Saturday, May 23, 2020

Sunday of the Blind Man (6th Sunday from Pascha)

Tomorrow is the Last Sunday of the Paschal Cycle and we hear in the gospel reading, about one of the many miracles of Christ: a man who was born blond receiving his sight. This miracle is so important, that St. John the evangelist recounts many details of this account.

The Scribes and Pharisees, were trying to slander and persecute Christ. Because of their blind hatred towards Him, they couldn’t even bring themselves to believe the miracle that they themselves had come face to face with and on the contrary tried to dispel it. But the blind man, clearly having felt the miraculous power of Christ not only confesses the miracle, but also defends Him. The result of this brave attitude of his, was that his expulsion from the synagogue (and society) by the the Pharisees.

Although in his blind state, the blind man understood the power of Christ and was finally healed. On the contrary, the Scribes and the Pharisees, although able to see, were spiritually blind. Spiritual blindness is incomparably worse than physical blindness. If one loses his spiritual eyes, one loses the orientation of his life and then his life becomes useless and meaningless. The loss of the spiritual light that springs from Christ is the loss of true happiness in life. And when do we lose the light of our soul? We lose it when we stop communicating with Christ. Communication with Christ is lost when we do not participate in the Sacraments of the Church, we do not pray, we do not fast, we do not live a spiritual life. When we turn away from Christ who is the Light, we are led into spiritual darkness and blindness.

People who are spiritually blind are the ones who violate the moral rules of life. They are the ones who are captured by every delusion and sin. For us Christians, blindness comes with contempt for the preaching of the gospel. This spiritual blindness, without the compass of conscience, leads many people, darkened by sin, to works of injustice, theft, and into any violation of God’s commandments. But there are also spiritually blind people who may have different virtues and struggle. They are like the Pharisees. They are arrogant and proud thinking that they are not like other sinners; they are harsh in their behavior towards their fellow brothers; they are the ones who criticize everyone except themselves.

The parents of the blind man are afraid to confess the miracle that happened to their child who was born blind, so that they also do not become outcasts. So much was their faith and gratitude to God that they masterfully avoided publicly confessing this great miracle. Likewise, many of us who also benefit daily from God, are ashamed or afraid to confess God out of our little faith. On the contrary, the blind man also proves to be a confessor! The blind man finally healed not only the eyes of his body but also of his soul. He acknowledges and worships the deity of Jesus and does not hesitate to confess it to the religious leaders with the courage that many of us would envy. Faith alone is not enough, and confession of faith is needed to become genuine children of Christ. If we confess Christ before men, He will also confess us before His Father.

Although the blind man did not have his physical eyes, he had purity, selflessness, anticipation, and ultimately faith in the true God. Although the blind man was pointed at by the Pharisees, he was not afraid to confess who had healed him. His faith made him courageous and he was not afraid of the religious fanaticism of his time nor the consequences that came along with defying them. The blind man's faith in the true God far outweighed the apparent faith of the Pharisees.

My beloved, we will also hear this Gospel passage. We believe in the Saviour Christ and we want to be members of His Church. Christ not only opened the physical eyes of the blind man but also opens the eyes of our soul. We are happy to receive the Light of Christ thats guides us to works of light, to works of true virtue and holiness. We may be tired of life's journeys, but the Lord calls us, "Let those who are weary and burdened come to Me, and let Me give them rest" (Matt. 11:28). Christ is the Light of life that enlightens every man to use this temporary life towards the eternal one. But we also need to make our own efforts in this direction. Let us also begin to seek the True Light and not remain in spiritual darkness. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

At that time, as Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." As He said this, He spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, "Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "It is he"; others said, "No, but he is like him." He said, "I am the man." They said to him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "This man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is He?" He said, "I do not know."

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes and I washed, and I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for He does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" And there was a division among them. So they again said to the blind man, "What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet."

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself." His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess him to be Christ he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age, ask him."

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did He open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?" And they reviled him, saying, "You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this fellow, we do not know where He comes from." The man answered, "Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where He comes from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and you teach us?" And they cast him out of the synagogue.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of man?" He answered, "And who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen Him, and it is He who speaks to you." He said, "Lord, I believe"; and he worshiped Jesus.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

"Heavenly television station ( St. Paisios the Athonite )

There are no people more blessed than those who have made contact with the " heavenly television station" and who are piously connected to God.

In the same way, no people are more wretched than those who have cut contact with God and wander, dizzy, around the world, flipping through the world's many television stations as to forget, if only for a short time, the anguish of the derailment of their lives.

St. Paisios the Athonite

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord

There is a “texture of life” that cannot be reduced. It has a richness that rational descriptions cannot capture. Though we battle with powerful forces that draw us towards the destructiveness of sin – there is written deep within us a hunger for wholeness and the capacity for God. In the words of St. John, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

This texture also belongs to the Kingdom of God, though in even greater measure. Christ Himself brought the Kingdom into our midst. Wherever He went the signs of the Kingdom followed: the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the dead were received back to life, and the poor had good news preached to them. How do you measure the gift of sight to a blind man, or the joy of a family who receives back into its midst one whom they thought dead?

The Orthodox Tradition, which is often described by many as “mystical,” is not “mystical” in any sense of “esoteric” or “strange.” Such adjectives for the faith are simply a reaching for words to describe a reality that is richer than any merely rational scheme or metaphysical explanation. It is the largeness of a Kingdom that cannot be described or circumscribed, and yet is found in the very heart of the believer. What words do we use to describe something which dwarfs the universe and yet dwells within us?

It is the texture of depth – or to use St. Paul’s expression: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). This is not merely a statement that nothing has the power to separate us from God, but that nothing has such height or depth as the love of God. It is a rich mixture of images – from the measurement of space, to the angels of heaven, to the elements of time – nothing reaches to the end of the love of God – the very stuff of His Kingdom.

It is for such reasons that I always find myself repelled by efforts to reduce doctrine to simplified formulas. Doctrine – the teaching of the faith should not reduce our understanding but enlarge it – to the very point of silence – and beyond. It is why it is so frustrating to try and explain icons. No one has an argument with the presence of words in the Church – the icons do the same things words do – only with color and in the language of silence. I can enter the Church, remain in silence and yet see (and hear!) something other than the incessant chatter of my own mind. The icons speak with the texture of the Kingdom – opening windows and doors that transcend every height and depth, things present and things to come.

Becoming aware of this texture requires the careful attention of an Orthodox life. Our lives are often filled with tensions and judgments with jealousy and greed – all of which serve to deaden our hearts and make us blind to the true character of the Kingdom in our midst. The Kingdom is reduced to slogan – a cypher for a set of opinions. Patience, inner stillness, love and forgiveness are the disciplines that make it possible for us to perceive the texture of the Kingdom. It allows its depth to be formed in our hearts.

The stillness of an icon should be approached with a stillness in our heart. The rhythm of the liturgy should be allowed to become the rhythm of our souls. The words of Scripture should not sail over our heads but echo within us. The texture of all these things is the same texture as that being formed within us by the work of God’s Spirit. It will become the texture of our true existence.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Love above all...

Love for Christ knows no bounds, neither does love for your neighbour. It should extend everywhere, to the ends of the earth. Everywhere, to everyone.

Let me give you an example. There was a monk who had two disciples. He tried very hard to bring them up to scratch and make them better. But he was worried about whether they were really making any progress in the spiritual life, if they were making headway, and if they were ready for the kingdom of God. He waited for a sign from God about this, but didn’t get an answer. One day, there was going to be a vigil in another skete that was a good few hours away from theirs. They’d have to make their way through the desert. He sent his disciples off early, so that they’d get there early and get the church ready, while the Elder himself was to leave later in the afternoon. The disciples were well on their way when suddenly they heard groaning. There was a man there, badly hurt and asking for help;
– Take me with you, please. Ι’m stuck out here in the desert. Nobody ever comes by. I’ll never get any help. There’s two of you. Pick me up and carry me to the nearest village.
– We can’t. We’re in a hurry to get to the vigil. We’ve been told to get it ready.
– Please! Take me with you. If you don’t, I’ll die and get eaten by wild animals.
– We can’t. Sorry, but we have to do what we’ve been told.
And they left. In the afternoon, the Elder left for the vigil. He went along the same path. He got to the place where the injured man was lying. He saw him, went up to him and said:
– What’s the matter, man of God? What is it? How long have you been here? Didn’t anybody see you?
– This morning a couple of monks came by and I asked them to help me, but they were in a hurry to get to a vigil.
– I’ll take you. Don’t worry.
– You can’t. You’re an old man. You can’t lift me. No way!
– No, I’ll take you. I can’t leave you.
– But you can’t lift me’
– I’ll bend over and lift you on top of me. It’ll take time, but I’ll get to the nearest village. A little bit today, a little bit tomorrow, but I’ll get you there.
So he lifted him, difficult though it was, and started to trudge through the sand. He was sweating freely and thought: ‘Even if it takes three days, I’ll get there’. As he was tramping along, he began to feel that the burden was becoming lighter, and then, at one point, he seemed not to be carrying anything at all. He turned his head to see what was going on and, to his amazement, saw he was carrying an angel. The angel said to him:
– God sent me to tell you that your two disciples don’t deserve to enter the kingdom of God, because they don’t have any love.

Source: ΑγίαΖώνη, Periodical of the Church of the Holy Girdle, Patisia, vol. 19, 2010

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Resurrection of Christ is the mother of us all…( St. Justin Popovich )

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

Христос Воскресе! Воистину Воскресе!

Kristus (ir) augšāmcēlies! Patiesi viņš ir augšāmcēlies!

ქრისტეაღსდგა! ჭეშმარიტადაღსდგა!

St. Justin (Popovich) of Chelije

Man sentenced God to death; by His Resurrection, He sentenced man to immortality. In return for a beating, He gives an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality. Man never showed so much hate for God as when he crucified Him; and God never showed more love for man than when He arose. Man even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by His Resurrection made man immortal. The crucified God is Risen and has killed death. Death is no more. Immortality has surrounded man and all the world.

By the Resurrection of the God-Man, human nature has been led irreversibly onto the path of immortality, and has become dreadful to death itself. For before the Resurrection of Christ, death was dreadful to man, but after the Resurrection of Christ, man has become more dreadful to death. When man lives by faith in the Risen God-Man, he lives above death, out of its reach; it is a footstool for his feet…

Because of the Resurrection of Christ, because of His victory over death, men have become, continue to become, and will continue becoming Christians. The entire history of Christianity is nothing other than the history of a unique miracle, namely, the Resurrection of Christ, which is unbrokenly threaded through the hearts of Christians form one day to the next, from year to year, across the centuries, until the Dread Judgment.

Man is born, in fact, not when his mother bring him into the world, but when he comes to believe in the Risen Christ, for then he is born to life eternal, whereas a mother bears children for death, for the grave. The Resurrection of Christ is the mother of us all, all Christians, the mother of immortals. By faith in the Resurrection, man is born anew, born for eternity. “That is impossible!” says the skeptic. But you listen to what the Risen God-Man says:

“All things are possible to him that believeth!” (Mark 9:23 ).

The believer is he who lives, with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his being, according to the Gospel of the Risen Lord Jesus.

Faith is our victory, by which we conquer death; faith in the Risen Lord Jesus…

For us Christians, our life on earth is a school in which we learn how to assure ourselves of resurrection and life eternal. For what use is this life if we cannot acquire by it life eternal? But, in order to be resurrected with the Lord Christ, man must first suffer with Him, and live His life as his own. If he does this, then on Pascha he can say with Saint Gregory the Theologian:

“Yesterday I was crucified with Him, today I live with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him, today I rise with Him” (Troparion 2, Ode 3, Matins, Pascha).

Christ’s Four Gospels are summed up in only four words. They are:

“Christ is Risen! Indeed He is risen!”

In each of these words is a Gospel, and in the Four Gospels is all the meaning of all God’s world, visible and invisible. When all knowledge and all the thoughts of men are concentrated in the cry of the Paschal salutation, “Christ is Risen!”, then immortal joy embraces all beings and in joy responds: “Indeed He is risen!”

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Holy Week: An Explanation

Holy Week: An Explanation

Great Lent and Holy Week are two separate fasts, and two separate celebrations. Great Lent ends on Friday of the fifth week (the day before Lazarus Saturday). Holy Week begins immediately thereafter. Let's explore the meaning of each of the solemn days of Passion Week.

Lazarus Saturday: Lazarus Saturday is the day which begins Holy Week. It commemorates the raising of our Lord's friend Lazarus, who had been in the tomb four days. This act confirmed the universal resurrection from the dead that all of us will experience at our Lord's Second Coming. This miracle led many to faith, but it also led to the chief priest's and Pharisees' decision to kill Jesus (John 11:47-57).

Palm Sunday (The Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem): Our Lord enters Jerusalem and is proclaimed king - but in an earthly sense, as many people of His time were seeking a political Messiah. Our Lord is King, of course, but of a different type - the eternal King prophesied by Zechariah the Prophet. We use palms on this day to show that we too accept Jesus as the true King and Messiah of the Jews, Who we are willing to follow - even to the cross.

Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: The first thing that must be said about these services, and most of the other services of Holy Week, is that they are "sung" in anticipation. Each service is rotated ahead twelve hours. The evening service, therefore, is actually the service of the next morning, while the morning services of Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday are actually the services of the coming evening.

Understanding that, let's turn to the Services of Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (celebrated Palm Sunday , Monday and Tuesday evening). The services of these days are known as the Bridegroom or Nymphios Orthros Services. At the first service of Palm Sunday evening, the priest carries the icon of Christ the Bridegroom in procession, and we sing the "Hymn of the Bridegroom." We behold Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, bearing the marks of His suffering, yet preparing a marriage Feast for us in God's Kingdom.

Each of these Bridegroom Orthros services has a particular theme. On Holy Monday, the Blessed Joseph, the son of Jacob the Patriarch, is commemorated. Joseph is often seen as a Type of Christ. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and sold into slavery by them. In the same way, our Lord was rejected, betrayed by His own, and sold into the slavery of death. The Gospel reading for the day is about the barren fig tree, which Christ cursed and withered because it bore no fruit. The fig tree is a parable of those who have heard God's word, but who fail to bear the fruit of obedience. Originally the withering of the fig tree was a testimony against those Jews who rejected God's word and His Messiah. However, it is also a warning to all people, in all times, of the importance of not only hearing the God's word, but putting it into action.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins is read on Holy Tuesday. It tells the story of the five virgins who filled their lamps in preparation for receiving the bridegroom while the other five allowed their lamps to go out, and hence were shut out of the marriage feast. This parable is a warning that we must always be prepared to receive our Lord when He comes again. The theme of the day is reinforced by the expostelarion hymn we sing: "I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned, O my Savior, but have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me." The theme of Holy Wednesday is repentance and forgiveness. We remember the sinful woman who anointed our Lord in anticipation of His death. Her repentance and love of Christ is the theme of the wonderful "Hymn of Kassiane" which is chanted on this night, reminding us one more time, before "it is too late," that we too may be forgiven if we repent.

Holy Unction: The Mystery or Sacrament of Holy Unction is celebrated on Holy Wednesday evening. Actually this service can be celebrated any time during the year, especially when one is ill. However, because of our need for forgiveness and spiritual healing, we offer this service during Holy Week for the remission of our sins. We should prepare for this service in a prayerful way, as we do for Holy Communion.

Great and Holy Thursday: On Holy Thursday we turn to the last events of our Lord and His Passion. Thursday morning begins with a Vesperal Divine Liturgy commemorating the Mystical Supper. As previously mentioned, this is actually Holy Thursday evening's service celebrated in the morning in anticipation. Everyone who is able should make an effort to receive Holy Communion at this service as it was at the Mystical Supper that our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist. At this Liturgy a second Host is consecrated and kept in the Tabernacle. It is from this Host that Holy Communion is distributed to the shut-ins and the sick throughout the coming year.

Thursday evening actually begins the services of Great and Holy Friday. The service of the Twelve Passion Gospels commemorates the solemn time of our Lord's Crucifixion. After the reading of the fifth Gospel, the holy cross is carried around the church in procession, and Christ's body is nailed to the cross in the center of the church.

Great and Holy Friday: This is a day of strict fast. As little as possible should be eaten on this day. It is the only day in the entire year that no Divine Liturgy of any kind can be celebrated. In the morning we celebrate the Royal Hours. These solemn hours are observed as we read the various accounts and hymns concerning the crucifixion. In the afternoon we celebrate the Vesper service of the taking down of Christ's body from the cross. During the Gospel reading, our Lord's body is taken off the cross and wrapped in a new, white linen sheet. This act commemorates the removal of Christ's body from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38-42). Later in the service, the Epitaphios, or winding-sheet, with Christ's body on it is carried in procession and placed in the recently decorated tomb. In the evening the Lamentations Orthros service is sung. This service begins in a solemn manner, but by the end of the service we are already anticipating the Resurrection of our Lord. Remember again, that the Holy Friday evening Orthros is actually the first service of Holy Saturday, the day in which we commemorate our Lord's body resting in the tomb while His all-pure soul descends into Hades to free the faithful of the Old Covenant.

Great and Holy Saturday: This day is a day of hope and waiting. In the morning we celebrate a Vesperal Divine Liturgy which commemorates Christ's victory over death. Bright vestments are worn as we anticipate Christ's Resurrection. Laurel leaves are strewn throughout the church during the service, because in the ancient world laurel leaves were a sign of victory. As the leaves are strewn, the choir chants "Arise O God and Judge the earth, for to Thee belong all the nations." The Old Testament story of Jonah in the belly of the whale is read at this service because Jonah is seen in the Church as a Type of Christ. As Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish, and was then safely deposited back onto land, so our Lord was three days in the tomb before His glorious Resurrection. The Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Holy Saturday concludes the services of Holy Week, and brings us to the eve of Great and Holy Pascha.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Laziness ( Elder Ambrose of Optina )

Tedium is the grandson of despondency and the daughter of laziness. To drive her away, exert yourself in work and don’t be lazy with prayers: then your tedium will pass and zeal will arrive. And if you add to this patience and humility, then you will rid yourself of many banes." Sometimes posing his own question: "Why do people sin?" the Starets would answer: "Either from not knowing what you have to do and what you have to avoid; or if they do know, they forget, and if they did not forget, then they are lazy and become despondent. Conversely: as people are very lazy when it comes to performing good deeds, they very often forget their main responsibility that of serving God. 
Laziness and forgetfulness leads to extreme senselessness or ignorance. These are the three ogres: despondency or laziness, forgetfulness and ignorance, from which the whole human race is bound through the shackles of indecision. Whereupon, carelessness follows with all its multitude of evil desires. That is why we pray to the Queen of Heaven: "Most-holy Theotokos…"

Elder Ambrose of Optina

Sunday, March 29, 2020

St. Nikephoros the Leper appears in midst of coronavirus

St. Nikephoros the Leper, who died in 1964, has appeared to certain faithful, saying that the Lord is with us during the coronavirus, and not to worry. Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America writes:

"Already reports are coming in that the Archangel Michael has appeared to many people promising them his powerful help. Also, the newly-glorified Saint Nikephoros the Leper has appeared in Greece to a pious Orthodox serviceman and assured him that he will intercede for all who ask his prayers to be protected and healed from the Corona virus."

Father Ananias Kousteni relates the Saint's appearance to him in this video in Greek, HERE , reported in english HERE

Below are some selected hymns from the service of the Saint, the entire Paraklesis can be purchased HERE .

May St. Nikephoros intercede for us all.

Doxastikon of the Stichera in the Plagal of the Second Tone
The lover of piety, the fighter of the good fight, the cornerstone of patience, come let us honor the venerable Nikephoros together. For he passed through the fire and water of the scourge of leprosy, and passed on to joyous abundance. And in the furnace of trials you were shone to be bronze, shining more than gold, bestowing upon all souls the saving joy.

Doxastikon of the Aposticha in the Plagal of the First Tone
The heavenly ladder raised up through divine virtues, Nikephoros the heavenly-minded, who was reared well through the godly-wise instruction of the great teacher Anthimos. In struggles of righteousness, you were sanctified on the island of Chios in these latter years, and were shown forth unspeakably shining with sacred wonders for the whole church. With him [St. Anthimos], entreat Christ to make us also worthy of divine illumination in His Kingdom, as an incomparably compassionate Father.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Nikephoros the Venerable, through his struggles with leprosy, and his manliness in asceticism, astonished the Angels, for suffering as another Job, he endured, glorifying God, and now he is crowned with glory by Him, with wonders of discernment. Hail, O guide of monastics, hail, O covering of light, hail to you, from whose Relics pour forth joyous fragrance.

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
As the bravest athlete of steadfastness, and the greatest diamond of patience, who was tried by the turmoil of affliction, and thus were glorified by God, let us honor Nikephoros the Leper, and crying out to him: hail, O namesake of victory.

You were shown steadfast in asceticism, O Nikephoros, and endured the pain of leprosy. And therefore in every manner you offered thanksgiving to Him, bringing forth praises from a clean heart, O God-bearer. Therefore we, inspired by your piety, in fervor cry out to you these words:
Hail, O strength of continence,
Hail, O Atlas of endurance.
Hail, you who endured the pain of the flesh with manliness,
Hail, you who came to know the beauty of the spirit in wisdom.
Hail, the type of the righteous, and diagram of monastics,
Hail, the guide of the faithful in divine virtues.
Hail, the pillar of light enlightening creation,
Hail, the lamp of the Church that gladdens souls.
Hail, the boast and beloved son of Crete,
Hail, the glory of Chios, and disciple of Anthimos.
Hail, you who through leprosy were purified more than gold,
Hail, you who kept faith towards Christ, your Bridegroom.
Hail, O namesake of victory.

On the fourth of this month (January), we commemorate our Righteous and God-bearing Father Nikephoros the Leper, who struggled with endurance on Chios in these latter years, and was made honorable in asceticism.

You wore the schema of Monks, O Nikephoros,
Becoming a type of ceaseless prayer.
On the fourth of January, the leprous flesh of Nikephoros was buried,
While his all-radiant soul passed to the heavens.

Doxastikon of the Praises in the Plagal of the First Tone

The most-sacred treasury of the All-Holy Spirit, more pure in virtues than snow, with Christ's meekness and humility of heart, the beloved friend, let us magnify Nikephoros. For in his soul he magnified the Lord, and chanted His sweet words by heart ceaselessly, becoming a mouth of consolation to all. Therefore, he was rightly honored by Christ, with the unspeakable fragrance of his Relics, ever gladdening those who venerate them, and who glorify his all-festal memory.

Come, O divine, Christ-loving multitude, let us adorn the friend of Christ, Nikephoros the Leper, with hymns of praise, as the perfect struggler of divine steadfastness.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Spiritual love is superior to the love between natural brothers and sisters (St. Paisios)

Spiritual love is superior to the love between natural brothers and sisters because one relates to another through Christ and not a common mother. Those who possess this pure (noble) love are full of kindness, because they have Christ inside them and the Godhead is depicted on their faces. Naturally, it is impossible for Christ’s love to enter within us unless we separate our self from our love, offer it to God and His images, and give ourselves to others without wanting them to commit themselves to us.

Those who suffer deeply for the salvation of the whole world and help in their own way (as strugglers) and humbly entrust themselves to the hands of God, feel the greatest joy in the world. Their life is a constant doxology, for they flutter about internally like angels, glorifying God day and night. Those, however, who neglect the salvation of their souls and try to find joy and rest in this vain life, are continually tortured and entangled in endless worldly machinery and live in hell in this life.

Those who have philotimo, because they move within the heavenly sphere of doxology, joyfully accept their trials as well as their blessings, and glorify God for them. Thus, they are continuously receiving God’s blessing from everything and are melting internally out of gratitude towards God, which they express in every spiritual way possible, like children of God.

Although the Good God gives us abundant blessings, acts always for our own good and has made everything to be of service to us and to be sacrificed for us, from plants to animals and birds, whether big or small, and even though God Himself sacrificed His life to redeem man, many of us remain indifferent and wound Him with our great ingratitude and insensitivity. And, all of this even though He has given us our conscience as an inheritance together with all His other blessings.

Conscience is the first law of God, which He deeply carved in the hearts of the First Created, and consequently, each one of us takes it as a "photocopy" from his parents when he is born. Those who have managed to sensitize their consciences through the daily study of themselves feel themselves estranged from this world; and, as a result, worldly people are dumfounded by their discerning behavior. Those, however, who do not examine their consciences are neither benefited by spiritual study nor by the advice of the Elders, nor are they even able to keep God’s commandments, since they quickly become insensitive.

Those who are sensitive and have philotimo, and who observe everything with precision, are usually wronged by the insensitive ones due to the constant concessions they make for them out of love. However, God’s love is always on their side. Oftentimes, they wrong themselves due to their hypersensitivity, overemphasizing their minor sins or bearing the burden of others’ faults; but once again, God comforts them with His heavenly kindness and, at the same time, strengthens them spiritually.

Those who wrong or wound sensitive people inwardly are not human.

Those who claim they are sensitive, loving, and discreet and endure the injustices of others, but say, "Let them receive theirs from God," are fooled by the deceiver without realizing it, since this is a way to curse politely. In this life everyone takes exams in order to pass on to eternal life, Paradise. It is my feeling that this polite curse is below the spiritual passing mark.

Those who wrong others wrong themselves eternally; those who joyfully accept the injustice of others are entitled to an eternal reward with interest.

Naturally, every person will be paid by the boss for whom he worked. Those who work for Christ shall receive a hundredfold now in this time and, in the world to come, eternal life (Mark 10:30); and those who work for the dark boss will receive darkness even now.

Those who work for Christ but are prideful pollute their virtues, just as fried eggs are contaminated when bird’s droppings fall on them. They then can only be thrown in the trash along with the frying pan.

All those, however, who work humbly, acquire virtues and share their hidden experiences out of humility and love, are the greatest benefactors, because they give spiritual charity and positively help souls which are weak and unsound in the Faith. Those who throw even their own selves to the world, out of love, after having driven out the world from within them, fly into Heaven and are not caught by the world.

Love with external poverty greatly assists in acquiring the inner poverty of the passions. These two kinds of poverty make man rich in God’s kindness.

Good people do not keep evil in their hearts, but neither do they keep their kindness to themselves. For this reason, they do not possess elegant things and are not moved by the world’s beauties. In this, their fervent faith in God as well as their great love is made manifest.

There is no man more intelligent than the merciful one who gives away earthly, perishable things and buys imperishable, heavenly things. Likewise, there is no greater fool in the world than the greedy one who gathers things continually and yet is deprived continually, finally buying hell with his collected savings. Those, naturally, who are lost in material things are totally lost, for they have also lost Christ.

Sadness and stress always dominate the person who is dominated by material things, for sometimes he fears that people will take away his possessions, and other times he is afraid they will take away his soul. The miser, whose hand has become numb from squeezing it too hard, has also constricted his heart and turned it into stone. In order to be cured, he must visit destitute people and sympathize with them, so he will be forced to slowly open up his hand. Consequently, his stony heart will soften and become humane, and thus the gates of Paradise will also open for him.

Kindness softens and opens up the heart, as oil opens a rusty lock.

Those who come close to people in pain, naturally draw near to God, because God is always by the side of His children who are in pain.

God spiritually strengthens His children who have philotimo, who help their fellow men carry their crosses, and He relieves them from their own crosses (trials).

Those who think about the heavy crosses of the righteous, never worry about their own small trials, for, although they have made more mistakes in their life, they suffer less than the righteous.

Those who suffer trials unjustly imitate Christ; and those who face hardships due to their sins are blessed, because they are forgiven their sins in this life.

Those who do not co-suffer with those in pain, suffer from a fatal spiritual illness: mercilessness. Those who are annoyed by the moaning of sick people and react angrily because they cannot concentrate, suffer from many spiritual illnesses.

Those who truly love and struggle correctly, can also endure with love, sacrifice themselves, and give rest to their neighbor, who is Christ.

Those who wish others to provide for them but offer nothing in return, are constantly asking things from God without giving anything to Him, not even their sins (by repentance). Such people are completely estranged from God and deliver themselves of their own accord into the hands of the manslayer (the devil). Because they have only cultivated love for their own selves, it follows that great anguish will then develop in them and that they will suffer hell, in part, already in this life.

Those who do not put themselves in the place of their suffering fellow man are deserted by God, experience a terrible fall, and learn to feel pain. Those, on the other hand, who feel compassion, care for other people, and ignore their own selves, are protected by God and are looked after both by God and by men.

When someone gives his heart to God, then the mind of this man is also seized by the love of God. He is indifferent towards worldly things and continually thinks about the Heavenly Father, and being divinely in love, he glorifies his Creator day and night like an angel.

Merely the thought of God’s benevolent acts is enough to make the heart of a person who has philotimo break; yet even more so, when he thinks of his numerous sins and the great mercy of God.

Those who struggle and sense their sinfulness as well as God’s loving-kindness and who trust in His great mercy, elevate their souls to Paradise with great confidence and little physical effort, if they have good intentions.

People who struggle hard, with much devotion, and have reached the angelic state to a certain extent and are nurtured with celestial honey, nevertheless offer nothing significant to God compared with what He has offered us. For they eat honey while offering Him wax. They eat sweet fruits and offer God tree resin with the censer. Therefore, we do nothing and offer nothing to God, compared with His great loving-kindness. For, while the Good God produces beautiful fruit with our rubbish or even with manure, in order to feed us, we wretched people turn beautiful fruit into manure.

As the kindness of God renders everything useful for a good purpose, so too must we, His creatures, make good use of everything in order to be benefited and benefit others.

Kind people naturally derive benefit even from their fellow men’s failings, for they use them as a strong brake on themselves in order to take care not to be derailed. But those who are deceitful, unfortunately, are not benefited, not even by other people’s virtues, because they interpret them with their wily lexicon, being darkened by the gloom of the manslayer. They spiritually wrong themselves and others, and are always upset and continually upset others with their spiritual darkness; whereas, actual cloudy weather causes sadness only to people who suffer from grief.

Kindness is one of God’s many qualities; therefore, it always spreads joy, drives away the clouds, and opens up hearts like the spring sunshine which makes the earth blossom. It even warms up snakes and takes them out of their cold holes so they, too, can enjoy God’s kindness.

Ill-tempered people are always strangled by thoughts, and with their frozen hearts they freeze and choke afflicted people who have come to them for consolation. Good-tempered people, on the other hand, with their spiritual (noble) love, being contrite with pain, strangle demons, liberate souls, and spread divine consolation to their fellow men.

Fervent spiritual love renders sensitive people more sensitive, and makes insolent ones more insolent.

An orphan, especially if it has lost its mother, and even if it is a little porcupine, must be embraced with pain and fervent love, so as to first feel warmth, take courage, and open up its heart.

The fervent love of Christ nourishes more than any other material food and gives many calories to the soul and body. Oftentimes, it even cures incurable diseases without medication and brings rest to souls.

Those who do not sacrifice their physical health for the love of Christ, scorning their bodily rest, will not find spiritual rest, either in this life or in the next, eternal life.

Those who, out of pure love, sacrifice even their own lives to protect their fellow men, imitate Christ. These people are, of course, the greatest heroes, because even death trembles before them, since they defy death out of love. Thus, they triumph with immortality, and, taking the key to eternity out from beneath the gravestone, they proceed freely to eternal blessedness.

It is preferable for a sensitive person to be himself killed once, out of love, in order to protect his fellow man, than to cop out or back out and be constantly slaughtered by his conscience for the rest of his life.

Sacrifice for our fellow man conceals our great love for Christ. Those who have good intentions to give alms, but have nothing and on this account are afflicted, give charity with the blood of their hearts.

Those who want to be martyred for the love of Christ when martyrdom is not an option, can manifest this love that burns within them through bodily asceticism for the sake of the souls of the reposed which are burning, so that these souls will find a little rest.

Indifferent and merciless people, who think only of their own selves, insensitively satisfying themselves, simultaneously fill their hearts with much anguish. Within them works the little worm of a troubled conscience, and they are tormented already in this life. Merciful people, on the other hand, since they are always filling others with love, are always filled with the love of God and His abundant blessings…

St. Paisios

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Yoga is incompatible with Christianity

“Yoga” is the ancient Sanskrit term for the physical practice used to develop Hindu spiritual disciplines. The word yoga means “yoke” or “spiritual union,” indicating the innate spiritual nature of the practice. Thousands of years old, yoga teachings are detailed in the Vedas, or sacred Indian texts. These teachings include polytheism (worshiping many gods and goddesses), monism (a belief that all things in the universe are one, without distinction), reincarnation, karma, idol worship, and the goal of realizing one’s own divine identity. Many of these teachings are also prevalent in Buddhism and the New Age Movement. Because these beliefs are incompatible with the teachings of Christ, embracing the practice of yoga is contrary to Christianity. Simply put, to practice yoga is to practice an important element of Hinduism and/or New Age beliefs. 
Most people in yoga fitness classes do not understand the roots and purpose of yoga and therefore do not understand all they are participating in. While we respect the freedom others have to observe their religious practices and beliefs, it is important for us to become aware of the truth, in order to avoid activities that are contrary to and at odds with the Christian faith. Let us take a look to see how Christianity and yoga are two conflicting opposites.There are two fundamental teachings of Christianity: i) There is one God, the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), Who created the universe, and ii) The second Person of the Holy Trinity, namely the Son of God, became man—Jesus Christ—Who is God. Yoga is predicated upon the belief in many gods; that is, in many false gods; more correctly, in many evil spirits—which is idolatry.
Christians worship Jesus Christ as their God and Savior. Yoga offers worship to spirits and deities within the Hindu pantheism.Christians call upon the name of Jesus Christ to receive grace and blessings. Yoga calls upon the names of spirits and deities within the Hindu pantheism to seek demonic energy and power.Christianity teaches that God is the source of all good things: “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights” (James 1:17); furthermore, Christ taught us that without Him, we can do nothing: “For without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). Yoga teaches that man himself has power hidden within himself, and that man himself is at the center of the universe.All this becomes apparent when we examine the various elements of yoga.
Chanting Mantras
 “A mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of ‘creating transformation.’” Mantras are 1commonplace in yoga. Two of the most commonly know are Aum/Om and So’ham. The first sound invokes the name of a Hindu false god, while with the second phrase man professes himself to be God. Aum/Om: “The popular Aum chant is fully described in the Hindu scriptures and is synonymous with the Hindu Deity Ganesha.” Deepok Chopra, M.D. explains it this way: “The primordial 2vibration Om (or ‘aum’) is considered the most sacred sound in Hinduism and Buddhism ... People have used Om as a mantra since ancient times, chanting the sound or silently repeating it in meditation to expand their awareness of the divine. In the Yoga Sutras, the philosopher Patanjali states that the repetition of Om, along with a deep contemplation of its meaning, is a direct path to enlightenment ... The symbol is also incorporated into the design of all Hindu temples and family shrines. In the Western world, repeating Om at the beginning and end of yoga classes is common, and more and more people are using the sound as a mantra for meditation and sacred ceremonies.”So’ham: According 3to Yoga for Dummies, “The mantra so’ham” (pronounced so-hum) means ‘I am He,’ that is, ‘I am the universal Self.’ It is repeated in sync with breathing: so on inhaling, ham on exhaling.” 
4Chanting in Sanskrit – 
Many yoga classes feature chanting at the beginning or ending of class. The chanting is done in the ancient language of Sanskrit, so most participants have no idea what they are saying. There are many chants, but portions of common chants offering worship to Hindu false gods are translated below:
1. I bow to Lord Shiva, the peaceful one who is the embodiment of all that is cause by the universe.52. I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus, the awakening happiness of one’s own self revealed; beyond better, acting like the jungle physician; pacifying delusion, the poison of samsara ... to Pantanjali, I salute.
6Wikipedia, Mantra Classical Yoga Hindu Academy, Deepak Chpra M.D., What Does Ohm Really Mean?, George Feuerstein, PhD, Larry Payne, PhD, Yoga for Dummies, p. 3174 Yoga Journal, The Beginner’s Guide to Common Chants, Wikipeida, Astanga Vinyasa Yoga,

Body Positions to Channel Energy 
 There are specific hand, body, or eye positions in yoga called yoga mudras. Yogis believe that by forming these positions, one can direct the flow of energy. These positions are utilized by skilled yogis to induce alternate states of mind and consciousness. Through these positions, unfortunately, a person surrenders himself to and receives a seal from a demonic spirit. Whereas, Christians have surrendered themselves to Christ and have been sealed with the Holy Spirit through baptism (Eph. 4:30). An article in Yoga Journal explains,“Fingers and toes are charged with divine power, which, when intelligently accessed and properly applied, can intensify the transformative power of the practice...Symbolically, a mudra seals or ‘stamps’ the mark of the god or goddess on the practitioner much like a signet ring stamps an impression on soft wax, signaling her complete devotion and self-surrender... some texts claim, mudras confer magical powers on the practitioner, such as healing others’ illnesses (and maybe even exacting revenge on enemies) and assisting in the awakening of kundalini.” Kundalini Yoga is a particular type of yoga that aims to 7develop spiritual awareness by freeing the serpent power (kundalini) that is coiled in the base of the spine through exercises and meditation that draws it upward through the seven chakras (energy centers).
 The concept of chakra originates in Hindu texts and is in yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Chakras are thought to be the seven main energy centers in the body that are located along the spine starting at the base and running upwards to the crown of the head. They believe the chakras can become blocked, and that by practicing poses that correspond to each chakra, you can release these blocks and clear the path to higher consciousness. It is also believed that with the healing of each chakra comes the gift of certain powers. This comes from the University of Metaphysical Sciences: “In addition to its connection to the body, the third eye chakra is also highly related to the spiritual realm. This chakra is said to be associated with the ability to experience and even see into other dimensions during meditation. When the third eye chakra is awakened during meditation, a number of abilities are said to open up including higher cognition, remote viewing, intuition, telekinesis and telepathy. Inasmuch, psychic powers are often said to be related to this chakra.”8 Richard Rosen, Seal the Deal, Yoga Journal, University of Metaphysical Sciences, Understanding the Third Eye,

Yoga poses are often sequenced to unblock the chakras, and meditation on the chakras in yoga class is commonplace. There are many dangers associated with kundalini rising through the chakras, including psychological disturbances. Numerous websites, written by those who have experienced kundalini rising, are devoted to describing the dangers of this practice.
Yoga Meditation   
Yoga uses various meditation techniques to access magical and demonic powers from evil spirits. The Transcendental Meditation technique is based on the ancient Vedic tradition of enlightenment in India. It is believed that, through yoga meditation, one can open the chakras that lead into yogic powers (siddhis). According to traditional sources, the five siddhis of yoga and meditation are:1. Knowing the past, present and future2. Tolerance of heat, cold and other dualities3. Knowing the minds of others4. Checking the influence of fire, sun, water, and poison5. Remaining unconquered by othersThere are also other powers that can be achieved. “These powers include items such as clairvoyance, levitation, bi-location, becoming as small as an atom, materialization, having access to memories from past lives, etc.” The desire for 9such powers is contrary to the teaching and spirit of Christ and the Gospel, which instructs us to humble ourselves and to keep God’s commandments.
Announcement by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece
“Yoga constitutes a fundamental principal of Hinduism, it contains a diversity of beliefs, branches, applications, and inclinations, and it does not constitute a simple form of exercise; consequently, it is completely incompatible with our Christian Orthodox Faith and has no place in the life of Christians.”

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Do not envy sinful people - Salvation of Sinners

Animals, such as cows, that are raised in order to be slaughtered and butchered are allowed to graze and eat freely, and they are fed to be fattened. Conversely, animals that will be used for work or provide some service to man are trained, disciplined, and kept an a strict diet. This is what God does as well. He allows malicious people in this present life to grow fat as they indulge in carnal pleasures and sinful enjoyments because
such unfortunate people will finally end up in eternal Hell.

On the contrary, He tests and disciplines virtuous and righteous people in order to keep them in His heavenly mansion forever. Fruit-bearing trees that yield a crop and produce a bountiful harvest are pruned, they are sprayed with pesticides, and have
heavy weights attached to the end of their branches, which bend and pull the branches
downward. All these harsh measures, however,
are conducive to the tree bringing forth fruit.

Conversely, trees that do not produce fruit and are of no value to man are neither pruned nor clipped like fruit-bearing trees. However, once such trees grow and reach maturity, they are cut down,
completely uprooted from the ground, and subsequently used as firewood. This is what happens with man in this world as well. Virtuous people who produce useful and good works receive sorrows and lashes, whereas the
Righteous Judge does not punish evil and sinful people here because He is waiting to consume them eventually in the fire of Hell.

The prosperity and good fortune of ungodly people is actually a severe misfortune! For when such people observe nothing bad happening to them and that they are not punished in any way, they shamelessly and impudently proceed to carry out even greater sins and worse crimes. 

Furthermore, when such a person remains
undisciplined, it is a sign that he will be punished and condemned, because the enemy does not disturb or assault his own friends. Thus it is apparent, just as we have illustrated above, that the more God loves someone, the more He allows one
temporarily, and for the time being, to experience discipline that is beneficial and ultimately life, saving for the soul.

from The Salvation of Sinners

Monday, March 2, 2020

What is the path into the Kingdom of Heaven ( Saint Innocent Bishop of Alaska )

The road into the Kingdom of Heaven was made by the Lord Jesus Christ, and He was the first one who traveled it. The Bible teaches that only he who follows Jesus can reach His Kingdom. But how can one follow Him? Hear what our Savior says about this: Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me (Mark 8:34).

The words whoever desires mean that Christ does not compel anyone to follow Him. He has no need of the unwilling ones, but He desires that each person freely follow Him. Consequently, only those who willingly choose the Savior’s path reach the Kingdom of Heaven.

Christian! Your salvation or perdition is entirely in your own hands. In His unspeakable wisdom and love, the Lord has given you freedom to chose what you wish, and He does not force you to do anything against your will. Therefore, if you truly wish to follow Jesus Christ, He will show you the way into the Kingdom of Heaven and will help you along each step. If you do not wish to follow Him, it is your decision. But take care not to disdain the grace of God! Pitying you, Jesus Christ knocks for a long time at the door of your heart, waiting for your decision to save yourself. But woe to you if He, tiring of waiting, turns His face away from you, as a hopeless son or daughter of perdition. Then no one, neither the most powerful and influential person, nor all the angels in heaven, will be able to help you!

That is why it is extremely important to nourish in ourselves the desire and resolve to follow the path of salvation. To make this desire grow in us and strengthen our resolve, we must learn where the path Christ showed us leads and how to follow it. These questions are of such extreme importance we will discuss them in detail.

1. First of all, a Christian must thoroughly study the foundations of the Christian faith. To that end, you must read and reread the Holy Scriptures on a regular basis, especially the books of the New Testament. You must not only learn their contents but also develop an interest in their origin, who wrote them and when, how they were preserved and have been handed down to us, and why they are called Divine and Sacred. You must study the Holy Books with simplicity of heart, without prejudice or excessive inquisitiveness, not trying to discover hidden mysteries but trying to learn that which leads us to self-improvement. Certainly all that is necessary for us to know for our salvation is revealed quite clearly and in detail in the Scriptures.

It is important also to study our God-given faith in detail, since he who is indifferent toward truth is in danger of becoming easy prey for false teachers. It is so sad that many Orthodox Christians perish simply because of their disregard for Christ’s teachings. Having access to the light, they wander in the dark.

The studying of the faith should conform to your aptitudes and knowledge. For instance, for the serious student, in addition to studying the Scriptures, it is also useful to become familiar with the works of the Church Fathers and with the historical and theological books written by other Orthodox authors. These books will help you to comprehend your faith more deeply, which in turn will give you an opportunity to strengthen others in the Orthodox faith, to whom these books are unavailable.

2. When you become convinced that our Orthodox faith is based on Holy Scriptures and is not invented by people and that the Holy Scriptures contain the true word of God, revealed by the Holy Spirit through prophets and apostles — accept it with all your trusting heart. Believe the Holy Scriptures without doubt or philosophizing, pushing aside all heretical explanations. If you humbly accept Christ’s truth, then your faith will become strong and will lead you to salvation.

3. Finally, try to nourish a diligence in yourself to follow that which is taught by the Holy Scriptures. But if you do not have such diligence, fall down before the Savior and with a sincere prayer ask Him to send you a zealous wish to live according to His commandments. Then, when the grace of God starts leading you toward salvation, follow it, valiantly repelling the snares of the devil, who will attempt to detract you from Christ’s path.

To illustrate what was just said about the path into the Kingdom of Heaven, let’s assume that unexpectedly you became the sole heir of a rich relative. This relative, before dying, willed his magnificent mansion on the top of a picturesque mountain to you. Loving solitude, he had not built any roads but reached his mansion by a trail. In order to help you take possession of the property, he left you a map of the mountain, indicating the correct trail on it. The mountain has many other trails, none of which reached the mansion; some lead to a dead end, and others to a steep cliff. Therefore, in order to reach your mansion, you have to take the trail indicated by your loving relative.

Prudence would suggest that, before undertaking such a trip, you should carefully study the map of the mountain, obtaining all the necessary supplies for the climb and being prepared to spend the night on the mountain, if necessary. It would be good to ask a ranger about landmarks on the mountain and how best to avoid losing your way or straying from the correct trail. Certainly, being a person with common sense, you would make all necessary preparations before setting off on this new trail.

Similarly, to reach the Kingdom of Heaven, we should determine which path leads to it, how not to falter, what we must beware of, etc. Our map is the Holy Scriptures and other Orthodox books; the rangers are the pastors of the Church, whose duty it is to help the faithful on their way toward Paradise. The provisions are the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church, which reinforce our spiritual strength. Sometimes the path leading to Paradise may become narrow, steep and overgrown with bushes, whereas other paths may seem wider and easier to travel. It is very important not to stray from the correct path. The Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles repeatedly warned that there is but one path that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven, the one given in the Gospel. All others, especially the wide and comfortable ones, lead to perdition.
Saint Innocent Bishop of Alaska

Thursday, February 27, 2020

What is the difference between desire and thought? ( Elder Ephraim of Vatopaidi )

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

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

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

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

Elder Ephraim of Vatopaidi

Monday, February 24, 2020

God allows temptations so that they might rouse us to remember Him.( Elder Ephraim of Arizona )

God allows temptations so that they might rouse us to remember Him. When we call upon Him, He acts as though He does not hear us so that we multiply our supplications and cry out His holy name, in fear of the various passions.

Then, through the pain of the entreaties, our heart is sanctified, and through experience we learn the weakness of our lame nature. Thus we realize in
practice that without God's help we are not able to do anything.

If there were no temptations, pride and other passions would have turned us into other lucifers. But our good Father, God, allows afflictions
to come upon us so that we may be guarded by humility, which will lighten
the burden of our sins.

Counsels from the Holy Mountain, Elder Ephraim +

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Struggle with Bad Thoughts ( St. Paisios )

Nowadays people are losing their mind and do not understand what they do, the ground has slipped from under their feet. This happens because no one wants to control themselves, everyone wants to live to live uncontrollably, according to his own will. But this leads to total catastrophe, because, yes, God granted man the freedom to do what he wants, but He also gave him reasoning, so that he could understand his limitations and the boundary between the correct and the incorrect. When man acts presumptuously, without taking into account his infirmity, then he makes mistakes. Many people want to understand everything with the help of human logic, and they reject anything that their mind does not understand. Instead of being guided by faith and Divine grace, they are guided by their physical mind, and because of this, their social life fails. This is a terrible thing!"
Therefore, I advise people, who come to me for advice:
to realize their estrangement from God;
to repent it, and
to confess humbly

"…It is tragic that today, more than ever, people accept demonic suggestions and become demonized. They can free themselves of these suggestions only by following the advice, that I mentioned above."

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 .....