Thursday, September 24, 2020

Saint Ephraim the Syrian on Love

Rightly did the Lord say, ‘My burden is light’. For what sort of weight is it, what sort of toil is it to forgive one’s brother his offences, which are light and of no importance, and to be pardoned for one’s own, and immediately justified? He did not say, ‘Bring me money, or calves, or goats, or fasting, or vigils’, so that you could say, ‘I have none, I cannot’, but he ordered you to bring what is light and easy and immediate, saying, ‘Pardon your brother his offences, and I will pardon yours. You pardon small faults, a few halfpennies, or three pennies, while I give you the ten thousand talents. You only pardon without giving anything, I nevertheless both grant you pardon and give you healing and the Kingdom. And I accept your gift, when you are reconciled to the one who is your enemy, when you have enmity against no one, when the sun does not go down on your anger. When you have peace and love for all, then your prayer is acceptable, and your offering well-pleasing, and your house blessed and you blessed. But if you are not reconciled with your brother, how can you seek pardon from me? You trample on my words, and do you demand pardon? I, your Master, demand, and you pay no attention, and do you, a slave, dare to offer me prayer, or sacrifice, or first fruits, while you have enmity against someone? Just as you turn your face from your brother, so I too turn my eyes from your gift and your prayer.’

Again I entreat you, brethren, since God is love, he is not well-pleased by things that take place without love. How would God accept prayer, or gifts, or first fruits, or offering from a murderer, unless they first repented in accordance with God’s word? But you will no doubt say to me, ‘I am not a murderer.’ And I will prove to you that you are, or rather John the Theologian will convict you, when he says, ‘Every one who hates their brother is a homicide.’

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Holy Theotokos – Image of an Ideal Woman

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Lack of Faith and God’s Providence

None of our own attempts and efforts can save us without the help of God, but neither can God’s help be beneficial to us without our own wish for it. No other subject was brought up by the Lord to His disciples so frequently as lack of faith. He warned everyone against lack of faith not only by His words, but also by the multitude of events which amazingly proved the power of faith and the powerlessness of mistrust or doubt in God’s protection and salvation from danger. Lack of faith comes in different forms: some people have little faith in God because He does not punish His enemies; others doubt they would be able to entreat God to grant them their desires, especially when their conscience bothers them with the thought that God will not forgive them their sins; still others fear that God will deprive them of all earthly goods and subsistence. This triple manifestation of lack of faith estranges many people from God and immerses them in various forms of perdition.

The source of our lack of faith is our excessive conceit, i.e. when we think more of ourselves than of God, rely more on our own powers than on God’s help. What is the reason for God allowing the destruction of such a great number of people, who are injured or killed through sorcery? It is not surprising: lack of faith has become so widespread among the people that it merits punishment. Many do not look for other doctors except sorcerers (extrasensorists), nor other pharmaceuticals except deviltry. God justly punishes us by the same means that we use to sin against Him. As our faith and hope in God increase, so increase His mercy and benevolence to us. But woe unto us, that there are so few of us who believe in God with all their heart! If we analyze human customs and habits, we will see that in all places and at all times lack of faith becomes prominent and widespread, which gives rise to empty and false fears. People often fear a shortage of food supplies; sometimes they fear that they will lack necessary items during an illness; at times they fall into despair over ever-growing rumors of war. All of this occurs because they have an erroneous and doubtful understanding of God’s benevolence and His omnipotent strength: this is also the cause of our mind’s poor and sad concern over temporal things, as opposed to a concern for achieving a blessed eternal life.

God’s Providence manifests itself with the greatest wisdom: not every transgression is normally punished straightaway; however, neither is it left totally unpunished. If God never punished vileness, many people would think that there is no Providence. On the other hand, if every transgression were immediately followed by punishment, it would then be thought that there is no reward or punishment after death. Therefore God, by punishing only some people, reveals His Providence; by not punishing others directly after their transgressions, He threatens them with punishment directly after death, in the next life, if they do not repent in this life. Everything is done by God with great wisdom and forethought.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Acquire the Love of Paul and You’ll Have a Perfect Crown

(Saint John Chrysostom: In Praise of the Holy Apostle Paul, III)

Demonstrating the power of human will and the fact that we can fly even to the heavens themselves, leaving the angels and archangels and the other powers, Saint Paul urges believers to become imitators of Christ, sometimes through him (“Become imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”) and sometimes without him (“Therefore become imitators of God, like beloved children.”).

Then, in order to show that nothing befits this imitation so much as living for the common good and looking out for what is useful for each other he adds: “Behave with love”. This is why, when he said “Become imitators of me”, he immediately speaks of love, demonstrating that it is principally this virtue that brings people closer to God, because all the other virtues are certainly inferior to it and all revolve around the human person: the struggle against desire, the war against gluttony, the fight against avarice, the battle against anger. This is why Christ says: “Pray for those who bother you, so that you may be like your Father Who is in heaven”.

So because Paul knew that this was the most important of the virtues, he applied it with great care. Nobody loved their enemies as he did; nobody did so much good to those who envied them; nobody suffered so much for those who had grieved them. He didn’t look at what they were suffering, he saw them as human beings and the more furious they became, the more he forgave their rage. And in the same way as parents treat a child in a tantrum (because the more a child speaks badly and lashes out, the more the parents feel sorry for it), so Paul, thinking about the illness of those who were acting in this way towards him, was stimulated towards ever greater care.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Selected Miracles of St Haralambos the Blessed Hieromartyr

A modern miracle took place in the small Peloponnesian town of Filiatra in 1943, during the dark days of the occupation of Greece by the Germans. This miracle has moved and continues to move, to this today, not only the people of Filiatra but also the people of all Greece.

From the German Headquarters in Tripoli, orders were issued to Officer Kondau, in charge in Filiatra, to burn the town, because of a sabotage that the rebels had instigated. The Commander was ordered to kill a certain number of notable Filiatrians, to take as prisoners the 1,500 other citizens, and to send them to Germany, after which it is was obvious they would never return.

Officer Kondau, feeling no pity, in turn, gave the orders to his soldiers to follow through with implementing the destruction, on the following day at 6:00 in the morning.

In Tripoli, the priest, Archimandrite Theodore Kotsakis, who was originally from Filiatra, learned of this plan. Grief and worry overcame everyone; no one knew what to do to save Filiatra and its people. So, the priest Theodore found someone who knew German, and together they went to the house of the German Officer in Tripoli. But while they waited outside his office, loud voices, cursing and a great upheaval were heard. A Greek woman pulled on the priest’s cassock, urging him to leave, so that they might not be killed there, right on the spot!

Thereby, upon leaving, the Priest notified all the people from Filiatra who were living in Tripoli, to pray that night to Saint Haralambos, who was Patron Saint of Filiatra, asking him to intercede for the town and its people. Then the Priest Theodore closed himself in his room and prayed with much pain and sorrow. And the citizens of Filiatra did the same, as they had caught wind of something going on, themselves.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Christ’s Descent Into the Tenebrous Realms of Death

The service has already given us all the grace and joy, the perfection of the meaning of the Holy Days. We’ve been able to proceed liturgically, together with the Lord, from the garden at Gethsemane to the dread Golgotha and as far as the life-bearing and life-receiving Tomb, the alien tomb, in which He spent three days. I note this, the alien tomb, because the Lord came ‘to his home and his own kin did not receive him’, He came ‘to his own’ and ‘his own’ wouldn’t open the door to Him, so He remained, perforce, a stranger. A stranger to the world He’d created. Α stranger to his special, beloved people. A stranger till His death, when there wasn’t a single grave anywhere to receive Him, but that of the righteous Joseph of Arimathea, which welcomed Him.

Today the Lord has descended into the repositories of Hades. Saint Peter says he descended there ‘in order to preach to the spirits in prison’. He descended into the dour kingdom of death, the sombre reaches where there’s never a smile, to seek ‘all Adam’s kin’, the whole of humankind, from Adam and Eve down to those who had just died at that moment.

He descended into Hell and illumined it; and with His presence Hell became Paradise. The departed spirits of the righteous, who had been thirsting for His presence, with longing and with the desire for redemption, life, light and joy, leapt and rejoiced.

As much as the devil was embittered, together with his kingdom, at receiving within it the presence of the Victor of life, so much and more did the spirits of the departed Saints and Righteous rejoice, delight and exult, and they hastened to receive the life-giving embrace from Him Who descended into the depths of Hell to save the human race. And after Christ’s resurrection, ‘many bodies of the departed’ Saints arose and went into the holy city of Jerusalem and appeared to many. This means that God permitted a partial resurrection, not of all people but of some of the recently departed. In other words, people who had died a little while, a few years previously and who were still remembered by those who knew them. They may have died 20 years previously, but there still would have been people who remembered that Isaiah, that Jacob, that Zachariah, that Esther as a next-door neighbor, or as a friend, a grandfather, an uncle, a mother, father, or elder brother. They were easily recognized and God permitted this great miracle so as not to leave the slightest margin for doubt, not only regarding His own Resurrection, but of the general resurrection of all the dead.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Division and Content of the 24 Verses of the Akathistos Hymn

The Service of the Akathistos Hymn is sung at Mattins on the Saturday of the fifth week of Lent or in the evening of Friday of that week, attached to the service of Small Compline. It is sung in full on these days, but in parts on the four Fridays of Lent before then, “as a pre-festal and post-festal” feature. This is because there are elements of the Feast of the Annunciation which are not celebrated because of the “mourning” and compunction of Great Lent.

If we examine the Service of the Akathistos Hymn for its content, we see that the individual parts of which it consists (the canon of the Mother of God and the 24 verses of the Salutations to the Mother of God) are of a glad and cheerful nature, projecting a sense of joy with the repetition of the word “rejoice” [connected in Greek with the word for joy, rather as “rejoice” is in English] and the phrases “Rejoice, you who are full of grace”, “Rejoice, Bride Unwedded”, which recall the salutation of the Archangel as recorded in the Gospel according to Saint Luke: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you” (1, 28). They also highlight the unique role of the Mother of God in the Divine Dispensation and in the salvation of the human race.

The canon of the Service of the Akathistos Hymn, “I shall open my mouth”, which includes many of the troparia also found in the canon for Mattins on the feast of the Annunciation, is a poem by Iosif the Hymnographer [feast day April 3]; while the irmi (the first tropario in each ode) were written by Saint John the Damascan.

Both hymnographers focus on four main points:
  1. the prefigurations of Christ and the Mother of God in the Old Testament,
  2. the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ,
  3. the personality and role of Our Most Holy Lady, the Mother of God in the completion of the plan of God’s dispensation, and
  4. the salvation of the world, in Christ.
The twenty-four verses of the Akathistos Hymn form an acrostic, that is to say they are written with the first letter of each verse in the same order as in the Greek alphabet. This acrostic is evidence of the overall integrity of the hymn but, alas, reveals nothing about the poet, whose identity remains a mystery to this day.

The verses are divided into two large units, each with two sub-units. In the first, the hymn-writer attempts to present the historical revelation of God, while in the second he aims to describe Christology and soteriology.