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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Dialogue With St. Paisios as He Faces Death



After spending time with my Father who at 98 is coming to terms with his mortality, I began to wonder how some of our Church Fathers would provide counsel in such situations. I found this account of Elder Paisios as He faced terminal cancer.


–– Geronda, the final diagnosis has been made. Your tumor is cancerous and it's aggressive.

–– Bring me a handkerchief so that I may dance to the song: "I bid farewell to you, O poor world!" I have never danced in my life, but now I will dance for joy as my death approaches. 

–– Geronda, the doctor said that first he wants to use radiation to shrink the tumor and then do surgery. 

–– I understand! First the air force will bombard the enemy, and then the attack will begin! I'll go up then and bring you news! Some people, even the elderly, when told by the doctor, "You will die," or "You have a fifty percent chance of surviving" get very distressed. They want to live. And then what? I wonder! Now, if someone is young, well , this is justifiable, but if someone is old and is still desperately trying to hang on, well, this I just don't understand. Of course, it's quite different if someone wants to undergo therapy in order to manage pain. He's not interested in extending life; he only wants to make the pain somewhat more bearable so that he can take care of himself until he dies –– this does make sense.
–– Geronda, we are praying that God may give you an extension on your life. 

–– Why? Doesn't the Psalmist say, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten?" 

–– But the Psalmist adds the following, "And if by reason of strength they be foreshore years..." 

–– Yes, but he adds the following, "Yet is their strength labor and sorrow," in which case it is better to have the peace of the other life. 

–– Geronda, can someone, out of humility, feel spiritually unprepared for the other life and wish to live longer in order to get prepared? 

–– This is a good thing, but how can he know that, even if he does live longer, he won't become spiritually worse? 

–– Geronda, when can we say that a person is reconciled with death? 

–– When Christ lives inside him, then death is a joy. But one must not rejoice in dying just because he has become tired of this life. When you rejoice in death, in the proper sense, death goes away to find someone who's scared! When you want to die, you don't. Whoever lives the easy life is afraid of death because he is pleased with worldly life and doesn't want to die. If people talk to him about death, he reacts with denial: "Get away from here!" However, whoever is suffering, whoever is in pain, sees death as a release and says, "What a pity, Charon has not yet come to take me... He must have been held up!"
Few are the people who welcome death. Most people have unfinished business and don't want to die. But the Good God provides for each person to die when he is fully matured. In any case, a spiritual person, whether young or old, should be happy to live and be happy to die, but should never pursue death, for this is suicide.
For a person who is dead to worldly matters and has been spiritually resurrected, there is never any agony, fear or anxiety, for he awaits death with joy because he will be with Christ and delight in His presence. But he also rejoices in being alive, again because he is united with Christ even now and experiences a portion of the joy of Paradise here on earth and wonders whether there is a higher joy in Paradise than the one he feels on earth. Such people struggle with philotimo* and self-denial; and because they place death before themselves and remember it every single day, they prepare more spiritually, struggling daringly, and defeating vanity.
* A way of life expressed through acts of generosity and sacrifice without expecting anything in return.

Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Councils IV: Family Life, pp 274-276.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

A mother's letter to her unborn child




I write this letter to my unborn child from the depths of my soul.

You’ve entered my womb and made my life complete and whole.

I never thought I would be chosen for such an awesome task.

It is a greater blessing than what I ever could ask.

I can almost imagine you in my mind.

Beautiful, Happy, Bouncing, flashing a smile so kind.

Feeling you flutter is a sensation like no other.

It does wonders for the joy of this soon-to-be-mother!

You create a glow in me I never knew I would see.

It is true happiness that sets me on cloud nine manifested deep inside of me!

You’re my baby, my child, my heart, and my wonder.

I pray we create a bond that no one can put asunder.

You’re a designers’ original! A creation from the King!

I can hardly wait for you to enter the world and see the joy you bring.

Sweet baby of mine, you’re a magnificent gift from above.

Living proof of how your father and I have shared our love.

I hope you have your fathers’ eyes

Then you will go into the world able to look at all things wise.

I hope you inherit my ability to plan.

With that you will be able to face all things in life as a strong woman or man.

I hope you receive from your father his selfless ways.

For this the Heavenly Father will bless you, as he did him, all of your days.

I hope you learn from me, spirit and let no one take it.

Believe me you will need it in life, and many will try to break it.

But with that spirit you must have your father’s center.

With that you will be cautious of any door you enter.

I want you to have my curiosity.

There’s nothing wrong with questions you may blurt!

But receive your fathers’ discernment,

so you’ll know when to let go before getting hurt.

Have my big heart; know what emotions are and how to be real.

Share your fathers’ strength so you can handle what you feel.

Share my sense of humor! Laugh a lot it helps you through life.

Share your fathers’ sense of duty. Know how to be serious and take strife.

I’m emotional so I tell you its okay to blubber once and a while like your Mom.

But learn to develop what your father has; an excellent sense of calm.

But most of all the things I wish for your father and I to share.

I wish we teach you to love, respect, strength of mind, and to care.

These are my feelings, wishes and hopes for you.

You make my heart and soul sing!

I welcome you to the world and thank you for the joy,

my little queen or king.

Thank you God for this blessing .....

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Let us mirror ourselves in others ( St. Paisios )



A person can see himself better when he mirrors himself in others.God has granted each and everyone of us the virtue or gift that we each need for our particular progress,regardless whether it is actually used or not.If the gift is used,one can achieve perfection.The failings and defects also are ours; whether we acquire them from our own neglect or inherit them from our parents,each one of us must undertake the necessary struggle to be released from them.
Until we uproot our defects,we should mirror ourselves in the defects of others and examine where we stand.For other people are a mirror in which we see ourselves.For example,if we see a certain failing in another person,we should immediately say,"Let me see,could I possibly have this same defect also?"And when we see that we have it,then we can struggle to cast it out.

-But,Elder,if my thought tells me that I don't have this same defect,what should I say to myself ?

-You should say,"I have other more serious defects;this failing is very small compared to my own."For even if your failings and defects are sometimes smaller,you may bear greater responsibility for them.
By examining ourselves in this manner,we can see that we have greater defects than the next person.Then we can also take notice of the virtues of others."Let me see,do I have this virtue?No,I don't.Look at how far I still am from where I should be!"One who works this way stands to benefit from all things,changes for the better and achieves perfection.Such a person benefits from the Saints,from those who struggle,even from worldly people.
On seeing a worldly person who is selfless and sacrifices himself,one can be motivated to say,"do I have such philotimo? No,I don't,and I'm supposed to be a spiritual person!"And so he tries to imitate even the worldly person in whatever he sees in him.
Each one of us has a great deal of spiritual work to do.
Our Benevolent God wisely provides everything for our good. 

 ELDER PAISIOS OF MOUNT ATHOS ,Spiritual Counsels Vol 3 "SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE".

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Seek God daily. ( St. Nektarios of Aegina )

Seek God daily, but seek Him in your heart, not outside it. And when you find Him, stand with fear and trembling, like the Cherubim and the Seraphim, for your heart has become a throne of God. 
But in order to find God, become humble as dust before the Lord, for the Lord abhors the proud, whereas He visits those that are humble in heart, wherefore He says: "To whom will I look, but to him that is meek and humble in heart?"

St. Nektarios of Aegina

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Little Before Death ( Memoirs of a Greek Taxi Driver )


Shortly before the year 2000, my mother came over to my house and said, “Son, a few blocks away there is a distressed family with two elementary school girls. They need to live with their grandmother because they are going through a terrible ordeal. Their father, who is about your age, is a drug addict. I know his mother. Please drop by to see what you can do, because his wife and his mother told me that he is in his last days.”

“And what do you think I can do, mom? I can hardly keep up with my own dirty messes, and now all of a sudden you think I can help others?”

“Come on, my boy, you need to go; please, don’t upset me.”

The next day, I complied with my mother’s wish. With the blessing of my mother and my spiritual father, I prayed briefly and said, “My Panaghia, I will go, but you lead and I will follow.” When I arrived at the home, his mother welcomed me with a hug and a kiss. Then she drew me aside, and while she wept, she explained her Golgotha and the heavy cross the entire family had had to bear. As she was unfolding their very painful family drama to me, occasionally, she would use her apron to wipe her eyes. The poor woman had suffered so much all these years. She had gone to various neighborhoods and local businesses to borrow money to help her son get his drugs. What pain this mother had endured! What a Golgotha! What crises families in similar situations must be going through! I couldn't endure so much pain. I hugged her, and told her to have her hope and faith in Christ. When I went to the other room, and I saw her son lying in bed, the truth is that I wasn’t prepared for it; I was shocked. I went to give him my hand, but he couldn’t even exchange a handshake, because his fingers had become deformed. I grabbed him from the wrist and attempted to speak to him, but he would fade in and out of consciousness. With a little patience, however, we became acquainted and shared a few words.

“My brother, I am your neighbor,” I told him “I don’t know you, of course, but you don't know me either. So, since we have become acquainted now, what do you say, can we help one another?”

“It’s too late for me, Thanasi,” he told me in a whispering voice, “I am in the last stage. There is no recovery for me. The doctors can't do anything.”

“Humanly, yes, we agree, but don’t forget the power and grace of our God; what is impossible for man is possible for God” (cf. Luke 18:27).

“I believe in God, Thanasi, but I have fallen into a snake pit. I have made repeated efforts to detoxify myself for many years now but all in vain. I know that I upset my mother, my wife and especially my children. What can I do? I’m not to blame. It’s the deprivation of heroin.”

“So fine, since you believe that you are in a pit with snakes, stretch out your hand and ask the help of Christ. He is the only one who is able to take you out of this pit.”

“What must I do; and how?”

And he faded out again. I needed to wait a few minutes, for him to regain consciousness. In the meantime, I prayed and said, “My Christ, is he listening to what I’m telling him? Can he even think, understand, or remember? Please Lord, only You are able to help us, especially me.” A few moments later, he opened his eyes, and we spoke a bit more. In the end I told him, “I need to leave you now, my brother. The next time I come, if you like, I can bring a priest to read some prayers over you. I think this will do you much good.”

“Yes, Thanasi, I will wait for you. Bring the priest also. I don’t have a problem with that.”

When I came out of the room, there in the hall, I met his wife and their two charming little girls for the first time. They had red swollen eyes. As soon as they saw me they lowered their heads, probably out of shame for the condition of their father. I don’t know, but my heart went out to these little innocent girls; I shared their pain and loved them very much from the first moment. I talked for quite a while with his wife. We said many things, and the poor woman was constantly crying. I left in shambles.

Two days later, I went to his home with a priest, and he read some prayers of Saint Basil over him. I will not forget that I needed to hold him from the shoulder, so he wouldn’t fall down. At the end, we told him what his next steps were. He needed to go confess with sincere repentance, to be able to commune, to take Christ in him so that he could be strengthened.

By the grace of God, my friends, he accepted all this joyfully. Not only he, but his entire family, even his little girls came and confessed to Father , filled with joy and hope for a new beginning. When everyone was finished, Father pulled me aside and told me, “Thanasi, this man needs all the help he can get; do as much as you can for him, because he is in dire straits, he is not at all well. He needs to recover for the sake of his family. Under the circumstances, he has my blessing to receive Holy Communion whenever he is able.”

“Yes father, he’s going down fast, but please let me share a thought with you.”

“Go ahead, speak up.”

“This coming Sunday, I am thinking of going to church as a family to the monastery of Saint Nicodemos at Goumenissa. I will go with Glykeria, and the young man and his wife. Allow me also to take my friend Savvas, the paralytic, with me, so he can envelop us in prayer. On Monday, with your blessing, I'd like for all three of us to venture to the Monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos, for all of us to venerate the Precious Belt of our Panaghia. I will make all the necessary arrangements with the fathers.”

“Very well, but are you sure you can manage all this?”

“I cannot without God’s grace and your blessing and prayers.”

“Do accordingly, however God enlightens you. As far as I am concerned I bless you with all my heart.”

Then I proceeded to relay to the lad and his wife my ideas, to see if they would agree. They joyfully accepted my suggestions, especially his wife who responded with tears of joy, perhaps because a gleam of hope was finally on the horizon. I then turned to her husband and firmly told him, “My brother, I ask you, and I beg you. Between now and Sunday, while preparing yourself for Holy Communion at St. Nicodemos monastery and during the days of our pilgrimage to Mount Athos, don’t even think about using heroin.”

“Listen, Thanasi, I will speak to you with all sincerity, especially since I just confessed. I give you my word, here and in the presence of my wife, that I will not use heroin. I will take some kind of opiate substitute, so that I can stand on my feet. If I don’t do this, my bones will be creaking. My temple blood vessels will begin to burst; I will scream uncontrollably, because the pain is excruciating at the final stage of heroin addiction.”

“What are these substitutes?”

“They come in the form of pills[1], and they help me to stand on my feet.”

“Mr. Thanasi, don’t worry. I will be very careful, and I will not let him leave from my sight. I promise you,” his wife told me.

So, early Sunday morning, we all headed out. Savvas, my paralytic friend, was sitting in the front seat, and I asked him to pray unceasingly. The young man in the back however was sweating profusely and nonstop. The sweating continued and several times during the Divine Liturgy we had to exit the Church so he could catch his breath. I made sure always to be at his side to console him and help him as needed.

Soon enough, the voice of the priest was heard, “With the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near”; I held him by the arm and we waited for all others to commune first. Then as we slowly walked towards the chalice, I turned to the large icon of the Virgin Mary and silently asked her, “My Virgin Mary, please, help us to commune today and be with us as we travel to your perivoli[2] tomorrow." It seems that my prayer was heard.

That morning, everything went well at the monastery, thank God. The Abbot, who sensed the gravity of the situation, and learned that we would be leaving the next day for the Holy Mountain, was quite moved. Upon our departure, he walked towards the lad and prayed and said in a loud voice, “May Angels accompany you." His poor wife couldn’t control her tears all day long.

The next morning, we took a taxi, and all three of us arrived at the bus station[3]. I helped the young man onto the bus, and guided him to the open seats toward the back. I then lifted Savva the paralytic on my back, carried him onto the bus and placed him next to the young man. I reminded Savva to continue with unceasing prayer.

While on the bus and later on the ferry boat, we were able to discuss various nice things. The lad was listening to me carefully although he was sweating quite a bit due to acute withdrawal symptoms. He was constantly wiping his sweat, and he struggled to stay on his feet. In less than two hours we disembarked and continued on a minibus towards Vatopedi. The driver dropped us off a few hundred yards outside of the monastery. I looked around for some help but there was no one in sight. It was very difficult to roll the wheelchair on an uphill gravel road. I remember holding the lad with one hand, and pushing the wheelchair with the other. I will not be ashamed to tell you that my tears were running, while I was pleading to the Virgin Mary, silently saying to her, “My dear Mother, help me first, and then my brethren because I am the sickest one of all." When we entered inside the gates of monastery, it was noon, and everyone was resting. There were many stairs for us to climb. I first helped the lad up the stairs and then I lifted up the paralytic on my shoulders since there was no other solution at the moment. Finally I went back down once more to bring up the wheelchair.

When we found the Archondari[4], he received us with much love. We had notified the fathers about the purpose of our visit a few days prior. They were happy to see us because Savvas and I had visited Vatopedi before.

When we got settled in a room, another monk came and told me, “Thanasi, the Geronta (Abbot) wants to see you." I immediately went to him, did a prostration and received his blessing. We talked for quite a while, about the condition of the lad. The Abbot was very moved, asked that we write down our names, and promised to commemorate us during forty successive liturgies[5]. He asked us to come to one of the chapels in the afternoon, to venerate the Holy Relics and the Precious Belt (of the Virgin Mary). Upon entering the church, the father told the lad to kneel so that he could place the Precious Belt on his head, and to pray over him. I sat back and savored every second of this most beautiful hour. These were truly heavenly moments. When the priest finished with the young man he asked the paralytic to bow and receive the Precious Belt on his head as well. Then the father took the Belt, and went to leave. While he was preparing to depart, I asked him, “Father, please, don’t deprive me of this blessing, because I am the sickest one in the group. My body is healthy, but my soul is paralyzed." The father turned back, looked at me with a blank stare, and asked, “What’s your name, my son?”

“Thanasi.”

“Kneel, Athanasios[6], and may you have all the blessings of our Virgin Mary.”

The very Belt of the Virgin Mary was now resting on my head! What an indescribable feeling this was. I have no words even to begin to tell you what this felt like. Even if I did, you would not be able to understand it.

This was such an uplifting and truly beneficial pilgrimage. When we returned home, I went to find Father, to inform him how things went. He was very pleased and said, “Thanasi, don’t worry, the Virgin Mary will do her miracle." After this the recovering young man, stayed close to Fr. Triantafyllos[7] and continued to go to holy Confession, with his entire family.

Now, I am sure you are probably anxious to find out what happened to this young man and his family. Well, he is well, very well. The same man who could hardly even exchange a handshake, nor stand on his feet without being held, now returned to his old job of hard physical labor, and even works overtime. The smile returned to his family, especially to his charming little girls. They were no longer ashamed of their father at school. More importantly, he returned to our Christ. For this we are ever so grateful to the blessing of our Virgin Mary, to the supplications of the fathers, and to the prayer of the paralytic.

[1] The irony is that most people come to this sad position because of these prescribed painkillers. Dentists and doctors often overprescribe opium derivatives such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco), codeine, morphine, etc., for pain management. These are usually highly addictive and when these prescriptions expire, a high percentage of their victims turn to heroin which is rather inexpensive in its beginning stages but later becomes very costly and deadly as its addictive qualities totally enslave the human organism. Overdosing is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, accounting for more deaths than traffic fatalities or gun homicides and suicides. Fatal overdoses from opiate medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone have quadrupled since 1999, accounting for an estimated 16,651 deaths in 2010.


[2] According to tradition the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist were on a ship to visit Lazarus who was serving as a Bishop in Cyprus. Along the way, the weather became severe, and the swollen waves carried the boat north to the present location of the monastery of Iveron, on the Athonite peninsula. The Virgin Mary was truly enchanted by the paradisiacal beauty of this location so she asked her Son to gift it to her. This is why, to this day, the Holy Mountain is the exclusive “Garden of the Panaghia” and no other female-human or animal-is permitted to set foot on it.


[3] Mt. Athos is not accessible by land so visitors and pilgrims must travel to Ouranoupolis (150 km from Thessaloniki), the last seaport with frequent ferry boat rides to Dafne, the central access point to the one-thousand year-old monastic community with twenty major monasteries and their dependencies. At present there are approximately 2000 monks on the Holy Mountain.


[4] The monk in charge of guest accommodation.


[5] The most important of all Orthodox services, also called Holy Eucharist.


[6] Thanasi, the nickname for Athanasios (immortal), changes the meaning of this dogmatic Christian name from immortal to mortal. This is precisely why the Father used Athanasi’s baptismal name.


[7] Triantafyllo (thirty petals), is the Greek word for rose.

Constantine Zalalas
http://www.saintnicodemos.com/

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Prayer Rope-Design Bracelet or Prayer Rope?


Many of the Orthodox Christians piously wear at their hands a "bracelet" made of wool knots or wooden beads. Fewer however know its true significance. The first thing we should stress is that it is not a piece of jewelry but an actual prayer rope. Its purpose is not just as decoration or to show others we are Orthodox, as many believe, but to be used as an aid in accomplishing our daily prayers.



The use of the prayer ropes is ancient in itself, going back to the origins of Christian monasticism. The prayer rope, creation attributed to Saint Pachomius in the fourth century, was intended as an aid for monks that could not read to accomplish a consistent number of prayers and prostrations in their cells. The use of the rope made it possible to pray the Jesus Prayer unceasingly, whether inside the cell or out, in accordance with Saint Paul's injunction to "Pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17).
The method of tying the prayer rope also goes back to the fathers of monasticism. Saint Anthony the Great it is said to have started by tying a leather rope with a simple knot for every time he prayed Kyrie Eleison ("Lord have Mercy"), but the Devil would come and untie the knots to throw off his count. He then devised a way--inspired by a vision he had of the Theotokos--of tying the knots so that the knots themselves would constantly make the sign of the cross. This is why prayer ropes today are still tied using knots that each contain seven little crosses being tied over and over. The Devil could not untie it because the Devil is vanquished by the Sign of the Cross.
The prayer ropes are not to be confused with worry beads used as a pass-timer or calming device. The prayer ropes are to be used only in prayer. They come in various shapes and sizes but always they have a fixed number of knots or beads. This can be 33 (for the normal "bracelets") or 40, 50, 100, 200, 300, etc. for the longer ropes.



The use of the Jesus prayer with prostrations is sanctioned by our Church, which directs that one can (in cases of need) replace the common worship services with a definite number of prostrations and the Jesus Prayer (which would be difficult to carry out without the rope). Here is a guide we find at the end of some Psalter books.


Instead of the entire Psalter: 6000 Jesus Prayers
One kathisma: 300 prayers; for each stasis: 100
Midnight Service: 600
Matins: 1500
Vespers: 600
Great Compline: 700
Small Compline: 400
An Akathist to the Blessed Theotokos: 500
All those who are zealous for their salvation are invited to this unceasing remembrance of the saving name of Jesus, both laymen and monastics, for the spirit of life in Christ is one and the same for both. Many of our spiritual elders, men of prayer, ascetics and directors in faith and piety, down to the most recent time have recommended the use of the prayer rope to laymen and at times have even given them their own prayer ropes as a blessing.
For this reason we also recommend to the lay people today to properly use the prayer ropes around their hands to pray wherever they are, at home, at work, or driving, with a simple prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me the sinner" or simply "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me".

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Homily on Theophany by St. Proclus of Constantinople



Christ appeared in the world, and, bringing beauty out of disarray, gave it luster and joy. He bore the world’s sins and crushed the world’s enemy. He sanctified the fountains of waters and enlightened the minds of men. Into the fabric of miracles he interwove ever greater miracles.
For on this day land and sea share between them the grace of the Savior, and the whole world is filled with joy.
Today’s feast of the Theophany manifests even more wonders than the feast of Christmas.
On the feast of the Savior’s birth, the earth rejoiced because it bore the Lord in a manger; but on today’s feast of the Epiphany it is the sea that is glad and leaps for joy; the sea is glad because it receives the blessing of holiness in the river Jordan.
At Christmas we saw a weak baby, giving proof of our weakness.
In today’s feast, we see a perfect man, hinting at the perfect Son who proceeds from the all-perfect Father.
At Christmas the King puts on the royal robe of his body; at Epiphany the very source enfolds and, as it were, clothes the river.
Come then and see new and astounding miracles: the Sun of righteousness washing in the Jordan, fire immersed in water, God sanctified by the ministry of man.
Today every creature shouts in resounding song:

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Blessed is he who comes in every age, for this is not his first coming.
And who is he? Tell us more clearly, I beg you, blessed David:

The Lord is God and has shone upon us.
David is not alone in prophesying this; the apostle Paul adds his own witness, saying:

The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all men, and instructing us. Not for some men, but for all. To Jews and Greeks alike God bestows salvation through baptism, offering baptism as a common grace for all.
Come, consider this new and wonderful deluge, greater and more important than the flood of Noah’s day. Then the water of the flood destroyed the human race, but now the water of Baptism has recalled the dead to life by the power of the one who baptized.
In the days of the flood the dove with an olive branch in its beak foreshadowed the fragrance of the good odor of Christ the Lord; now the Holy Spirit, coming in the likeness of a dove reveals the Lord of mercy.



Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!