to check back with the spiritual physician on a regular basis, usually once every month or so.
To approach the Holy Mysteries with any other attitude is not simply blasphemous against the grace of the Holy Spirit – it is spiritual suicide. In rejecting the Holy Mysteries, we reject the only thing that can truly make us well, from the inside out. To reject them is to lose the greatest chance for a healthy life of soul and body.
To reject them is, in essence, to say “No thanks, Doc”, not to an earthly physician, but to the Great Physician Himself.


Source: www.asna.ca

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Concerning Pride ( The Salvation of Sinners )

The more you boast and gloat in your accomplishments, the more you will be disdained and ignored by God, Who opposes the proud, and Who disperses the minds and hearts of all who are conceited: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (Lk. 1:51).

Humility is the greatest of all gifts; conversely, pride stands as an obstacle to all good things, and it serves as the root of all transgressions.
In order for this evil to be cured, the Lord oftentimes permits us to fall into grave
mistakes and commit serious sins. Our all-wise Physician would certainly not permit this to take place if pride was not the worst and most
severe of all wrongdoings. The Prophet and King David once asserted pridefully, “I said in my prosperity I will never be shaken” (Ps.29:7);
that is to say, “I will not sin.” And so, in order to humble him and cure him of this pride, the Lord consequently permitted the prophet to commit adultery and murder.
 When the Lord foretold the Apostles that they would all abandon Him and flee as soon as the Jews apprehended Him, the Apostle Peter boasted in this manner: “Even if all the other Apostles abandon You, I will never leave you even if I have to lay down my life for Your love.”
(cf. Mt. 26:33-35).

On account of this haughtiness, the Lord permitted Peter to deny Him three times, so that he may subsequently humble himself, lament his weakness, and no longer think highly of himself. Similarly, many virtuous hermits dwelling in the desert, who cast out demons from people and
performed awesome signs and miracles later fell into grave and terrible sins. 

Whoever reads such accounts will be startled and certainly humble himself wholeheartedly.
Since the Lord permits people to fall into such
sins in order to cure their pride, it is obvious that pride is the worst of all sins. Oftentimes, God
also permits people to be falsely accused and slandered for crimes they have not committed in order to make them more humble. Additionally, He may send them various sorrows so that they do not end up becoming prideful, just as the Apostle Paul attests: “There was given to me an angel of
Satan to flog me, so that I do not boast on account of the many revelations I have received
(cf. 2Cor . 12:7).

from the book
The Salvation of Sinners
https://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/en/index.php 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Sorrows" Why they are sent and how to endure them



Sometimes sorrows are sent to us for the purpose of testing our faith and loyalty to God, and for strengthening us in this faith and loyalty. Many people, when living peacefully, think that they love God with all their hearts. Apostle Peter declared that he would never renounce his Lord; the other disciples wanted to follow Him unto death. But when the time of tribulation came - Peter renounced his Lord and Master; the disciples dispersed. And it was at this point that they realized, despite their heart- felt grief, that they had not yet reached the state in which they would find themselves later on, when they joyously suffered martyrdom and disgrace for Christ.

Without testing even iron looks like steel, pewter looks like silver, bronze looks like gold and plain glass looks like crystal, but tempering shows their true worth. The same happens with people: many appear to be meek and humble, simple and good, religious, etc., while tribulations often reveal them to be malicious, and proud, and cruel-hearted, and greedy, and envious, etc. Tribulations come in the form of loss and deprivation, grief, illness, disgrace, and those who endure the trials are found to be dependable candidates for the Kingdom of God, while those who are unable to endure are not dependable, because they still contain a large admixture of evil. Through suffering and woe in their lives, virtuous people become even more fortified in their virtue.

“Like a goldsmith, upon throwing gold into the furnace, leaves it to melt in the fire until he sees it attain the greatest purity, - says St. John Chrysostome, - so does the Lord allow the souls of men to suffer tribulations until they become pure and shining, and until they acquire great benefit from these temptations. If the goldsmith knows exactly how long he must keep the gold melting in the furnace and when to take it out, and never allows the gold to remain until it is spoiled or burned; even more so does God know, and when He sees that we have become purer, He delivers us from our tribulations, lest we stumble and fall. Let us not grumble and be faint of heart when something unexpected occurs, but let us allow the Lord to purify our soul as long as He wants; for He does it with great mercy and for our benefit.”

Suffering causes us to take stock, to look around, to ponder: are we living properly or have we, perhaps, wandered far away from the life prescribed to us by the Lord in His Gospel? St. John Chrysostome says: “When you see your woes multiplying, do not despair, but take heart. God allows them in order to shatter your indifference, to wake you up from sinful slumber. Because in times of woe everything that is extraneous is cut off, all earthly things are forgotten, man becomes more ardent in his prayer, more earnest in his charity, and passions are more easily vanquished as they flee in the face of sorrow.” “Moreover, - St. John notes elsewhere, - through the punishment and the tribulations which God sends us in this life, our future torment is greatly alleviated. Do you see how God uses all possible means so that we, even though we sin, would suffer a lighter punishment than we deserve, or would be delivered from it altogether?”

Thus, no matter how numerous and varied are the tribulations and sufferings in life, we see that not one of them is sent by chance, without a special purpose known only to Divine Providence. This makes it clear to us that we should endure all the vicissitudes of life patiently, because only in that case will our sorrows be beneficial for us and lead us to salvation. “Let us be thankful to God in all cases, - says St. John Chrysostom, - because that constitutes true gratitude. It is easy to be thankful in times of happiness, but it is noteworthy to be thankful in dire circumstances. If we give thanks for that which others blaspheme, from which others despair, - see the great wisdom in this: firstly, you have made God rejoice; secondly, you have put the devil to shame; thirdly, you have shown that what happened is not a burden to you. And at the moment in which you give thanks, - God takes away your sorrow, while the devil retreats. In other words, if you despair, then the devil, having received what he wants, stand next to you, while God, seeing your blasphemy, leaves you and your woes consequently increase. If, on the other hand, you give thanks, then the devil, not having had any success, leaves you, while God, having been honored by you, rewards you with even greater honor. There is nothing holier than the tongue which gives thanks in misfortune. It truly does not differ from the tongue of martyrs and receives the same crown as the latter. For next to this tongue stands an executioner, forcing it to renounce God through blasphemy, next to it stands the devil, who torments it with painful thoughts and darkens the heart with sorrow. Thus, whoever suffers tribulation and gives thanks to God, receives a martyr’s crown.”

Besides, we must always remember that no matter how great our suffering, it is never sent beyond the scope of our endurance. And even in the throes of the greatest suffering, an Orthodox Christian will find comfort in church and in the Holy Writ. St. John Chrysostom says: “Whatever the sorrow that disturbs our heart, it can easily cease when we come to church, for Christ Himself is present here, and everyone who approaches Him with faith can quickly be comforted.”

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk says: “When a father leaves his son without punishment and lets him live according to his will, then it is seen that the father has rejected his son; thus, when God leaves a person without punishment, this is a sign of his rejection from God’s mercy. One of the holy fathers told the following story: how, when he was in Alexandria, he once came to church to pray and saw a pious woman there. She was dressed all in black and, praying before an icon of the Saviour, she wept and tearfully repeated over and over again: “Thou hast abandoned me, o Lord! Have mercy upon me, o Merciful One!” Why is she crying so? - I thought. She is a widow and is probably being persecuted by someone. I will talk to her and comfort her. Waiting until she had finished praying, I came up to her and said: “Is someone causing you trouble that you are crying so?” - “Oh, no, - she said and began weeping anew, - no, father, you do not know my sorrow. I live among people and am not persecuted in any way. It is for this reason that I am crying: that God has forgotten to visit me and it is already three years that I have not been sent any tribulations. During all this time I myself have not been sick, my son has not been sick, I have not even lost a single chicken from my home. I therefore think that God has abandoned me for my sins, does not send me any woes, and so I am crying before Him, asking Him to have mercy upon me.” So do God-fearing people reason when they are not sent any sorrows for a long time: they think that God has forgotten them; they look upon sorrow as a special mark of attention from God, as a special mercy.”

Thus, dear brothers and sisters, remembering all of the above, let us not despair when we are visited by trials and tribulations.



“Spiritual instruction,” Moscow, 1906.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Spiritual Life in the Family ( St. Paisios )


The practice of virtue within the family

—Elder, how can a husband become practiced in the virtues?
—God will give him opportunities. Many men, however, after asking God to give them opportunities to practice the virtues, grumble when they are faced with a certain difficulty. For example, sometimes the Good God, in His boundless love, and in order to provide practice in humility and patience, will take away his Grace from the wife, and she will begin acting outlandishly and treating the husband inconsiderately. Then the husband should not complain, but rather rejoice and thank God for the opportunity to struggle which He has given him. Or, a mother asks God to grant her patience. Her little child then comes in, and as soon as she has the table set for dinner, he pulls on the table cloth and everything spills on the floor. At such times it’s as if the child is saying to his mother: “Mama, be patient!”
In general, the difficulties which exist today in the world force those who desire to live a little spiritual life to be watchful. Just as, may God protect us, in a war the people are in a watchful state, I see the same thing happening now with whomever strives to live spiritually. Look how tough the poor children have it who are close to the Church! But the war, which exists because of the terrible environment in which they live, helps them, in a way, to stay awake. You see, in times of peace, when there are no difficulties, the majority of people slack off. Instead, they should utilize such serenity for spiritual growth—to cut off their shortcomings and cultivate the virtues.
Silence greatly helps in spiritual life. It is good for one to practice silence for about an hour a day: to test himself, to acknowledge his passions and to fight in order to cut them off and purify his heart. It is very good if there is a quiet room in the house which gives him the feeling of a monastic cell. There, “in secret” [4], he is able to do his spiritual maintenance, to study, and to pray. A little spiritual study done before prayer helps greatly. The soul warms up and the mind is transported to the spiritual realm. That’s why, when a person has many distractions during the day, he should rejoice if he has ten minutes for prayer, or even two minutes to read something, so as to drive away distractions. 

—Elder, is this perhaps too difficult for someone living in the world?
—No, there are laymen who live very spiritually—even like ascetics—with their fasting, their services, their prayer ropes, their prostrations—even with children and grandchildren. On Sunday they go to church, receive Holy Communion, and then return home again to their “cell,” just like the hermits who go to the Kyriakon [5] on Sunday, and afterwards keep silence in their cells. Glory to God! There are many such souls in the world. As a matter of fact, I know a certain family man who says the Jesus prayer unceasingly, wherever he is, and has continuous tears at prayer. His prayer has become self-activating, and his tears are sweet; they are tears of divine rejoicing. I also remember a certain worker on the Holy Mountain—Yanni was his name—who worked very hard, doing the work of two men. I had advised him to start saying the Jesus Prayer while working, and slowly but surely he grew accustomed to it. He came to me once and told me that he felt great joy when he said the prayer. “‘Dawn is breaking,’” I told him. Soon after I learned he had been killed by two drunks. How saddened I was! A few days later a certain monk was looking for a tool, but he couldn’t find it because Yanni had put it somewhere. That evening Yanni appeared to him in his sleep and told him where he had left it. He had attained such a spiritual state that enabled him to help others from the life hereafter.
How simple spiritual life is! If one loves God, if he acknowledges His great Sacrifice and benefactions and if he forces himself with discernment in imitating the Saints, he will quickly become holy. He attains humility and an understanding of his own wretchedness and his tremendous ungratefulness to God. 

Prayer in the family
—Elder, should the entire family do compline together at night? [6]
—The older family members should motivate the youngsters with their solemnity. They should do compline and say to the small children: “If you want, stay a little while.” When the children are somewhat bigger they can have a rule—for example, fifteen minutes for the older ones, and two to five minutes for the small children—then after their rule, as much as they want. If the parents make them stay for all of compline they’ll resent it. Parents shouldn’t pressure their children because they don’t yet understand the power and value of prayer. Parents, you could say, are able to eat beans and meat: hearty food. But when a little child is still only drinking milk, should they tell him to eat meat because it is strengthening? Maybe it is more strengthening, but the poor thing can’t even digest it. That’s why starting out they should give him little pieces of meat and broth, so that he’ll want more.
—Elder, sometimes even the adults are so tired in the evening that they aren’t able to do compline.
—When adults are very tired or sick they should say half of the compline or at least one “Our Father.” They should not completely bypass prayer. In wartime if you end up on a hill in the evening, surrounded by enemies, you let out a few shots to frighten the enemy, so they will not attack. Adults should also let out a few shots so as to scare the little demons away.
Prayer has great power within the family. I know two siblings who not only kept their parents—who had a big problem between them—from separating, but even caused them to be more in love. With us my father said: “You don’t know what you’re going to do; two times a day you must entrust the future to God, so as to know where you’ll end up.” Each morning and evening we would all pray together before the icons, father, mother and the children, ending with a prostration before the icon of Christ. When a problem arose in the family we would pray and it would clear up. I remember once, when our youngest brother got sick and my father said: “Come, let’s beg God to make him well or to take him, so that he won’t suffer anymore.” We all prayed together and he recovered.
Even at the table, we all sat together. First we prayed and then we would begin eating. If someone started to eat before the food was blessed we would say “he fornicated.” We considered a failure to remain temperate fornication. It destroys a family if each person comes home, at whatever hour he wants, and eats alone without reason.
Children and the spiritual life 

Elder, if a mother gives holy water to her child and he spits it out, what should she do?
—She should pray for her child. Maybe the way in which she gives the holy water to her child causes a reaction. For the child to be on the path of God the parents must also live right spiritually. Some parents who are religious strive to help their children to become good, not because they are concerned for the salvation of their souls, but because they what to have good children. In other words, they are more worried about what people will say about their child instead of whether they might go to hell. So how can God help? The aim is not for children to go to church through compulsion, but to love the church; not to do good through compulsion, but to feel the need to do good. The holy lives of parents instruct the souls of their children and they naturally follow. In this way they grow up piously, with health of both soul and body and without spiritual injuries. If parents force their children out of fear of God, He helps and the child is benefited. If, however, they do it out of egoism, then God does not help. Children are often troubled because of their parent’s pride. 

—Elder, some mothers ask us what prayer should a child of three or four years old do?
—You should tell them: “You are the mother; see how much your child can handle.” They shouldn’t give them a rule. 

—Elder, what if the little children get tired when their parents bring them here for vigils? [7]
—During Orthros they should let them out a little to relax, and during Divine Liturgy bring them back into the church.
Without forcing their children mothers must teach them to pray. Villagers in Cappadocia* intensely lived the ascetic tradition. They would take their children to hermitages, do prostrations and pray with tears, and in this way, the children learned how to pray. Chetes [8] would sometimes go by night to rob them; and when passing the chapels they would hear crying and stop in surprise. “OK, what’s going on?” they would say. “During the day they are all smiles and at night they cry?” They couldn’t understand what was going on.
Miracles happen through the prayers of small children. Whatever they ask of God He gives them because they are guileless and He hears their pure prayer. I remember one time our parents had gone out into the field and had left me in the house with my two younger siblings. The sky suddenly darkened and a torrential rainstorm began. “What will our parents do now?,” we said. “How will they get back home?” The two little ones began crying. “Come here,” I told them, “we will ask Christ to stop the rain.” The three of us knelt down before the family’s icons and prayed. In just a few minutes the rain stopped.
Parents must use discernment to help their children draw near to Christ from their early years, and from their childhood to live the joy on high—spiritual joy. When they start school they should learn, little by little, to read spiritual books to help themselves live spiritually. In this way they will become little angels, and their prayers will have greater boldness before God. Such children are spiritual heads of the home. The lives of saints especially help small children in their spiritual lives. As a small boy I found a little book of the lives of saints which they had back in those days. I went out into the forest to read and pray. I was flying with joy. From the age of ten to sixteen, when the Greek-Italian war began, I lived the spiritual life without restraint. Childhood joys are pure; they leave an imprint on a person that greatly affects him when he grows up. If children live spiritually they will live joyfully in this life, and in the next they will rejoice eternally with Christ. 

Temptations on feast days
—Elder, why do temptations often occur on feast days?
—Don’t you know? On feast days, Christ, the Panagia, and the Saints are joyful. They treat people, giving blessings and spiritual gifts. If parents give gifts when their children celebrate their namedays and kings release prisoners when a prince is born, why shouldn’t the Saints care for us on special occasions, too? Certainly the joy they give greatly endures and our souls are greatly helped. Knowing this the devil creates temptations in order to deprive people of the Divine gifts: they neither rejoice nor benefit from the feast. Sometimes you even see when a family is preparing to commune on a feast day, that the devil will send them a temptation to fight and then not only do they not commune, but they don’t even go to church! That’s how the little demon does it, so as to be deprived of all Divine help.
The same thing can be seen in our own monastic life. Many times the little demon—tempter that he is, because he knows from experience that we will be spiritually helped on some feast—will, beginning on the eve of the feast, create an atmosphere of temptation. For example, he might get us to quarrel with another brother, and then afterwards torment us in order to overpower us both spiritually and bodily. In this way he doesn’t allow us to benefit from the feast, with its joyous atmosphere of doxology. But the Good God helps us when He sees that we had not given occasion, but that this happened only by the envy of the evil one. And God helps us even more when we humbly reproach ourselves, blaming neither our brother nor even the devil, who hates everything good. For his work is this: to create scandals and spread evil—while man, as the image of God, should spread peace and goodness. 



An excerpt from the book Family Life (Vol 4), by Elder Paisios the Athonite

Thursday, June 21, 2018

On wearing lipstick ( Church Etiquette )

Lipstick looks terrible smeared on icons, crosses, the communion spoon, and the priest’s or bishop’s hand. Hand-written icons have been ruined by lipstick; and even though the cross or spoon can usually be cleaned after everyone venerates, it’s not very considerate to those who follow. What is the answer? If one insists on wearing lipstick to church, blot your lips well before venerating... Point of consideration: God, Whom we alone come before in Liturgy, is not impressed with our external attractiveness, but with the adorning of our souls in humility, good works, and piety.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The desire for good food is a trap of the evil one ( St. Paisios )




The desire for good food is a trap of the evil one. Whoever does not get rid of this desire is caught by the enemy’s hook and is fried in his own fat by his burning flesh. On the contrary, the desire for spiritual nourishment takes the heart away from earthly things and raises the soul to Heaven, where it tastes the food of angels.


St. Paisios

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Avoid Cancer, Live Like A Monk



A Foolproof Anti-Cancer Diet... With Just One or Two Drawbacks



If you want to avoid cancer, live like a monk. That is the inescapable conclusion from research into one of the world’s most renowned monastic communities.

The austere regime of the 1,500 monks on Mount Athos, in northern Greece, begins with an hour’s pre-dawn prayers and is designed to protect their souls.

Their low-stress existence and simple diet (no meat, occasional fish, home-grown vegetables and fruit) may, however, also protect them from more worldly troubles.

The monks, who inhabit a peninsula from which women are banned, enjoy astonishingly low rates of cancer.

Since 1994, the monks have been regularly tested, and only 11 have developed prostate cancer, a rate less than one quarter of the international average. In one study, their rate of lung and bladder cancer was found to be zero.

Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki, said that the monks’ diet, which calls on them to avoid olive oil, dairy products and wine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, helped to explain the statistics. “What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and nonolive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins,” he said. “It’s not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way. Small simple meals at regular intervals are very important.”

Meals on the peninsula, which the Prince of Wales has visited regularly and which can only be reached by boat, are ascetic and repetitive affairs that have changed little over the centuries, although there are variations between the 20 monasteries.

The monks sit in silence while, from a pulpit, passages from the Bible are read in Greek. They eat at speed – as soon as the Bible passage is over, the meal is officially completed.

The staples are fruit and vegetables, pasta, rice and soya dishes, and bread and olives. They grow much of what they eat themselves. Agioritiko red wine is made locally from mountain grapes. Dairy products are rare – female animals are banned from the autonomous semi-state.

Life on Athos has changed little over the past 1,043 years. Breakfast is hard bread and tea. Much of the day is taken up with chores – cleaning, cooking, tending to crops – followed by a supper, typically of lentils, fruit and salad, and evening prayers.

Some of the seaside monasteries specialise in catching octopus, a delicacy that is softened up by bashing on the rock. Fish also feeds the Athos cats, protected by the monks for their mouse-catching prowess. Of all domestic animals, only cats are exempt from the ban on females. Some of the monks live in hillside huts or cliff-side caves perched above the sea as satellites of the main establishments, perhaps the closest that modern Christianity gets to medieval hermits. They depend for their sustenance on handouts of bread and olives.

On holidays and feast days such as Christmas and Easter, when other Greeks are feasting on roast meat, the monks prefer fish, their only culinary luxury. Father Moses of the Koutloumousi monastery, one of the 20 organised cloisters scattered over the Athos peninsula, said: “We never eat meat. We produce most of the vegetables and fruit we consume. And we never forget that all year round, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we don’t use olive oil on our food.”

The olive-oil routine, which also applies to wine and dairy products, appears to have no religious significance, but is a way of eking out their supplies.

All the monks stick to the rigorous fasting periods of the Orthodox Church, in which a strict vegan diet is prescribed for weeks at a stretch.

Michalis Hourdakis, a dietician associated with Athens University, said: “This limited consumption of calories has been found to lengthen life. Meat has been associated with intestinal cancer, while fruit and vegetables help ward off prostate cancer.”

The lack of air pollution on Mount Athos as well as the monks’ hard work in the fields also played their part, the researchers said. There was no mention, however, of whether the absence of women had any effect on the monks’ renowned spiritual calm.

Salad days: Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday

Breakfast: Hard bread, tea
Lunch: Pasta or rice,vegetables, olive oil
Dinner: Lentils, fruit and salad, olive oil. Red wine

Monday, Wednesday and Friday: no olive oil

Holidays and feast days: Fish and seafood

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Pride is the root and source of every sin ( The Salvation of Sinners )



Pride is the root and source of every sin. 
St. Gregory the Diologist refers to pride as “the queen of all sins.” Whereas St. Isidor states that pride “eradicates every existing virtue.”
Man is endowed with an array of spiritual virtues, physical attributes, and material goods. Examples of spiritual gifts are the grace of God, the gift
of prophecy, and the ability to perform miracles. 
Qualities that we possess naturally include intelligence, beauty, and strength. Forms of worldly prosperity we commonly attain are wealth, honor, and social status. When, however,
we do not understand that the Lord is He Who grants all these good traits and qualities to whomever He wants, as He wants, when He wants, and for as long as He wills, we begin to enter the realm of pride, which, according to St. Gregory, consists of five distinct stages

The first stage is when a person who possesses spiritual, physical, or material gifts does not comprehend that he received them from God, but
rather believes that they are the result of his own efforts. 
The second stage is when a person realizes that every good thing he possesses has been given to him by God; however, he does not consider them to be a free gift but something that he justifiably deserves on account of his own merit. 
The third stage is when someone imagines he possesses virtues that he, in fact,does not have. 
The fourth stage of pride is when someone looks down on others (who he regards as inferior), and,
believing that he is more deserving than others,
desires honor and recognition for himself
The fifth and final stage of pride is when a person does not observe and altogether ignores the
sacred laws that have been established by the holy Fathers, and rejects the sacred traditions of the Church (such as fasting,for example)
All of these stages are sinful; however, the fifth type of pride is worst because a person in this state, in a way, blatantly disregards and disdains God, the Master and King Who appointed the divine laws.
Just as humility is a trait of God’s select servants and a certain sign that they are destined to delight in His Heavenly Kingdom, similarly pride is a characteristic of people who will be condemned and indisputable testimony that they will be put to shame and punished eternally in Hell. For as Christ stated,
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Lk. 18:14).
Concerning Pride - from the book The Salvation of Sinners 
http://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/en/index.php

Friday, June 1, 2018

Those Who Find Fault With The Body ( St. John Chrysostom )



In as much, then, as you have now shaken off despondency, we are desirous to recall you to the recollection of former matters; so that our discourse may be rendered the clearer to you. For what we said of the creation, that God not only made it beautiful, and wonderful, and vast, but also weak and corruptible; and moreover that He has established various proofs of this; ordering both these circumstances for our advantage; leading us on by its beauty to admiration of Him who framed it: and by its weakness leading us away from the worship of the creature; this we may see, take place also in the case of the body. For with respect to this too there are many among the enemies to the truth, as well as among those who belong to our own ranks, who make it a subject of enquiry, why it was created corruptible and frail? Many also of the Greeks and heretics affirm, that it was not even created by God. For they declare it to be unworthy of God's creative art, and enlarge upon its impurities, its sweat, its tears, its labours, and sufferings, and all the other incidents of the body. But, for my part, when such things are talked of, I would first make this reply. Tell me not of man, fallen, degraded and condemned. But if you would learn what manner of body God formed us with at the first, let us go to Paradise, and survey the Man that was created at the beginning. For that body was not thus corruptible and mortal; but like as some statue of gold just brought from the furnace, that shines splendidly, so that frame was free from all corruption. Labour did not trouble it, nor sweat deface it. Cares did not conspire against it; nor sorrows besiege it; nor was there any other affection of that kind to distress it. But when man did not bear his felicity with moderation, but threw contempt upon his Benefactor, and thought a deceiving demon more worthy of credit than God who cared for him, and who had raised him to honour, and when he expected to become himself a god, and conceived thoughts above his proper dignity, then—then indeed it was that God, to humble him by decisive acts, made him mortal, as well as corruptible; and fettered him with such varied necessities; not from hatred or aversion, but in care for him, and to repress at the very outset that evil and destructive pride; and instead of permitting it to proceed any further, He admonished Him by actual experience, that he was mortal and corruptible; thus to convince him that he must never again think or dream of such things as he had done. For the devil's suggestion, was, "You shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5). Desiring then utterly to eradicate this idea, God made the body subject to much suffering and disease; to instruct him by its very nature that he must never again entertain such a thought. And that this is true, is really most evident from what befell him; for after such an expectation, he was condemned to this punishment. Consider also with me the wisdom of God in this matter. He did not allow him to be the first to die, but permitted his Son to suffer this death; in order that seeing before his eyes the body corrupting and decaying, he might receive a striking lesson of wisdom from that spectacle; and learn what had come to pass, and be duly chastened before he departed hence.

But why do you marvel if this has happened in respect to the body, when even with respect to the soul it is plain, that a similar thing has taken place. For God made it not mortal, but permitted it to be immortal; He constituted it however subject to forgetfulness, to ignorance, to sadness, and to care; and this, lest regarding its own nobility of birth, it might take up a conceit too high for its proper dignity. For if, even while the case stands thus, some have dared to aver, that it is of the Divine essence; to what a pitch of frenzy would they not have reached, if it had been devoid of these imperfections? What, however, I affirmed respecting the creation, I affirm also respecting the body, that both these things alike excite my admiration of God; that He has made it corruptible; and that in its very corruptibility, He has manifested His own power and wisdom. For that He could have made it of some better material, He has evidenced from the celestial and the solar substance. For He that made those such as they are, could have made this also like them, had He thought proper to do so. But the cause of its imperfection is what I before adverted to. This circumstance by no means lowers the admiration due to the Creator's workmanship, but rather increases it; for the meanness of the substance, manifests the resource and adaptiveness of His art; since He has introduced such a harmony of parts in clay and ashes, and senses so various and manifold and capable of such spiritual wisdom.

In proportion, therefore, as you find fault with the meanness of the substance, be so much the more astonished at the greatness of the art displayed. For this reason also, I do not so much admire the statuary who forms a beautiful figure out of gold, as him who, by the resources of art, is able, even in crumbling clay, to exhibit a marvellous and inimitable mould of beauty. In the former case, the material gives some aid to the artist, but in the latter, there is a naked display of his art. Would you learn then, how great the wisdom of the Creator is, consider what it is that is made out of clay? What else is there but brick and tile? Nevertheless, God, the Supreme Artist, from the same material of which only the brick and tile is formed, has been able to make an eye so beautiful, as to astonish all who behold it, and to implant in it such power, that it can at once survey the high aerial expanse, and by the aid of a small pupil embrace the mountains, forests, hills, the ocean, yea, the heaven, by so small a thing! Tell me not then of tears and rheums, for these things are the fruit of your sin; but consider its beauty, and visual power; and how it is that while it ranges over such an expanse of air, it experiences no weariness or distress! The feet indeed become tired and weakened even after going but a small distance; but the eye, in traversing a space so lofty and so wide, is not sensible of any infirmity. For since this is the most necessary to us of all our members, He has not suffered it to be oppressed with fatigue; in order that the service it renders us might be free and unfettered.

But rather, I should say, what language is fully adequate to set forth the whole excellency of this member? And why do I speak of the pupil and the visual faculty? For if you were to investigate that which seems the meanest of all the members, I mean the eyelashes, you would behold even in these the manifold wisdom of God the Creator! For as it is with respect to the ears of grain; the beards, standing forth as a sort of spears, repel the birds, and do not suffer them to settle upon the fruits, and to break the stalk, which is too tender to bear them; so also is it with regard to the eyes. The hairs of the eyelids are ranged in front, and answer the purpose of beards and spears; keeping dust and light substances at a distance from the eyes, and any thing that might incommode the sight; and not permitting the eyelids to be annoyed. Another instance of wisdom, no less remarkable, is to be observed in eyebrows. Who can help being struck by their position? For they do not project to an immoderate degree, so as to obscure the sight; nor do they retire farther back than is fitting; but in the same manner as the eaves of a house, they stand out above, receiving the perspiration as it descends from the forehead, and not permitting it to annoy the eyes. For this purpose too there is a growth of hair upon them, which serves by its roughness to stay what descends from above, and affords the exact protection that is needed, and contributes also much appearance of beauty to the eyes. Nor is this the only matter of wonder! There is another thing also which is equally so. How is it, I ask, that the hairs of the head increase, and are cut off; but those of the eyebrows, not so? For not even this has happened undesignedly, or by chance, but in order that they might not darken the sight too much by becoming very long; an inconvenience from which those suffer who have arrived at extreme old age.

And who could possibly trace out all the wisdom which is manifested by means of the brain! For, in the first place, He made it soft, since it serves as a fountain to all the senses. Next, in order that it might not suffer injury owing to its peculiar nature, He fortified it on every side with bones. Further; that it might not suffer from friction, by the hardness of the bones, He interposed a middle membrane: and not only a single one, but also a second; the former being spread out on the under side of the skull, but the latter enveloping the upper substance of the brain, and the first being the harder of the two. And this was done, both for the cause that has been mentioned, and in order that the brain might not be the first to receive the blows inflicted upon the head; but that these membranes first encountering them, might free it from all injury, and preserve it unwounded. Moreover, that the bone which covers the brain is not a single and continuous one, but has many sutures on every side, is a circumstance which contributes much to its security. For a ventilation of the vapours that surround it may easily take place outward through these sutures, so as to prevent it from being suffocated; and if a blow should be inflicted upon it, on any particular point, the damage does not extend to the whole. For if the bone had been one and continuous, the stroke even when it fell upon one part, only, would have injured the whole; but now, by its being divided into many parts, this can never happen. For if one part should chance to be wounded, only the bone that is situated near that part receives injury, but all the rest remain unhurt; the continuity of the stroke being intercepted by the division of the bones, and being unable to extend itself to the adjacent parts. By reason of this God has constructed a covering for the brain of many bones; and just as when one builds a house, he lays on a roof, and tiles upon the upper part, so God has placed these bones above upon the head, and has provided that the hairs should shoot forth, and serve as a kind of cap for it.

The very same thing also He has done with regard to the heart. For inasmuch as the heart has preeminence over all the members in our body, and that the supreme power over our whole life is entrusted to it, and death happens when it receives but a slight blow; He has fenced it about on every side with stiff and hard bones, surrounding it by the protection of the breast-bone before, and the blade-bones behind. And what He did with respect to the membranes of the brain, He has done in this instance also. For in order that it might not be rubbed and pained in striking against the hard bones which encompass it, in the throbbing and quick pulsation to which it is subject in anger and similar affections, He both interposed many membranes there, and placed the lungs by the side of it to act the part of a soft bed to these pulsations, so that the heart may break its force on these without sustaining injury or distress.

But why do I speak of the heart, and of the brain, when if any one will investigate even the very nails, he will see the manifold wisdom of God displayed in these; as well by their form, as by their substance and position. I might also have mentioned why our fingers are not all equal, and many other particulars besides; but to those who are inclined to attend, the wisdom of God Who created us, will be sufficiently clear from what has been said. Wherefore, leaving this department to be investigated with diligence by those who are desirous of the task, I shall turn myself to another objection.


St. John Chrysostom

From Homily 11 of On the Statues.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why do children lose faith in God?


Why is it that some people are able to know God and believe in Him until the end of their days, while others lose their faith while still young ? How does this loss of faith occur and by what means can faith be preserved or renewed ?

Before answering these questions I would like to say a few words to those who say that religious beliefs should not be “foisted upon” children.
Religious faith cannot be foisted upon a person; it is not something which is alien to man, but, on the contrary, it is an essential need of human nature, it constitutes the primary content of man’s inner life.


When we take care to have a child grow up truthful, good, when we develop in him a correct understanding of and a taste for beauty, we do not foist upon him something alien or extraneous to his nature; we only help him to extract this from within himself, we help him recognize within himself those traits and movements which are common to all human souls.

The same should be said concerning knowledge of God.

According to the principle of not foisting anything upon a child’s soul, we would generally have to renounce all assistance to the child in developing and strengthening the talents and capabilities of his soul. We would have to leave him to his own devices until he grew up and decided which principles to adopt and which to reject.

But in this case we would not have guarded the child from external influences, but would have only made these influences chaotic and arbitrary.

Let us return to the question of why some people retain in their hearts a constant and unshakeable faith until the end of their days, while others lose it, sometimes completely and sometimes returning to it with great difficulty and suffering?


What is the reason for such a phenomenon ? It seems to me that it depends on the direction which a person’s inner life takes in his early childhood. If a person, consciously or instinctively, is able to preserve a correct relationship between himself and God, he will not lose faith, but if his ego occupies an unseemly preeminent and dominant place in his soul, then his faith will be superceded. In early childhood a person’s nature does not yet occupy first place, does not yet become an object of worship. For this reason it is said: if you do not become like children, you will not enter the Heavenly Kingdom. As the years advance, our innate egoism grows more and more within us, becomes the center of our attention and the object of our gratification.

And this self-centered egoistic life usually runs along two channels - the channel of sensuality, gratification of the body, and the channel of pride, of strict trust in and worship of reason in general and one’s own in particular.

These two channels do not usually coexist within one and the same person. Some are dominated by the temptations of sensuality, while others by the temptations of reason. With age sensuality sometimes changes into unhealthy sexuality, from which those who are dominated by reason and pride are often free.

Sensuality and pride - two ways of serving one’s nature - are precisely those traits which, as we know, were manifested in the original sin of Adam and Eve, and created a barrier between them and God.

That which happened to our forebears, now happens to us.

The unhealthy direction of our inner life from childhood, which leads to the development within us of either sensuality or pride, pollutes the purity of our internal spiritual sight, deprives us of seeing God. We stray away from God, we remain alone in our egoistic life, with all the consequences of such a condition.

Such is the process of our abandonment of God.

In those, however, who succeed in keeping a correct relationship with God, the development of egoistic, sensual and proud attitudes is impeded by the memory of God; such people preserve their purity of heart and humbleness of mind; both their bodies and their minds are placed within a framework of religious consciousness and duty. They look upon all that springs up within their soul from the height of their religious consciousness, evaluate their feelings and passions properly, and do not allow them to take control. Despite all the temptations that come across their path, they do not lose the basic direction of their lives.

Thus the purpose and the difficulty of religious guidance lies in helping the child, and later the teenager, to preserve the right relationship between himself and God and to not allow the development within himself of the temptations of sensuality and pride, which pollute the clarity of internal spiritual sight.

Remembering my youth, I must admit that it was precisely through such an internal process that I lost my religious faith when I was 13-14 years old. The enticements of sensuality, the excessive trust in reason and the pride of rationality which were developing in me, deadened my soul. And I was not alone, the majority of my friends suffered the same fate.

Had an experienced spiritual instructor happened to be alongside us and peered into our souls, perhaps he would have found something good in them, but primarily he would have found idleness, gluttony, deceit, hypocrisy, self-assurance, inordinate belief in one’s powers and abilities, a critical and skeptical attitude towards the opinions of others, a tendency towards hasty and and rash decisions, stubbornness, and a trusting attitude towards all kinds of negative theories, etc.

The only thing he would not have found in our souls would be the memory of God, and the inner quiet and humbleness which it engenders.

We did not have such an instructor. Our religious teacher, a venerable protopriest, barely had time to check on our lessons in the Law of God and to explain further. And we regarded these lessons with the same boredom and indifference as all the others. Outside of these lessons we had no contact with our teacher. Confession, to which we went once a year, we approached with no understanding whatsoever.

And nothing prevented us from becoming spiritually extinguished.



Protopriest Sergey Chetverikov

Thursday, May 24, 2018

St. John the Russian, the Free & Wonderworker Slave (May 27)




Icon of St. John the Russian, the New Confessor, whose the holy Relics (all the body) are treasured in New Prokopi, Euboia (Euboea), Greece - Commemorated on May 27




"The Holy Confessor John the Russian was born in Little Russia around 1690, and was raised in piety and love for the Church of God. Upon attaining the age of maturity he was called to military service, and he served as a simple soldier in the army of Peter I and took part in the Russo-Turkish War. During the Prutsk Campaign of 1711 he and other soldiers were captured by the Tatars, who handed him over to the commander of the Turkish cavalry. He took his Russian captive home with him to Asia Minor, to the village of Prokopion.


The Turks tried to convert the Christian soldiers to the Moslem faith with threats and flattery, but those who resisted were beaten and tortured. Some, alas, denied Christ and became Moslems, hoping to improve their lot. St John was not swayed by the promise of earthly delights, and he bravely endured the humiliation and beatings.



His master tortured him often in the hope that his slave would accept Islam. St John resolutely resisted the will of his master saying, "You cannot turn me from my holy Faith by threats, nor with promises of riches and pleasures. I will obey your orders willingly, if you will leave me free to follow my religion. I would rather surrender my head to you than to change my faith. I was born a Christian, and I shall die a Christian."





St John's bold words and firm faith, as well as his humility and meekness, finally softened the fierce heart of his master. He left John in peace, and no longer tried to make him renounce Christianity. The saint lived in the stable and took care of his master's animals, rejoicing because his bed was a manger such as the one in which the Savior was born.


From morning until late evening the saint served his Turkish master, fulfilling all his commands. He performed his duties in the winter cold and summer heat, half naked and barefoot. Other slaves frequently mocked him, seeing his zeal. St John never became angry with them, but on the contrary, he helped them when he could, and comforted them in their misfortune.


The saint's kindness and gentle nature had its effect on the souls of both the master and the slaves. The Agha and his wife came to love him, and offered him a small room near the hayloft. St John did not accept it, preferring to remain in the stable with the animals. Here he slept on the hay, covered only by an old coat. So the stable became his hermitage, where he prayed and chanted Psalms.


St John brought a blessing to his master simply by living in his household. The cavalry officer became rich, and was soon one of the most powerful men in Prokopion. He knew very well why his home had been blessed, and he did not hesitate to tell others.


Sometimes St John left the stable at night and went to the church of the Great Martyr George, where he kept vigil in the narthex. On Saturdays and Feast days, he received the Holy Mysteries of Christ.


During this time St John continued to serve his master as before, and despite his own poverty, he always helped the needy and the sick, and shared his meager food with them.







One day, the officer left Prokopion and went to Mecca on pilgrimage. A few days later, his wife gave a banquet and invited her husband's friends and relatives, asking them to pray for her husband's safe return. St John served at the table, and he put down a dish of pilaf, his master's favorite food. The hostess said, "How much pleasure your master would have if he could be here to eat this pilaf with us." St John asked for a dish of pilaf, saying that he would send it to his master in Mecca. The guests laughed when they heard his words. The mistress, however, ordered the cook to give him a dish of pilaf, thinking he would eat it himself, or give it to some poor family.


Taking the dish, St John went into the stable and prayed that God would send it to his master. He had no doubt that God would send the pilaf to his master in a supernatual manner. The plate disappeared before his eyes, and he went into the house to tell his mistress that he had sent the pilaf to his master.



The copper plate which St. John miraculously sent to Mecca, still treasured by his church in Evia


After some time, the master returned home with the copper plate which had held the pilaf. He told his household that on a certain day (the very day of the banquet), he returned from the mosque to the home where he was staying. Although the room was locked, he found a plate of steaming pilaf on the table. Unable to explain who had brought the food, or how anyone could enter the locked room, the officer examined the plate. To his amazement, he saw his own name engraved on the copper plate. In spite of his confusion, he ate the meal with great relish.


When the officer's family heard this story, they marveled. His wife told him of how John had asked for a plate of pilaf to send to his master in Mecca, and how they all laughed when John came back and said that it had been sent. Now they saw that what the saint had said was true (Compare the story of Habakkuk, who miraculously brought a dish of pottage to Daniel in the lions' den [Dan. 14:33-39], in the Septuagint).



St. John the Russian receiving Holy Communion hidden in an apple

Toward the end of his difficult life St John fell ill, and sensed the nearness of his end. He summoned the priest so that he could receive Holy Communion. The priest, fearing to go to the residence of the Turkish commander openly with the Holy Gifts, enclosed the life-giving Mysteries in an apple and brought them to St John.


St John glorified the Lord, received the Body and Blood of Christ, and then reposed. The holy Confessor John the Russian went to the Lord Whom he loved on May 27, 1730. When they reported to the master that his servant John had died, he summoned the priests and gave them the body of St John for Christian burial. Almost all the Christian inhabitants of Prokopion came to the funeral, and they accompanied the body of the saint to the Christian cemetery.



Icon of the Dormition of St. John the Russian


Three and a half years later the priest was miraculously informed in a dream that the relics of St John had remained incorrupt. Soon the relics of the saint were transferred to the church of the holy Great Martyr George and placed in a special reliquary. The new saint of God began to be glorified by countless miracles of grace, accounts of which spread to the remote cities and villages. Christian believers from various places came to Prokopion to venerate the holy relics of St John the Russian and they received healing through his prayers. The new saint came to be venerated not only by Orthodox Christians, but also by Armenians, and even Turks, who prayed to the Russian saint, "Servant of God, in your mercy, do not disdain us."






Once, the Turks had sacked the church with St. John's body while it was in in Asia Minor. They then proceeded to throw the Saint's body into the fire to burn it. However, they soon saw the Saint appear as if he were alive and arise and walk amidst the flames; the Turks then fled in fear. This is the reason that the Saint's body is darkened to this day from the smoke of the flames. However, it nonetheless remained utterly incorrupt and wonderworking.




[In 1878, Fr. Andrew, a monk from the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mount Athos, made a pilgrimage to Prokopion to pray before the relics of St. John. When he arrived he venerated the Saint with great joy, and remained in the village for some time. On his way to Constantinople he travelled with six coaches of Turkish merchants from Anatolia, also on their way to the capital. As they reached a rutted and desolate part of the road, the monk's coach and one other slowed down to avoid mishap, while the rest went on ahead. Suddenly, a young man on a red horse appeared on a low hill near Fr. Andrew's coach, waving his hand and shouting, "Turn back! Robbers have captured your companions!" As soon as he sounded the warning, he vanished from in front of their eyes.
The two coaches immediately turned back, and although pursued by the robbers, they escaped unharmed. Fr. Andrew hastened to the nearest village, where he continued his journey in the company of Turkish soldiers. At a country inn where they spent the night, he met his former merchant-companions, who told him that the thieves had not only taken their money, but even their clothes, and they were amazed that the last two coaches had escaped unharmed. Fr. Andrew related the appearance of the youth, and they all glorified God, understanding that it was the Saint himself who had saved the monk after his pilgrimage to Prokopion.

In the year 1881 a portion of the relics of St John were transferred to the Russian monastery of the holy Great Martyr Panteleimon by the monks of Mount Athos, after they were miraculously saved by the saint during a dangerous journey.



[Another source mentions the that the Saint's "missing" right hand was transferred to the Monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mount Athos. One pious desire of St. John was to go to the Holy Mountain, but he was unable to do so in life. After his death he appeared to a priest from there, and told him to seek out his right hand, which was separated on its own, and to bring it to Mount Athos. Thus after death, a part of him could reside there.


Construction of a new church was begun in 1886, through the contributions of the monastery and the inhabitants of Prokopion. This was necessary because the church of the holy Great Martyr George, where the relics of St John were enshrined, had fallen into disrepair.


On August 15, 1898 the new church dedicated to St John the Russian was consecrated by the Metropolitan John of Caesarea, with the blessing of the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine V.


In 1924, an exchange of the populations of Greece and Turkey took place. Many Moslems moved out of Greece, and many Christians moved out of Turkey. The inhabitants of Prokopion, when they moved to the island of Euboia, took with them part of the relics of St John the Russian.


For several decades the relics were in the church of Sts Constantine and Helen at New Prokopion on Euboia, and in 1951 they were transferred into a new church dedicated to St John the Russian. Thousands of pilgrims flocked here from all the corners of Greece, particularly on his Feast, May 27. St John the Russian is widely venerated on Mount Athos, particularly in the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon.


St John's help is sought by travelers, and by those transporting things."




Wonderworker
"The Venerable Ivan shows a special love for children through the many miracles bestowed upon them by Christ. With visible intervention, many times he saved children from certain death during earthquakes when roofs fell on to children during school hours at Prokopi and in Athens at the Holy Umercenaries (Aghi Anargyri) some years ago. He also saved countless children from terrible diseases and other calamities.

Even his help and benefaction to adults is not limited! Whole streams of miracles have been bestowed upon them as well! Deaf and dumb are able to hear and speak! Paralysed are able to walk in good health! Blind see again! Cardiopathics return to their former strength! Cancer sufferers are healed! A certain woman from Cyprus bent over due to a spinal problem so that her head reached her knees, like the one in the Gospel, was healed a few years ago immediately she donned the belt of the Saint. This miracle was made known widely by the Press. A non-believer physician (who at one time, with great disrespect, had called the relics of the Saint a "mummy"), was healed from an incurable and terminal illness when the humble Saint appeared to him and said, "I am he whom you called the 'mummy', and I heal you by the Grace of my Lord Jesus Christ"! Demoniacs are freed from the demons that possess them! Saddened people are comforted! Disillusioned people find hope! Weakened people are supported! Disbelievers become believers! Pious people are strengthened in their piety! The name of God is constantly glorified because of the small-framed slave boy from Russia. This was the suffering stable-hand who lived as a slave without slavery, voluntarily poor, unimportant, dressed in ragged clothing, obedient, but firm though in his holy Orthodox Christian Faith, having the "Slava tebie Bozhie" (Glory to you God) constantly coming from his mouth!"




St. John the Russian, with scenes from his life SOME MIRACLES OF SAINT JOHN

The Saint performed many wonders even after his blessed repose. A descendent of the Agha told many of the following miracle: "My children would not live except for a short time, and would die while yet infants. Their unfortunate mother, after she had lost hope in the wisdom of medicine, fled without my knowledge to the relics of the slave John, so that be might grant her a little child which would not die while yet young, so that we also might rejoice to see it as a young man or even a young girl .... In truth the righteous John heard the supplication of my wife. God granted us a strong little boy whom we called, as you know, Kole Guvan Oglu (that is, "Son of the Slave John"), and he lives through the power of God and the prayers of John even until today."

Several times St. John has appeared in dreams and visions warning of impending dangers. Once he warned some Greek school children that the roof was about to fall; they had time enough to jump underneath their desks and when the roof fell, its beams came down upon the desks without striking even one of the children.

More recently we have heard about the miraculous healings of two severe cases of meningitis – one a 19 year old shepherd boy in southern Greece and the other a 3-year old boy in London.

Today a part of the right hand of St. John is enshrined in a special silver reliquary in the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston [Old Calendar, HOCNA], where many people come to venerate it and to ask the prayers of this simple Confessor of the Christian faith, knowing that the Lord – Who resisteth the proud – hears speedily the prayers of the meek."
Many faithful walk 40 kilometers in the grace of the Saint
Holding a bottle of water and a towel to wipe the sweat, hundreds are the faithful who go by foot to Prokopi [Evia] to celebrate St. John the Russian. Here for two days, the center road from Chalkida to Prokopi is filled with the faithful who walk to go to the Righteous Saint. The distance is about 40 kilometers, and many walk this every year. The power of faith is great, as are the miracles of the Saint.



"Elder Iakovos Tsalikis would regularly visit the Shrine of St. John the Russian in Evia.
He said: "Once, I saw the Saint alive inside of his reliquary. I asked him: "My Saint, how did you live in Asia Minor, what virtues and blessings did you have?
The Saint responded to me: "I slept in the cave in which was the stable and covered myself with straw to take cover in the winter so I wouldn't freeze. I had humility and faith."
In a short while he said to me: "Wait, Fr. Iakovos, because now two people have come to pray for a sick child. Wait until I go help him."
Immediately the reliquary appeared empty, because the Saint left. In a short while, he returned, though I didn't see how he did, but I saw him inside his reliquary like a [living] man!"



Apolytikion:
He that hath called thee from earth unto the heavenly abodes doth even after thy death keep thy body unharmed, O righteous one; for thou wast carried off as a prisoner into Asia wherein also, O John, thou didst win Christ as thy friend. Wherefore do thou beseech him that our souls be saved.

Kontakion: The holy memory, O righteous father, of thine illustrious contests hath come today gladdening the souls of those who venerate thee with reverence and faith, O John.




St. John the Russian, the New Confessor 
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