Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Ninth Beatitude- Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.

In the last, the ninth commandment, our Lord Jesus Christ calls especially blessed those who for the sake of Christ and for the true Orthodox faith in Him, patiently bear disgrace, persecution, malice, defamation, mockery, privation and even death. Such a spiritual feat is known as martyrdom. There is no higher spiritual feat than martyrdom.

The courage of Christian martyrs must be distinguished from fanaticism, which is irrational zeal not according to reason. Christian courage must also be distinguished from the lack of feeling brought on by despair or pretended indifference, with which some criminals because of their incorrigible hardness and pride, serve out their sentences and go to execution.

Christian courage is based on the highest of Christian virtues, on faith in God, on hope in God, on love for God and neighbor, on complete obedience and unshaken faith in the Lord God.

The highest form of martyrdom was suffered by Jesus Christ Himself, and in like manner, the Apostles and an innumerable multitude of Christians, who with joy went to martyrdom for the name of Christ.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, and looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be weaned and faint in your minds (Heb. 12:1-3).

For the spiritual feat of martyrdom, the Lord promises a reward in Heaven. But here on earth the Lord glorifies many martyrs for their firm confession of faith with incorruptible bodies and miracles.

If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf (I Pet. 4:14-16).

Numberless Christians martyrs rejoiced during unspeakable torture, accounts of which are preserved in factual accounts of lives of the Saints. Note: In Roman courts, special scribes were obligated to write protocols (official records) of judicial procedures and legal decisions. Such protocols of interrogations, made in Roman courts during the legal process of Christian martyrs, after the period of persecutions were carefully preserved by the Church. The protocols came to be trustworthy accounts of the feats of martyrdom of the Christians.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Keep saying the Jesus Prayer... ( St.Joseph the Hesychast )

Keep saying the prayer!
 Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!
 Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me! 
This is what will save you. The name of Christ will illumine your mind (nous); it will strengthen your soul; it will help you in the war against the demons; it will cultivate the virtues; and it will become everything for you.
 St.Joseph the Hesychast

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The hand of a priest ( Protopresbyter Stephanos K. Anagnostopoulos )


 Taken from Experiences During the Divine Liturgy, Protopresbyter Stephanos K. Anagnostopoulos

[While the Cherubic hymn is being sung during liturgy the priest reads the prayer which begins with the words, -ed]…”No one who is bound with the desires and pleasures of the flesh is worthy to approach…”

None of the priests ever approaches the Holy Altar, in order to serve the Divine Liturgy, trusting in his holiness. If he is ever fooled and believes that he is holy, he must not perform the Liturgy; in which case we have delusion and heresy. But at this point, we should not say much, for the more we say, the worse it is for us. Here, we do the sign of the Cross, are silent, and we priests ask for God’s mercy.

In order to comprehend what man is worth, for which God’s love can do anything, we ought to give some thought to the high ministry of the Priesthood. The priest, as a human being might not be wealthy, strong, wise and a scholar, but may be humble and insignificant. From the moment, however, he received the gift of the Priesthood and puts on “the grace of priesthood”, from that moment on the Priest receives spiritual power, which surpasses all secular power.

Saint Cosmas Aitolos used to say: “If I ever encounter the emperor of Byzantine. or the king and a poor priest on the street, I will first hasten to kiss the priest’s hand then greet the Emperor. And if I ever encounter an Angel or an Archangel or a Cherubim walking together with a priest on the same road, I will first hasten to kiss the hand of the Priest and then the hand of the Angel.”

The priest’s blessing is Christ’s blessing. It is Christ’s Grace. Whether the priest is young, or elderly, worthy, or unworthy, he bears Christ’s Priesthood, he possesses his Grace and imparts His divine Blessing.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Five Miracles of Saint Gerasimos of Kefallonia

St. Gerasimos of Kefallonia (Feast Day - August 16 and October 20)

1. A Young Atheist Woman From Australia Converts To Orthodoxy and Becomes A Nun After Seeing the Incorrupt Relics of Saint Gerasimos

The powerful effect the incorrupt relics of Saint Gerasimos the New had a particular effect on a young Australian nun, Anna, who lives at St. Stephen's Monastery on Meteora. She related the following:

I came to Greece in 1988, hoping to get work as an English teacher. I wasn't of Greek parentage, nor did I have any particular interest in classical culture or the arts, but came because Greece sounded interesting. I had not been raised with any religion nor was I looking for one, but soon after I arrived I met some people who were planning to go to Kefallonia, to St. Gerasimos, and invited me along. It seemed a good way to begin seeing the country, and I agreed. When I entered the church and stood before the saint's coffin, I was stunned by what I saw - the incorrupt relics were so obviously a miracle that I knew in myself that there must be a God, and that Orthodoxy was how you worshipped Him. I was baptized and a year later I came to the monastery.

2. The Cave of Saint Gerasimos and Unbelievers

The older church containing the relics of St. Gerasimos is built directly over his cave and pilgrims are welcome to descend the ladder and squeeze through the tiny floor-level entrance that leads into the cave. Local Christians say that only believers can wriggle through the narrow passageway. The wife of an Argostoli priest has informed that, wanting a blessing for her unborn child, she had squeezed through with no trouble when she was fully nine months pregnant, but the thin, lithe young woman whom she brought with her - an unbeliever - couldn't do so.

3. The Epidemic of Cholera in 1760

In 1760, when an epidemic of cholera struck the island, a nun named Akakia had a vision of the saint, praying in front of an icon of the Mother of God, beseeching her to halt the epidemic. The Mother of God spoke from the icon and said, "I have asked my Son, and He will grant you this." Then the saint caught hold of a roll of a cotton-like material wrapped around his staff, and began plucking off many small pieces, scattering them into the air. That night he also appeared to another woman on the island, telling her to go quickly to her father's house - that the infection would not spread to the countryside.

The stories of these visions quickly made the rounds of the villages. One local woman, however, refused to believe the accounts, and scoffed at them saying, "These are stories for children." That night the saint appeared to her in a dream and struck her with his staff, saying, "By this children's story, through the blessing of Panagia, I dispel the sickness from this island." The next morning the woman went straight to the monastery to venerate the saint's relics, telling the nuns of her dream and showing them the bruise on her side where the saint had struck her. They all gave thanks to God.

4. Healing of a Mentally Ill Woman in 1785

In 1785, a mentally ill woman named Susannah came to the monastery and lived there for many months. She never spoke to anyone and ate only if she was given food; otherwise, she went hungry.

One day, after she had been there almost a year she began shrieking loudly during Vespers. The priest came out of the altar and tried to calm her but she screamed all the more until the unnerved cleric finally slapped her, and she was forcibly carried out of church.

That night the priest had a dream that the saint's larnaca (coffin) opened by itself and that St. Gerasimos climbed out. He was holding a book in his hands and motioned the priest over. When the priest came up to him, he hit him hard over the head with the book and asked him, "Did that hurt?" The priest said, "Yes," and the saint responded, "And that hurt me tonight when you slapped that poor woman. Get up now, it's time to go to Matins, and don't ever do it again."

The priest awoke terrified, and ran to the church where he begged the saint's forgiveness. That morning, Susannah was again in church, but this time, she suddenly called out coherently, "Let the priest who hit me yesterday, come and give me something to eat." To the amazement of everyone who knew her, she had been healed.

5. Saint Gerasimos Saves Sailors At Sea From Death

In November 1807, a shipping merchant by the name of Manuel was passing the island on his way to the Peloponnese. When he was in sight of Kefallonia a huge storm blew up. The sailors did all they could to keep the ship afloat, but the intensity of the storm continued to build until they were near despair. On board was a Kefallonian sailor named Ioannis, who had a small icon of St. Gerasimos with him. Shouting to the crew, "St. Gerasimos will save us!" he threw the icon into the sea. When the icon touched the surface of the sea the waves were immediately calmed. The grateful captain ordered the crew to dock in Kefallonia, to pay homage to the saint.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
O believers, let us praise the protector of the Orthodox, the God-bearing miracle-worker lately appearing to us, the incarnate angel, divine Gerasimos. For he has rightly received from God the ever-flowing grace of performing healing. He strengthens those with diseases and he heals those with demons. And therefore he pours out healings to those who honor him.

Saint Gerasimos of Kefallonia

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. ( St. Nektarios of Aegina )

How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end!
 In the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes. 
Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. 
Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. 
Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: 
"I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people." (II Cor. 6:16)
 What can be lacking to them? 
Nothing, nothing at all! 
For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!

St. Nektarios of Aegina

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Never correct someone with anger, but only with humility and sincere love. ( St. Joseph the Hesychast )

Never correct someone with anger, but only with humility and sincere love. When you see anger ahead, forget about correcting for a moment. 
When peace has returned, then your powers of discernment are functioning properly and then you can speak beneficially. 
Since man was created rational and gentle, his is corrected far better with love and gentleness.

An angry and irritable man is not accepted into the Kingdom of God even if he raises the dead.

Therefore, suppress anger with all of your might, and you will find it weaker the next time.

St. Joseph the Hesychast


Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Holy Scriptural Orthodox Tradition of “Sarandismos”

The Apostolic Orthodox Tradition of “Sarandismos” (The Service of 40th Day Blessing of birth givers) is a special 40 Day period of a new mother’s self-enclosure in her home after child-birth. This is an Ancient Liturgical Act of our Holy Orthodox Church and traces back to Mosaic Law, practiced in imitation and special honour of the Holy Mother of God, the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. Even she herself, after giving birth to Christ, remained enclosed for 40 Days and only after that period was completed, she brought the Divine Infant to the Holy Temple and placed Him at the Hands of the Holy Priest St Symeon. This event was rightfully elevated to a Great Theomitoric Feast of the “Ypapandi” = The Annunciation of Christ, which in all accuracy consists of the True Orthodox ‘Mother’s Day’. It portrays the perfect example of a Sacred Image of the Most Holy Mother which brings her Child to the Temple and dedicates it to God in all gratefulness that children are not really ours but God’s. Thus, the Tradition of Sarandismos is an exceptional tribute to Motherhood.The ancient medical term for Sarandismos is “loheia” and a woman during medical confinement of her bed is called “lehona”. In the science of medicine ‘Loheia’ is the 40 day period during which the female organism attempts to reinstate itself to the condition that it was prior to pregnancy.

The very first thing that we must point out is that these Orthodox Traditions are not "man-made" or "human teachings" as heretics accuse us. Holy Scripture commands us to "stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or letter." (2Thess. 2, 15) These are sacred traditions initially practiced by very sacred people under divine inspiration. "Holy men of God spoke just as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1, 21) It is God the Holy Spirit that guides the Church to all Truth (John 16, 13) These sanctified persons found great favour by God, received holy information and confirmed that it is in fact pleasing to God.

It is therefore a very daring and anti-Christian stance to oppose these traditions, to attack believers and degrade their faith and adherence. It is far better, fairer and safer for someone to say: "Since it is recorded in the history of the First Apostolic Church, I do accept it, but I myself cannot practice this" or "I don't have the strength, the capacity, the ability or the intention to follow such thing" instead of cunningly devising evil excuses saying that it is supposedly "not Scriptural or not important for God or man-made". The truth is that Holy Scripture abundantly denotes the importance of motherhood, childbirth (and the sacred traditions surrounding it) are heavily important not only for her spiritual growth, but her very salvation: “A woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty”. (1 Tim. 2, 15) Sarandismos is a gracious part and extension of these saving virtues.

During the 40 day period of Sarandismos, the mother remains enclosed in her home with special dedication and focus on her child as well as on God Who gifted her that child. No visiting by family, relatives or friends is allowed and the mother is not blessed to exit her home at all, unless there is a serious medical issue or a life-threatening need. All other contemporary forms of communication are not forbidden, such as telephone calls, emails etc, as long as they are done within the need of human support and comfort, not chit-chatting, gossiping and trivial spreading of rumours, scandals and slander.

The mother devotes to prayer and chants joyful Orthodox Psalms with her infant in her arms and tries to follow the fasting, (on the normal fasting days Wednesdays & Fridays) only with the blessing of her spiritual father, as she must be assured that fasting does not affect breast-feeding in any way as there are many non-dairy foods which highly assist in breast-feeding (the mother is very highly recommended if possible to keep breast-feeding for as long as she can –even if it is for one year- and not rush to replace it with formula milk if there is no need). She also takes the chance to read various spiritual books (especially Christian Orthodox material) on how to raise children with the fear of God and how both parents can come closer to Christ & His Church. There is no such thing as Half Sarandismos, (20 days) but only the full 40 day period.

Sarandismos is entirely an issue of Faith and forms a special aspect of Spiritual Life. Although it is evidently God’s will, our Mother Church does not strictly or forcefully impose this. Our Holy Orthodox Church leaves this to the good will, the level of faith and strength of determination of each individual mother. Rest assured that any woman who willingly and gladly follows this, has immense special blessings to gain for herself, her infant and her husband too. Therefore our criteria of wanting to follow such practice are critically important as there should be no trivial or just customary purposes behind this very important implementation. Also, there should be no intentions of wanting "to show off our spirituality" or promote one’s self as a “good Christian” or keeper of traditions. A spirit of humbleness and a pure love for God are the only blessed, praiseworthy and exemplary motives.

The Actual Service of the “First Church Attendance”= “Protos Ecclisiasmos” in the “Efholoyion” (Book of Priest’s Prayers & Services) states that the Mother (always accompanied by her husband of course) attends Church for the first time “to be cleansed from every sin and every defilement of the servant of God” (Leviticus 15, 22-33) where she brings the infant to Church for the first time and dedicates it to the Holy Temple of God for the glory of God, as a sacrifice that is pleasing to God. It is important and proper that both parents specifically attend this service and not just the mother alone, as wrongly practiced today. There, the mother obtains the blessing to receive Holy Communion once again, but only her, not the child yet. The infant can only receive Holy Communion once it is Baptised and Baptism is strongly urged by our Holy Fathers to take place, no longer than 6 months, but as soon as possible immediately after the Baptism (we do not “Christen”, the term “Christening” is a Western Papal erroneous term. We Orthodox exclusively use the term “Baptism” which is an Early Christian Scriptural term maintained by Christ and The Apostles, from the Greek verb “vaptizo” which means “to fully immerse someone in water”)

The very first question, in all good intention, that may naturally arise, is “why and how can the woman be considered “unclean” since the menstrual flow and childbirth are a natural process by God’s will”?

Although the question is logical and the mindset valid, it is deeply sad to hear this when it sometimes unfortunately comes from some ‘academic’ theologians, uneducated priests or Ecumenist Modern Bishops or Archbishops, especially when they make unacceptable inaccuracies by public statements that “any prayers and references to a woman being ‘unclean’ should be totally removed from our Church books and services” and other disturbing statements such as “our Liturgical Texts and Sacraments should be “corrected”... How profoundly deplorable...

We must clarify and underline in advance that we are not promoting any disrespect to our highly respectful Clergy and consciously avoid falling in to the cursed sin of “ierokatigoria” = speaking against priests. The above references to Bishops are only made because these statements were made in public, at very large scale. It is imperative that we must be very discerning in what we sometimes hear and always get an opinion from an experienced Holy Elder, just as the “Yerontikon” sternly recommends us. Leaders themselves must be very cautious when making such public statements, because the scandal could be so great that it becomes extremely difficult to restore and re-gather those confused souls that are later “snatched” by heretical wolves at the first given chance. Our responsibility is immense with devastating consequences. Orthodoxy is not a system of false, fabricated traditions nor is our Faith subject to the pseudo-piety and barren ethics of any (rare) Ecclesiastical Leaders.

Now to the answer:

This “uncleanness” or “contamination” is not of an ethical or sinful nature. God and His Church are not considering the woman sinful or shameful, therefore she should feel no guilt about it at all. Saint John Chrysostom precisely exclaims: “There is nothing unclean within any natural process!” In his Hermeneutic Commentaries on Leviticus, he strongly opposes the notion of ethical uncleanness in a very apologetic way and not only underlines the preventing aspects of infections but also implies and condemns the defilement of adultery which was often committed under the pretext of men supposedly wanting to refrain from any contagiousness and cunningly resorting to sin.

Our Holy Orthodox Faith is a living revelation of Truth and Exposition of Sacred Tradition that is feasible and fair. According to the Old Testament (Gen. 3, 16, Leviticus 15, 22-33) which was not cancelled but completed and is still the Word of God and valid Part of Holy Scripture, and according to the All-Wise Holy Fathers, God allowed the menstrual flow as well as the birth-pains to take place after the fall of man, as a consequence of their disobedience towards their Creator, along with many other serious distortions of nature that tragically eventuated as a spiritual chastisement. After childbirth, the woman’s body experiences some unpleasant changes, human nature undergoes some form of corruption, defilement and distortion, especially with all the excessive blood flow, internal and external, liquids, infections, chemicals and pharmaceuticals used etc.. Her mental and psychological state also endures some radical changes and both parents, both “Syzigi” (an ancient Greek Biblical Greek term which means “co-bearers” of the same load and “Syzigia” to carry a burden together) share the load of these life-changing occurrences as well as the load of various other good and bad experiences during and after birth. Not only the Holy Fathers, but even doctors themselves globally testify that a woman is not yet clean straight after child-birth, that is why they even suggest that the couple refrains from coming together at least for a couple of weeks in order for genital sterilisation to be completed.

The Pioneering Book called “The Holy Rudder” = “To Ieron Pedalion” (a Complete Collection of all Decisions by All Ecumenical and Local Councils) is of paramount importance and vast validity for the Orthodox Church. There, Saint Nicodemus of Holy Mountain mentions these truths, and in rhetoric form asks the same question himself: “Why does God call a woman in her monthly, ‘unclean’? It seems that the blood flow itself, being a natural procedure, is not really a sin or (ethical) uncleanness”. It is an educational, biological and physical uncleanness to avoid contamination and prevent any possible infection. Saint Isidoros Pilusiotis makes special interpretation of these spiritual measures and restrictions, and clearly defines them as “educational measures of catharsis and sanctification”. Also in a very Early Christian Book of the 1st Century, “The Apostolic Orders” we find: “Not even the lawful marital relationships or the Wed-Bed nor the ‘flowing of blood’ can defile human nature and separate man from the Holy Spirit apart from evil, sin, impiety and ungodliness”. Yet, no Saint, Holy Father or Ecclesiastical Write ever opposed the order of Sarandismos, but they all firmly urged the faithful to safe keep it and thus it has been preserved till today. Other Great Saints such as St Dionysios Archbishop of Alexandria-the Confessor (Canon B’ 260AD), St John the Nisteftis, St Timotheos Archbishop of Alexandria, even the recent great Saints such as Saint Kosmas the Aitolean, St Nektarios, the Holy Elders St Porphyrios, St Paisios, along with all the Great Ascetic Women Saints of our times, all gave the same non-conflicting, harmonious sacred guidelines to women that sought their valuable advice and most valuable blessing.

I was very moved and taken by awe to personally witness a lady who once asked the former Holy Bishop of Florina, Augoustinos Kantiotis, if she was allowed to enter the Church whilst on her monthly, and he replied in his characteristic loving austerity: “My child, you are not even allowed to kiss my hand, not that I am anything special, we are unworthy servants but it’s the Priesthood that we have, you understand? Not only you cannot light a candle, kiss an icon or receive the ‘Antidoron”, but strictly speaking, you are not allowed to even come to the temple. We don’t say these things to degrade you women or throw you in despair, this ‘uncleanness’ is of a legal, educational nature, not ethical, you understand?”

The whole 40 day process of Sarandismos is an extended “askisis”= an extremely beneficial spiritual exercise of ascetic silence and rejuvenating stillness, a good form of experiencing “monastic” isolation, a very blessed chance of remoteness, a trial of patience, a test of ego and an assessment of obedience. It is not an easy thing, but not impossible. For those who truly believe, “with God's help everything is possible” (Mark 10, 27). Sarandismos is a pure test of faith. We eagerly submit and happily obey God’s will in order to oppose and “correct” the former disobedience by Eve. We accept this “penance” without evil objection or worldly suspicion, trusting in God’s wisdom and with steadfast hope in His great mercy. After the 40 day period of preparation, the mother re-enters the Church and restores that distortion, approaching the Sacramental Communion of the Church of God in all blessing and readiness.

Our very own Orthodox grandmothers and ancestors (which some modern theologians are very sarcastic of) have never had any issue with observing these matters and would never take any offense to these “prohibitions”. Although they were illiterate and had no theological knowledge, yet, throughout the ages, they would very humbly, remarkably and impressively express that “we really like to keep our sacred traditions, we just love to do the right thing by God! We have never thought or imagined or even intended to ever change the Gospel of Christ! That’s why we see no insult to be excluded from priesthood. We are already ‘priestesses’ and ‘Deaconesses’ in act, in sacrifice, within our blessed Home-Church, the ‘Kat’ Oikon Ecclesia!”

I think this is a very good powerful lesson for all of us, including males, monks, priests and Bishops. Rejoice. Hairete.

Monk Nicodemus
Antiheretical Manual
July 8, 2011 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Spiritual Deception - Do Demons exist?

There are many Christians who think demons are just old fashioned myths. For a long time, I was one of them. To many, demons are just vehicles to explain things like suffering, illness and evil––not considered to be real beings that have their own wills and who are intent on keeping us separated from God. This is a spiritual deception of a grand scale. When we deny the existence of these invisible beings, we also deny all invisible beings, and this would include God the Creator of all that is both visible and invisible. Frequently, we only allow ourselves to acknowledge as real what we can sense with our senses or measure scientifically. We in effect block out of consideration the entire invisible or spiritual realm, including both angels and demons.

The consequences of this deception are important. When we deny their existence we deny the spiritual struggle we must engage in, or the spiritual war that Saint Paul says Christians are engaged in. If there is no war, no struggle, then all that is necessary to be Christian is to mentally embrace Christ by saying, “I believe,” attend church on Sunday, be nice to others, and support social activities of the church and community. There is no need for ascetic practices to overcome forces that lead us astray. No need for prayer and fasting.

This view that denies the existence of demons is one that is promoted by the Devil himself. It is his greatest deception, making us believe that he does not exist. It makes us passive in our spiritual life. Here is what St. Irenaeus of Lyons of the second century says of the work of the devil, “He had indeed been already accustomed to lie against God, for the purpose of leading men astray.” (Against Heresies, 5.23.1) “To lead men astray,” he says! This is the danger.

Scripture very clearly teaches that demons are real (In the Gospels alone, the word “demon” is used thirty-two times, “devil” and “Satan” both appear fourteen times, and the phrase “the evil one” appears five times.).* Also, in the sacrament of Baptism, from the early days of the Church, we have the prayers of exorcism which are read to this day. After these prayers are read the Priest asks the Catechumen, “Do you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his worship, and all his angels, and all his pomp?” Also in the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God to protect us, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” The Apostle Peter calls to each Christian: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

If the Gospel writers did not believe that demons exist, why would they use the term "demon" so often! There are excellent Greek words for disease and madness (which appear in the New Testament). Without any doubt we find a clear reference to demons throughout the Scripture. It was not written there by mistake or to allude to some kind of physical illness. The facts of the gospel records clearly show that Jesus believed in personal demons. He addressed them and they addressed Him. Today, we can find people who can recount similar personal encounters with demons. Even though they are invisible beings, they are no less real than any other person to whom our Lord Jesus Christ spoke.

To avoid spiritual deception we need to develop a keen awareness of these demonic forces, because they are our enemy on our spiritual path. If we are to follow Christ, we, like Him, have to recognize the power of the evil forces we face. We of necessity need to properly prepare ourselves to fight against them, knowing they are actively attacking us. Without such a recognition, our efforts will be weak and ineffective. This is the nature of the authentic Christian struggle.

There was a time not so long ago that I used to worry about what others would say of me if I began to talk about the demons who attack me? I feared the possibility of ridicule and being rejected as some kind of religious kook, a Neanderthal thinker. I worried that they would say I am naive, old fashioned, ignorant of modern scientific views, one babbling superstitious and archaic views. This is the challenge we face in today's world. Generally, a minority (34% for Orthodox and 40% for all Americans according to PEW Survey of Religious Landscape) of the population believes in demons with certainty. 
In our spiritual struggle we must go against the prevailing thought patterns that do not reflect the spiritual truth of the created world. We must be prepared to be mocked and ridiculed for our views. We cannot be deceived and ignore these forces that are working against us. We cannot be lukewarm on this belief. It is not enough to think there is the possibility of such beings. We must in fact see them with certainty, as the enemy worthy of combating in intense spiritual warfare. This is the key to our eventual union with God. These forces are trying to prevent us from joining with Christ and growing in a way where we become part of Him and part of His Kingdom.

Monday, September 7, 2020

St. Paisios on the Prayer Rope

St. Paisios preaching to people outside his cell on the Holy Mountain 

Q-Elder, what meaning does the prayer rope (komboschoini) have?
A-The prayer rope is an inheritance, a blessing, which was left to us by the Holy Fathers. And for this alone, it has great worth. You see, when someone's grandfather leaves him a meaningless object as an inheritance, he keeps it like a talisman, how much more should we keep the prayer rope as an inheritance of the Holy Fathers!

In olden times, when there were no clocks, monks counted the time with prayer with the prayer rope, but the knots of the prayer rope were simple. Once, an ascetic was doing great struggles, many prostrations, etc. and the devil went and broke the knots of his prayer rope. The poor man then did prostrations after prostrations, because he couldn't count them, as the devil broke his prayer rope to further continue his struggle. Then, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him and taught him how to weave the knots, so that each knot might contain nine crosses. The devil afterwards, who trembles at the cross, could not break them. Thus the knots of the prayer rope have nine crosses, which symbolize the nine ranks of the Angels.

Q-Elder, what do the 33, 50, 100 and 300 knots mean on prayer ropes?
A-Only the number 33 is symbolic, for it symbolizes the 33 years that Christ lived upon the earth. The other numbers simply help us count the prostrations that we do or how many times we say the prayer.

Some machines have a rope with a grip in its side so that if you want it to go forward, you pull the rope strongly, until it warms it up with oil. Thus, the prayer rope is the rope which we pull one, two, five, ten times to warm up with spiritual oil and to move the spiritual machine forward of unceasing prayer, which afterwards, functions on its own. However, when the heart is going forward with the prayer, we still should not remove the prayer rope, so that others might not remove it, whose hearts have not moved forward with prayer.

Q-Elder, when I hold my prayer rope, and say the prayer mechanically, is there a danger of vainglory [ανθρωπαρέσκειας]?
A-If you use the prayer rope externally, out of vainglory, even though your hands start to peel, it does not benefit you at all. It will only bring you fatigue, and the illusion that you are supposedly pursuing noetic prayer.

Q-Elder, I'm not used to carrying the prayer rope.
A-You should carry the prayer rope, so that you might not forget the prayer, which should work internally, within the heart. When of course you exit your cell, you should remember that the enemy is ready to fight you. Thus, imitate the good soldier, who exits the barracks always with his automatic weapon “at hand”. The prayer rope has a great power, and is the weapon of the monk, and its knots are bullets, which [when fired at the feet of the demons] make their sandals dance.
St. Paisios

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The most powerful prayer ( St. Joseph the Hesychast )


Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me ...

Always try to make sure that the prayer of Jesus Christ is included in your daily cycle, your work, your every breath and your every sense. Oh, then how will your heart rejoice! How delighted you will be because your mind will rise towards the heavens. Wherefore do not forget to always say: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

When you chant you will understand the chants; you will have the desire and you will likely have the voice and humility to give back, accordingly, the words of God. Therefore do not do injustice to your soul anymore, but say inwardly the prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me...

When you work, do not let all your thoughts and strength be absorbed in your work, but say the prayer in a whisper. Then your works will be correct, error-free, your thoughts will be clean, and your work performance will be greater. Go ahead, then, say the prayer of Jesus Christ, so your works will be blessed, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

The Holy Spirit protects the soul that prays. It enters the depths of the soul, has control over the inner world of the soul and it directs it towards God's Holy Will. Only then the soul has the power to say, along with the Prophet: Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! (Ps. 103, 1). Go ahead and pray: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, so you will have the protection of the Holy Spirit.

When the Holy Spirit protects your soul, you feel fulfilled and humble. You are not affected by injustice, irony or praise. You live in a spiritual atmosphere, which the virus of sin cannot penetrate. Only the Holy Spirit can judge our souls, no else has that right. The Holy Spirit gives us new eyes and new reasoning. Say the prayer frequently so you can live comfortably in any environment; Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me ...
St. Joseph the Hesychast (1897-1959)

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Being a Christian was never safe: “When It’s Safe” Means Never

At every liturgy in the Orthodox Church, just before the singing of the Nicene Creed, the priest or the deacon intones the words, “The doors! The doors!” This call dates back to the earliest times, when the doors of the church had to be barred shut, to prevent outsiders (in those days, Roman soldiers) from entering the church, witnessing those who confessed the faith, seizing them, and killing them.

Being a Christian was not safe.

Centuries later, under the Muslim Turks, Crypto-Christians, those who lived publically as Muslims, but secretly as Orthodox Christians , attended Liturgy in secret churches, often hidden beneath secret doors in the floors of their own homes, or in unknown caves. In rural villages, Orthodox priests sometimes posed as Muslim imams just to maintain their cover. If such a village of Crypto-Christians was discovered, everyone from the old people down to the infants , was put to the sword.

Being a Christian was not safe.

Centuries later, under Communist regimes, faithful Christians would meet secretly in grey concrete apartment blocks, where priests would baptize for little ones who had been brought by their grandmothers, without the knowledge of the parents , a legitimate excuse for the parents to give to the atheist authorities if the family was ever caught. In the most severe Communist regimes, a handful of faithful would gather outside a city or town for a clandestine nighttime Liturgy, served by a priest brought in from far away to avoid the prying eyes of local authorities. In all these cases, the faithful knew, if they were found out, the punishment would be a swift execution, or worse – a slow and painful death in a concentration camp.

Being a Christian was not safe.

In the last few months, faithful around the world have experienced the closure of our churches, the prohibition of the public celebration of Holy Week, and the effective ban by bishops and civil authorities in different places on the reception of Holy Communion. In most places, churches have now reopened (at least in part).

Yet formal studies and informal observations show that about one-third of those who regularly attended holy services at the start of this year have now become accustomed to staying home on Sundays and feast days, and have not returned to church.

Perhaps good habits have been broken. Perhaps laziness has set in. Perhaps the lure of Sunday breakfast in bed has proven seductive.

Yet what has covered all the human laziness and brokenness behind the spiritual falling away is a single self-deception.

These are the words, “I will return to church when it is safe again.”

Curiously, one does not hear the same phrase repeated in relation to the liquor store , i.e. I will return to the liquor store when it is safe again. Nor does one hear it applied to the purchase of groceries: grocery stores seem somehow protected from all sicknesses, and remained so throughout the recent worldwide crisis.

Neither does one hear this phrase when it comes to the workplace , i.e. I will refrain from making an income, because the risk to my health is too high. I will return to work when it is safe again.

No, it seems only churches suffer from the unique level of danger , just as they did throughout the earlier part of this year, making them more risky than public transport and dollar stores combined.

The truth is, in the current climate of madness, many Orthodox Christians have not only shifted from realistic medical precaution to social hysteria, they have also found social hysteria to be a most convenient cloak for avoiding anything inconvenient or difficult.

Have to visit a relative? Not until it’s safe again.

Have to finish some difficult job? Not until it’s safe again.

And how about going back to church every Sunday morning…?

Brethren, attending the holy services of the Orthodox Church , Sundays or feast days , has never been safer than it is today. The truth is, however, it has never been safe to be a Christian.

In the catacombs around Rome rest the remains of more martyrs for Christ than live in my home city , over half a million martyrs. Being a Christian and going to church was always a risk for them , and so it will be for every generation of Christian, unto ages of ages.

So please, kindly set aside the idea that you will return to the holy services “when it’s safe”. That day will never come.

You will either make up your mind to live as a Christian and return to church, or you won’t.

Friday, August 7, 2020

God will not allow anyone who calls on his name to despair. ( Gerondissa Makrina )

Let us be meek in our conversations and in the way we walk. We should speak with humility. Just as the dew on the grass is shaken off when we walk through it, likewise divine grace departs because of our carelessness. Much attention and silence are needed...

God will not allow anyone who calls on his name to despair. Therefore let us have forcefulness with the prayer.

Gerondissa Makrina

Friday, July 31, 2020

Concerning Angels ( St. John of Damascus )

He is Himself the Maker and Creator of the angels: for He brought them out of nothing into being and created them after His own image, an incorporeal race, a sort of spirit or immaterial fire: in the words of the divine David, He maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire: and He has described their lightness and the ardor, and heat, and keenness and sharpness with which they hunger for God and serve Him, and how they are borne to the regions above and are quite delivered from all material thought.

An angel, then, is an intelligent essence, in perpetual motion, with free-will, incorporeal, ministering to God, having obtained by grace an immortal nature: and the Creator alone knows the form and limitation of its essence. But all that we can understand is, that it is incorporeal and immaterial. For all that is compared with God Who alone is incomparable, we find to be dense and material. For in reality only the Deity is immaterial and incorporeal.

The angel’s nature then is rational, and intelligent, and endowed with free-will, change. able in will, or fickle. For all that is created is changeable, and only that which is uncreated is unchangeable. Also all that is rational is endowed with free-will. As it is, then, rational and intelligent, it is endowed with free-will: and as it is created, it is changeable, having power either to abide or progress in goodness, or to turn towards evil.

It is not susceptible of repentance because it is incorporeal. For it is owing to the weakness of his body that man comes to have repentance.

It is immortal, not by natures but by grace. For all that has had beginning comes also to its natural end. But God alone is eternal, or rather, He is above the Eternal: for He, the Creator of times, is not under the dominion of time, but above time.

They are secondary intelligent lights derived from that first light which is without beginning, for they have the power of illumination; they have no need of tongue or hearing, but without uttering words they communicate to each other their own thoughts and counsels.

Through the Word, therefore, all the angels were created, and through the sanctification by the Holy Spirit were they brought to perfection, sharing each in proportion to his worth and rank in brightness and grace.

They are circumscribed: for when they are in the Heaven they are not on the earth: and when they are sent by God down to the earth they do not remain in the Heaven. They are not hemmed in by walls and doors, and bars and seals, for they are quite unlimited. Unlimited, I repeat, for it is not as they really are that they reveal themselves to the worthy men to whom God wishes them to appear, but in a changed form which the beholders are capable of seeing. For that alone is naturally and strictly unlimited which is uncreated. For every created tiring is limited by God Who created it.

Further, apart from their essence they receive the sanctification from the Spirit: through the divine grace they prophesy: they have no need of marriage for they are immortal.

Seeing that they are minds they are in mental places, and are not circumscribed after the fashion of a body. For they have not a bodily form by nature, nor are they tended in three dimensions. But to whatever post they may be assigned, there they are present after the manner of a mind and energize, and cannot be present and energize in various places at the same time.

Whether they are equals in essence or differ from one another we know not. God, their Creator, Who knoweth all things, alone knoweth. But they differ from each other in brightness and position, whether it is that their position is dependent on their brightness, or their brightness on their position: and they impart brightness to one another, because they excel one another in rank and nature. And clearly the higher share their brightness and knowledge with the lower.

They are mighty and prompt to fulfill the will of the Deity, and their nature is endowed with such celerity that wherever the Divine glance bids them there they are straightway found. They are the guardians of the divisions of the earth: they are set over nations and regions, allotted to them by their Creator: they govern all our affairs and bring us succor. And the reason surely is because they are set over us by the divine will and command and are ever in the vicinity of God.

With difficulty they are moved to evil, yet they are not absolutely immovable: but now they are altogether immovable, not by nature but by grace and by their nearness to the Only Good.

They behold God according to their capacity, and this is their food.

They are above us for they are incorporeal, and are free of all bodily passion, yet are not passionless: for the Deity alone is passionless.

They take different forms at the bidding of their Master, God, and thus reveal themselves to men and unveil the divine mysteries to them.

They have Heaven for their dwelling-place, and have one duty, to sing God’s praise and carry out His divine will.

Moreover, as that most holy, and sacred, and gifted theologian, Dionysius the Areopagite, says, All theology, that is to say, the holy Scripture, has nine different names for the heavenly essences. These essences that divine master in sacred things divides into three groups, each containing three. And the first group, he says, consists of those who are in God’s presence and are said to be directly and immediately one with Him, viz., the Seraphim with their six wings, the many-eyed Cherubim and those that sit in the holiest thrones. The second group is that of the Dominions, and the Powers, and the Authorities; and the third, and last, is that of the Rulers and Archangels and Angels.

Some, indeed, like Gregory the Theologian, say that these were before the creation of other things. He thinks that the angelic and heavenly powers were first and that thought was their function. Others, again, hold that they were created after the first heaven was made.

But all are agreed that it was before the foundation of man. For myself, I am in harmony with the theologian. For it was fitting that the mental essence should be the first created, and then that which can be perceived, and finally man himself, in whose being both parts are united. But those who say that the angels are creators of any kind of essence whatever are the mouth of their father, the devil. For since they are created things they are not creators. But He Who creates and provides for and maintains all things is God, Who alone is uncreate and is praised and glorified in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Theology of freedom ( Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos )

We can confront the topic of freedom from many angles. The first angle is the moral one, from which man's freedom is to act without being hindered by various duties. The second angle is the psychological one, from which his freedom consists in being able to make decisions without being subjected to various influences. A third angle is the philosophical one, from which freedom is the inalienable right of man, as a rational being, to think and to act. It is also possible for all the other freedoms, social, personal, national, economic, and so forth, to be put into this framework.

Those aspects of freedom will not concern us, but we are going to examine freedom from one angle, that of theology. For we shall discover that it differs greatly from the other angles, in that it is more integrated.

It must be said from the start that independence, or freedom, is an essential constituent of man. When God created man, He gave him free will, which not even He Himself violates.

In Holy Scripture it says that man was created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1,26). The holy Fathers have given various definitions as to just what this image is. Sometimes they refer it to man's sovereign dignity, to his superiority and his lordship over the terrestrial world, sometimes to his soul and body, sometimes to the whole man, sometimes to the ruling part of his soul, which is the nous, sometimes to his independence. All these definitions show that the holy Fathers avoid specifying one particular point which is the image, but they rather describe all the functions which express the image. In any case it is a fact that one interpretation of the image also refers to independence, which interests us here.

John of Damaskos' interpretation concerning the image is characteristic. He says that God formed the body from the earth and "by His own inbreathing gave him a rational and noetic soul, which last we say is the divine image". Extending this interpretation he says: "for 'in His image' means the nous and free will, while 'in His likeness' means such likeness in virtue as is possible". Thus 'in the image' refers chiefly to the noetic and independent. In what is to be said below we shall mostly interpret independence, freedom, because there are many misinterpretations on this subject. We shall emphasize some essential points.

a) The relativity of human freedom

Man as a creature, as created by God, has absolute freedom within its relativity. With his freedom he can even turn against his creator, but this freedom is relative. This is because man is not uncreated, but created, which means that he was created by God and therefore has a beginning.

Archimandrite Sophrony observes: "Absolute freedom means being able to determine one's being on all levels, independently, without constraint or limit in any form. This is the freedom of God - man does not have it", for he has not the authority to create "out of nought".

The ultimate temptation for the freedom of man (and in general of subsistent spirits) "is to fashion his own being, determine himself in all things, become a god himself, and not just take what is given, because that would entail a feeling of dependence".

Thus man does not have absolute freedom by his biological birth. But he can acquire absolute freedom by his rebirth and experiencing Christ's life, as we shall explain in the next section.

b) The challenge of freedom

The preceding also leads us to another parallel conclusion, that what is given to man by his existence is a challenge for freedom. True freedom is not just the choice of an event, but the possibility of a self-determined existence.

It has been observed very correctly that: "The ultimate challenge to the freedom of the person is the 'necessity' of existence. The moral sense of freedom, to which Western philosophy has accustomed us, is satisfied with the simple power of choice: a man is free who is able to choose one of the possibilities set before him. But this 'freedom' is already bound by the 'necessity' of these possibilities, and the ultimate and most binding of these 'necessities' for man is his existence itself: How can a man be considered absolutely free when he cannot do other than accept his existence?" Therefore man "as a created being cannot escape the 'necessity' of his existence".

In this light we can interpret an agonising existential question of many contemporary young people: "Why did my parents give birth to me without asking me? Why should I come into existence without being asked?" To be sure, before someone came into existence there was no one to be asked, but in any case this is a question which shows that the greatest challenge for freedom is the fact of existence and the fact that therefore man has to do something in order to be given the possibility of determining a new birth for himself.

Incidentally it should be pointed out that in the opinion of some, the embryo in its mother's womb is asked if it wishes to come to life. And the miscarriage of many embryos is interpreted as their refusal to be born. Thus in a way their existential freedom is preserved. We cannot judge this view from the patristic point of view, because the holy Fathers have not expressed themselves on this matter, at least as far as I know.

c) Freedom and fall

The freedom of man before the fall somehow worked differently from that which works today. Freedom as we know it in the period after the fall, after the victory of sin and the passions, after the illness which came into the whole human race as a consequence of Adam's sin, after the decay of communities and institutions, is receiving dreadful effects and it requires great pains in order to express it in a positive way. In the life before the fall there was the possibility of positive or negative response to the will of God, but that was different from freedom as we live it today. In other words, today we suffer terrible pressures and effects, and therefore it is with great labour and struggle that we make decisions about doing something, while in man's original life this labour and struggle did not exist.

We should further point out that man's freedom even to sin and to withdraw from his Creator was a sign not of perfection but of imperfection. For his vacillation about what to do, instead of being stimulated by love and freedom towards the purpose of creation, the lack of impetus in man towards his archetype, shows a weakness and imperfection. Man should naturally be led towards the good. St. Maximos the e Confessor, interpreting the request of Christ's prayer "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" says that he who impels his rational power towards God and worships him mystically becomes a participant in the angels' worship of God. In this case the words of the Apostle Paul apply: "For our citizenship is in heaven". Among these men desire does not sap their powers through sensual pleasure, "but there is only the intelligence naturally leading intelligent beings towards the source of intelligence, the Logos Himself". The perfection of man's freedom lies in his turning naturally towards his archetype.

d) Natural will and will based on opinion

While speaking of man's independence, I think that something must also be said about Christ's independence. St. John of Damaskos speaks "about the wills and independence of our Lord Jesus Christ". It is the subject of a dogma which shows us true freedom, how the two wills in Christ work and also how the saints too, who are united with Christ, can experience true freedom.

There is a difference between 'willing' and 'how one wills'. To will is a work of nature, just as seeing is, since in all men there is willing. However, 'how one wills' is not of nature, "but of our opinion", just as how to see well or badly is also a matter of the particular opinion and freedom of each man. The "willing" is called will and "natural will", "how one wills" which is subject to the will, is called "will based on opinion".

Through His incarnation Christ assumed human nature, wholly without sin. Thus in His hypostasis the divine was united immutably, inseparably, indivisibly with human nature. Since Christ had two natures, therefore "we say that his natural wills and natural energies were two". But since the hypostasis is one, therefore "also we call one and the same both his willing and his doing". And Christ wills and acts not in a divided way but in unison; for He wills and "each form acts in communion with the other". It is one who acts, but in any case He has two natural energies and wills which do not act separately, but each single energy works in communion with the other. In any case "we call the wills and the actions natural and not hypostatic".

We have said that in each person there is the natural will and the will based on opinion. Christ had two natural wills, which worked "in communion with each other", but he did not have a will based on opinion. The will based on opinion is that of option, which is expressed after judgement, thought, dissent and decision. There was none of this in Christ. Therefore St. John of Damaskos says characteristically: "It is impossible to speak of opinion and option in Christ, if we want to speak literally". Opinion is a fruit and result of seeking and will and judgement about the unknown. After the opinion is formed, the option prefers one or the other. But Christ was not simply a man, but also God who knew everything, and therefore "he was unhesitating in thought and seeking and will and judgement, and naturally he was at home with the good, and evil was alien". Christ's will was naturally guided to doing good and to withdrawal from evil. This is why as God He never sinned, nor did He have any possibility to sin. What the human will desired did come about in the Person of Christ "not in contradiction of opinion but in identity of natures". This means that "He wished these things naturally, at the time when His divine will wished and allowed the flesh to suffer and do the same things". Thus in Christ there was not dissent, wavering, inner conflict when there was something to be done.

Christ, being God and man, naturally had "a will", but He did not have the will based on opinion, as we said before. His human will "yielded and submitted to His divine will without being moved by his own opinion, but willing those things which his divine will wanted it to will".

Each will of Christ, both the divine and the human, willed and moved independently. For in every intelligent nature there is independence. How was it possible to have intelligence and not to have independence? So Christ's soul "was independent in his willing and wanted to moved independently", "but wanted those things independently which His divine will wanted it to will". Thus the two wills in Christ differed not in opinion, but in natural power: the divine will was without beginning, accomplishing all things, therefore having power and dispassion; His human will began in time, suffered natural and blameless passions and, while naturally it was not all-powerful, still, since it had been assumed truly and naturally by God the Word, that is why He was all-powerful.

All these things indicate that since in Christ there were two natures there were also two wills. Likewise his independence, which is closely connected with his human nature, acted naturally towards the good, following the divine will.

e) The freedom of the saints

What has been said is needed in order for us to understand the limits of human freedom and also to understand how freedom, independence functions in the saints. As we shall see in what follows, the saint's independent will, precisely because he is favoured with divine grace, always moves naturally towards the good. When I speak of a saint I mean the deified person who partakes of God's deifying energy.

The Apostle Paul offers this witness: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2,11). He has the certainty that Christ lives in him, and so elsewhere too he says: "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Cor. 11,1). St. Gregory Palamas, bearer of the same Revelation, interpreting this teaching of the Apostle, says: "Do you see clearly that grace is uncreated? Not only is such grace uncreated, but also the result of this sort of energy of God is uncreated; and the great Paul, no longer living the temporal life but the divine and eternal life of the indwelling word, came to be without beginning and without end by grace". And a little further on: "Paul was a created being until he lived the life which had come about by God's command; then he no longer lived this life but a life which had become indwelt by God, become uncreated by grace: and wholly possessing only the living and acting word of God".

In the Apostle's words and in the interpretation by St. Gregory Palamas, champion of the theologians, it is clear that a man who has been united with Christ, who has attained illumination and deification, by grace becomes uncreated and without beginning, because he has the living Christ within him.

And St. Maximos the Confessor, interpreting the words of the Apostle Paul that Melchizedek, who is a type of Christ, was "without father, without mother, without genealogy" (Heb. 7,3), writes: "The person who has mortified the earthly aspects of himself, thoroughly extinguishing the will of the flesh within him and repudiating the attachment to it which splits asunder the love we owe to God alone; who has disowned all the modalities of the flesh and the world for the sake of divine grace... - such a person has become, like Melchizedek, 'without father, without mother, without descent'. For because of the union with the Spirit that has taken place within him he cannot now be dominated by flesh or by nature".

Every Christian, when he is united with Christ, is deified, sanctified, and his whole being, and somehow also his freedom, which is always subject to God's will, is shown favour. In this sense we say that by His incanartion He granted us freedom. He freed us from sin, death and the devil and we enjoy this freedom in our spiritual rebirth. Nicholas Kavasilas says characteristically: "It was when He mounted the cross and died and rose again that the freedom of mankind came about, that the form and the beauty were created and the new members were prepared".

We have already seen that the challenge for freedom is the given fact of existence, and this creates an existential problem. But by rebirth in Christ, which takes place within the Church, the people overcome this existential problem. Just as great as the difference between biological birth and spiritual birth is the difference between the struggle over the fact of existence and the possibility of self-determination of the new existence. Man is born spiritually by his own will. This spiritual birth has great meaning and importance. St. Gregory the Theologian speaks of three births. The first is the biological birth from the parents, the second is through the mysteries of holy Baptism, the father of which is God, and the third is through tears, and the father of this birth is the man himself. To express ourselves through St. Maximos the Confessor, by the first birth we come into being, by the second into "well being" and by the third, which is identical with resurrection, into "ever well being"

Thus man is called to this new life, and if he responds, he is born into "ever well being", overcoming the provocation and temptation given in his existence. And since the deified person becomes "uncreated", "without beginning" and "without genealogy" - by the grace of God - for this reason he acquires a freedom which is absolute within human limits and facts. Since his freedom has an impulse towards God through love, there is no ambivalence in him, his independence functions naturally and so he becomes perfect by grace, since he has abandoned the imperfection of his nature, which is indicated by the battle for single-mindedness.

St. Symeon the New Theologian says that our self-determination, our free will, is not removed by Baptism, "but it grants us freedom no longer to be held against our will in the devil's tyranny". Baptism grants man the freedom not to be tyrannised by his desire, by the devil. After Baptism it again depends on us whether we remain self-willed towards God's commandments or we depart from this way and go back to the devil through his cunning practices.

St. Diadochos of Photike, referring to the desire for self-determination, says that independence is a desire of the rational soul, which moves readily "towards whatever it desires". Therefore he urges us to persuade it to move only towards the good. When it is moving towards the good, it is fulfilling its purpose and moving naturally.

The same saint writes that all men are formed in the image of God. "But to be in His likeness is granted only to those who through great love have brought their own freedom into subjection to God". "Only when we do not belong to ourselves do we become like Him who through love has reconciled us to Himself". From these words of the saint it can be seen that the likeness belongs to the saints who have mortified their passions and subjected their freedom to God through love. He emphasises the subjection of freedom to God, but this comes about through love. For in fact it is only then that freedom moves and functions naturally.

It can be added that "the only exercise of freedom, in an ontological manner, is love". True freedom cannot be expressed without love; it loses its ontological content. And this means "that personhood creates the following dilemma for human existence: either freedom as love, or freedom as negation".

In the saints we encounter the co-existence of love and freedom. They love God really, I could say ecstatically, and therefore their freedom, having been released from different admixtures and ailments, is directed towards God, it moves naturally. And in this way the saints are true men, what we have usually called persons.

Since, however, I do not wish to take my stand on a philosophical and theological level, which may seem abstract - although I do not think it is, for the theological position is necessary - I shall go on to present some expressions of freedom, as it is experienced in the ascetic life of the Church. One is man's freedom from death, another is the freedom of the nous from logic and the senses, and the third is man's freedom from the environment. These topics will reveal clearly the great value of freedom, as the members of our Church experience it.

Taken from the book "The Person in The Orthodox Tradition"By Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

How To Distinguish A False Prophet From A True One ( St. Hermas )

“How then, sir,” say I, “will a man know which of them is the prophet, and which the false prophet?”

“I will tell you,” says he, “about both the prophets, and then you can try the true and the false prophet according to my directions.

Try the man who has the Divine Spirit by his life. First, he who has the Divine Spirit proceeding from above is meek, and peaceable, and humble, and refrains from all iniquity and the vain desire of this world, and contents himself with fewer wants than those of other men, and when asked he makes no reply; nor does he speak privately, nor when man wishes the Spirit to speak does the Holy Spirit speak, but He speaks only when God wishes Him to speak. When, then, a man having the Divine Spirit comes into an assembly of righteous men who have faith in the Divine Spirit, and this assembly of men offers up prayer to God, then the angel of the prophetic Spirit, who is destined for him, fills the man; and the man being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks to the multitude as the Lord wishes. Thus, then, will the Spirit of Divinity become manifest. Whatever power therefore comes from the Spirit of Divinity belongs to the Lord.

Hear, then,” says he, “in regard to the spirit which is earthly, and empty, and powerless, and foolish. First, the man who seems to have the Spirit exalts himself, and wishes to have the first seat, and is bold, and impudent, and talkative, and lives in the midst of many luxuries and many other delusions, and takes rewards for his prophecy; and if he does not receive rewards, he does not prophesy. Can, then, the Divine Spirit take rewards and prophesy? It is not possible that the prophet of God should do this, but prophets of this character are possessed by an earthly spirit. Then it never approaches an assembly of righteous men, but shuns them. And it associates with doubters and the vain, and prophesies to them in a corner, and deceives them, speaking to them, according to their desires, mere empty words: for they are empty to whom it gives its answers. For the empty vessel, when placed along with the empty, is not crushed, but they correspond to each other. When, therefore, he comes into an assembly of righteous men who have a Spirit of Divinity, and they offer up prayer, that man is made empty, and the earthly spirit tees from him through fear, and that man is made dumb, and is entirely crushed, being unable to speak. For if you pack closely a storehouse with wine or oil, and put an empty jar in the midst of the vessels of wine or oil, you will find that jar empty as when you placed it, if you should wish to clear the storehouse. So also the empty prophets, when they come to the spirits of the righteous, are found [on leaving] to be such as they were when they came.

This, then, is the mode of life of both prophets. Try by his deeds and his life the man who says that he is inspired. But as for you, trust the Spirit which comes from God, and has power; but the spirit which is earthly and empty trust not at all, for there is no power in it: it comes from the devil.

Hear, then, the parable which I am to tell you. Take a stone, and throw it to the sky, and see if you can touch it. Or again, take a squirt of water and squirt into the sky, and see if you can penetrate the sky.”

“How, sir,” say I, “can these things take place? For both of them are impossible.”

“As these things,” says he, “are impossible, so also are the earthly spirits powerless and pithless. But look, on the other hand, at the power which comes from above. Hail is of the size of a very small grain, yet when it falls on a man’s head how much annoyance it gives him! Or, again, take the drop which falls from a pitcher to the ground, and yet it hollows a stone. You see, then, that the smallest things coming from above have great power when they fall upon the earth. Thus also is the Divine Spirit, which comes from above, powerful. Trust, then, that Spirit, but have nothing to do with the other.”

St. Hermas

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Day Of the Last Judgement! ( St. John Maximovitch )

The DAY OF the Last Judgement! That day no one knows -- only God the Father knows -- but its signs are given in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse of the holy Apostle John the Theologian. Revelation speaks of the events at the end of the world and of the Last Judgement primarily in images and in a veiled manner. However, the Holy Fathers have explained these images, and there is an authentic Church tradition that speaks clearly concerning the signs of the approach of the end, and concerning the Last Judgement. Before the end of life on earth there will be agitation, wars, civil war, hunger, earthquakes... Men will suffer from fear, will die from expectation of calamity. There will be no life, no joy of life but a tormented state of falling away from life. Nevertheless there will be a falling away not only from life, but from faith also, and "when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (St. Luke 18:8). Men will become proud, ungrateful, rejecting Divine law. Together with the falling away from life will be a weakening of moral life. There will be an exhaustion of good and an increase of evil.

Of these times, the holy Apostle John the Theologian speaks in his God-inspired work, the Apocalypse. He says that he "was in the Spirit" when he wrote it; this means that the Holy Spirit Himself was in him, when under the form of various images, the fate of the Church and the world was opened to him, and so this is a Divine Revelation.

The Apocalypse represents the fate of the Church in the image of a woman who hides herself in the wilderness: she does not show herself in public life, as today in Russia. In public life, forces that prepare the possibility for the appearance of Antichrist will play the leading role.

Antichrist will be a man, and not the devil incarnate. "Anti" means "old," and it also signifies "in place of" or "against." Antichrist is a man who desires to be in place of Christ, to occupy His place and possess what Christ should possess. He desires to possess the attraction of Christ and authority over the whole world. Moreover, Antichrist will receive that authority before his destruction and the destruction of the world.

What is known of this man -- Antichrist? His precise ancestry is unknown: his father is completely unknown, and his mother a foul pretended virgin. He will be a Jew of the tribe of Dan. He will be very intelligent and endowed with skill in handling people. He will be fascinating and kind. The philosopher Vladimir Soloviev worked a long time at presenting the advent and person of Antichrist. He carefully made use of all material on this question, not only Patristic, but also Moslem, and he worked out a brilliant picture.

Before the advent of Antichrist, there was a preparation in the world, the possibility of his appearance. The mystery of iniquity doth already work (II Thes. 2:7). The forces preparing for his appearance fight above all against the lawful Imperial authority. The holy Apostle Paul says that Antichrist cannot be manifested until what withholdest is taken away (II Thes. 2:6-7). St. John Chrysostom explains that the "withholding one" is the lawful pious authority: such an authority fights with evil. For this reason the "mystery," already at work in the world, fights with this authority; it desires a lawless authority. When the "mystery" decisively achieves that authority, nothing will hinder the appearance of Antichrist any longer.

Fascinating, intelligent, kind, he will be merciful — he will act with mercy and goodness; but not for the sake of mercy and goodness, but for the strengthening of his own authority. When he will have strengthened it to the point where the whole world acknowledges him, then he will reveal his face.

For his capital, he will choose Jerusalem, because it was here that the Savior revealed His Divine teaching and His person. It was here that the entire world was called to the blessedness of goodness and salvation. The world did not acknowledge Christ and crucified Him in Jerusalem; whereas, the whole world will acknowledge the Antichrist’s authority and Jerusalem will become the capital of the world.

Having attained the pinnacle of authority, Antichrist will demand the acknowledgement that he has attained what no earthly power had ever attained or could attain and then demand the worship of himself as a higher being, as a god.

V. Soloviev describes the character of his activity well, as "Supreme Ruler." He will do what is pleasing to all -- on the condition of being recognized as Supreme Authority. He will allow the Church to exist, permit her Divine services, promise to build magnificent churches…. on the condition, that all recognize him as "Supreme Being" and worship him. Antichrist will have a personal hatred for Christ; he will see Him as a rival and look upon Him as a personal enemy. He will live by this hatred and rejoice in men's apostasy from Christ.

Under Antichrist, there will be an immense falling away from the faith. Many bishops will change in faith and in justification will point to the brilliant situation of the Church. The search for compromise will be the characteristic disposition of men. Straight-forwardness of confession will disappear. Men will cleverly justify their fall, and gracious evil will support such a general disposition. There will be the habit of apostasy from truth and the sweetness of compromise and sin in men.

Antichrist will allow men everything, as long as they "fall down and worship him"; and the whole world will submit to him. Then there will appear the two righteous men, who will fearlessly preach the faith and accuse Antichrist. According to Church tradition, they are the two Prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah and Enoch, who did not taste of death, but will taste it now for three days, and in three days they must rise. Their death will call forth the great rejoicing of Antichrist and his servants. Their resurrection will plunge them into great confusion and terror. Then, the end of the world will come.

The Apostle Peter said that the first world was made out of water — an image of the primordial chaos, and perished by water — in the Flood. Now the world is reserved unto fire. The earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up (II Peter 3:5-7, 10). All the elements will ignite. This present world will perish in a single instant. In an instant all will be changed.

Moreover, the Sign of the Son of God, the Sign of the Cross, will appear. The whole world, having willingly submitted to Antichrist, will weep. Everything is finished forever: Antichrist killed, the end of his kingdom of warfare with Christ, the end, and one is held accountable; one must answer to the true God.

"The end of the world" signifies not the annihilation of the world, but its transformation. Everything will be transformed suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye. The dead will rise in new bodies: their own, but renewed, just as the Savior rose in His own body and traces of wounds from the nails and spear were on it, yet it possessed new faculties, and in this sense it was a new body. It is not clear whether this new body will be the same as Adam was made, or whether it will be an entirely new body.

Afterward, the Lord will appear in glory on the clouds. Trumpets will sound, loud, with power! They will sound in the soul and conscience! All will become clear to the human conscience. The Prophet Daniel, speaking of the Last Judgement, relates how the Ancient of Days, the Judge sits on His throne, and before Him is a fiery stream (Daniel 7:9-10). Fire is a purifying element; it burns sin. Woe to a man if sin has become a part of his nature: then the fire will burn the man, himself.

This fire will be kindled within man: seeing the Cross, some will rejoice, but others will fall into confusion, terror and despair. Thus, men will be divided instantly. The very state of a man's soul casts him to one side or the other, to right or to left.

The more consciously and persistently man strives toward God in his life, the greater will be his joy when he hears: "Come unto Me, ye blessed." Conversely: the same words will call the fire of horror and torture to those who did not desire Him, who fled and fought or blasphemed Him during their lifetime!

The Last Judgement knows of no witnesses or written protocols! Everything is inscribed in the souls of men and these records, these "books," are opened at the Judgement. Everything becomes clear to all and to oneself.

Moreover, some will go to joy, while others — to horror.

When "the books are opened," it will become clear that the roots of all vices lie in the human soul. Here is a drunkard or a lecher: when the body has died, some may think that sin is dead too. No! There was an inclination to sin in the soul, and that sin was sweet to the soul, and if the soul has not repented and has not freed itself of the sin, it will come to the Last Judgement with the same desire for sin. It will never satisfy that desire and in that soul there will be the suffering of hatred. It will accuse everyone and everything in its tortured condition; it will hate everyone and everything. "There will be gnashing of teeth" of powerless malice and the unquenchable fire of hatred.

A "fiery Gehenna" — such is the inner fire. "There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Such is the state of hell.

St. John Maximovitch