Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Theotokos and the Paraclitic Canon (Paraklesis)

Our Most Holy Lady, the Ever-Virgin Mary is a wonder and mystery which not even the angels can understand: “Heaven was astonished and the ends of the earth amazed, for God appeared bodily to mankind, and your bosom became broader than the heavens. Therefore, Mother of God, the leaders of the orders of angels and of men magnify you”, writes the poet of the Paraclitic Canon. She is, as Gregory the Theologian says, “God after God”. Of course, the Fathers also refer to her position elsewhere, clarifying it: “Let Mary be held in honour. Let the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be worshipped, but let no-one worship Mary” (Saint Epifanios).

Regarding the genealogy of Our Lady, we’re told in the Gospel according to Saint Luke that she was “of the house of David”. The protoevangelium, as it is called, of James, the Brother of the Lord, tells us that the priest Matthan married a Mary and she bore four children: Jacob, who was father to Joseph, the betrothed of Our Lady, Salome the midwife, Sobe, who bore Elizabeth the Mother of John the Baptist and Ann who gave birth to Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the God/Man.

She was given the name Mary by her parents Ioakeim and Ann, but the name she mainly goes by in Orthodoxy is Mother of God. This term was ratified at the 3rd Ecumenical Synod of the Church in 431. But in order to express its great love and respect towards the Virgin, the Church has attributed to her a host of honorific titles and epithets. A typical example is Saint Nektarios, who devoted five thousand verses to her honour, comprising his “Theotokario” (also known as "Agne Parthene").

From the Gospels in the New Testament we learn that the Daughter of Nazareth received her Annunciation from the Archangel Gabriel; visited her cousin Elizabeth; who was already pregnant with the Honourable Forerunner, John the Baptist; gave birth to the Saviour of the world in Bethlehem; fled to Egypt to protect her child from those seeking to kill Him; sought her twelve-year-old Son in Jerusalem, while He was debating with the teachers in the Temple; was present at the wedding in Cana, where she interceded with her Son; accompanied Him to Golgotha and witnessed the divine events of the Crucifixion, the burial and the glorious Resurrection of the Lord and then the descent of the Holy Spirit which occurred in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Baptism and Priesthood of Non-Orthodox Sects by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

The following words of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite are not innovative, but rather, are a expression of the teaching of the entire Church throughout all ages and localities.

The baptism administered by heretics and schismatics is unacceptable, and they ought to be baptized when they return to the Orthodoxy of the Catholic Church*. The reasons are as follows:

1st) Because there is but one baptism, and because this is to be found only in the catholic Church. Heretics and schismatics, on the other hand, being outside of the catholic Church, have, in consequence, not even the one baptism.

2nd) The water used in baptism must first be purified and be sanctified by means of prayers of the priests, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit; afterwards it can purify and sanctify the person being baptized therein. But heretics and schismatics are neither priests, being in fact rather sacrilegists; neither clean and pure, being in fact impure and unclean; neither holy, as not having any Holy Spirit. So neither have they any baptism.

3rd) Through baptism in the catholic Church there is given a remission of sins. But through the baptism administered by heretics and schismatics, inasmuch as it is outside of the Church, how can any remission of sins be given?

4th) The person being baptized must, after he is baptized be anointed with the myrrh prepared from olive oil and various spices, which has been sanctified by visitation of the Holy Spirit. But how can a heretic sanctify any such myrrh when as a matter of fact he has no Holy Spirit because of his being separated from there on account of heresy and schism?

5th) The priest must pray to God for the salvation of the one being baptized. But how can a heretic or a schismatic be listened to by God when, as we have said, he is a sacrilegist and a sinner (not so much on account of his works, but rather on account of the heresy or schism, these being the greatest sin of all sins), at a time when the Bible says that God does not listen to sinners.

6th) Because the baptism administered by heretics and schismatics cannot be acceptable to God as baptism, since they are enemies and foes with God (i.e. mutually), and are called anti-Christs by John.

*Catholic Church in this text refers to the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church which is also called the Orthodox Church.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Homily on the Transfiguration of Christ by St. Gregory Palamas

For an explanation of the present Feast and understanding of its truth, it is necessary for us to turn to the very start of today’s reading from the Gospel: “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1).

First of all we must ask, from whence does the Evangelist Matthew begin to reckon with six days? From what sort of day be it? What does the preceding turn of speech indicate, where the Savior, in teaching His disciples, said to them: “For the Son of Man shall come with his angels in the glory of His Father,” and further: “Amen I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death, until they have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Mt 16:27-28)? That is to say, it is the Light of His own forthcoming Transfiguration which He terms the Glory of His Father and of His Kingdom.

The Evangelist Luke points this out and reveals this more clearly saying: “Now it came to pass about eight days after these words, that He took Peter and John and James, and went up the mountain to pray. And as He prayed, His countenance was altered, and His raiment became a radiant white” (Lk 9:28-29). But how can the two be reconciled, when one of them speaks definitively about the interval of time as being eight days between the sayings and the manifestation, whereas the other (says): “after six days?”

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Swearing Is Unbecoming for the Orthodox Christian

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).

Swearing is a wrong and inappropriate behaviour for a Christian, since, among other things, it is an expression of anger and often abusive of others, language unfitting for persons growing in Christ. The Third Commandment prohibits us from the “vain” use of God’s name: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. It is the purposeless and idle use of the Holy name of God which makes it such a disrespectful thing. Another aspect of this improper use of God’s name is to use it in an oath, by which we seek to verify the truth of our words by invoking God’s name or the names of saints or holy things. This is also rejected by Christ (see Matthew 5:34-36; 23:16-21). Remember and keep in mind that swearing is neither fitting nor appropriate language for persons who seek to serve God.

Swearing cannot be spiritually justified. Who does not know the second commandment God gave to Moses: "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7)? This is affirmed by St. Mark who quoted Jesus responding the question about what commandment is the greatest: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12: 28-31). Finally St Paul exhorted us: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:28-30).

Avoiding any engagement in swearing is essentially a restraint against offence of the neighbor thereby affirming the Christian commandment to love the neighbor.

Blasphemy is a form of swearing that is considered to be a very serious sin where words are used to curse God. Saint Nikitas Stithatos wrote about the spiritual dangers:
Blasphemy is a frightful passion, difficult to combat, for its origin lies in the arrogant mind of Satan ... we must guard the senses with great diligence, and reverence all the awe-inspiring mysteries of God, the holy images and holy words, and watch out for the attacks of this spirit. ... when we are inattentive it discharges through our lips curses against ourselves and strange blasphemies against God the Most High (Philokalia IV).
Cursing is another form of spiritual swearing that occurs when the heart is set completely against a person and words are used with the intent of bringing the fire of hell upon them. Cursing is a very serious offense. The writer of the book of Proverbs wrote: "If one curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness" (Proverbs 20:20). The book of Ecclesiastes warned both the curser and the one being cursed: "Do not give heed to all the things that men say, lest you hear your servant cursing you; your heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others. All this I have tested by wisdom; I said, 'I will be wise; but it was far from me" (Ecclesiastes 7:21-23).

Saint Paul reminded his readers of the depravity of heart that cursing reveals: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one ... Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive ... The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness" (Romans 3:10-14).

The prohibition against cursing is so strong that Evagrius the Solitary said: "Try not to pray against anyone [cursing] in your prayer, so that you do not destroy what you are building, and make your prayer loathsome" (Philokalia I).

Saint Nikitas Stithatos pointed out how to overcome blasphemy and cursing: "Then concentrating our thoughts, we should at once occupy our intellect with some other matter, either divine or human, and with tears raise it towards God; and so with God's assistance we will be relieved of the burden of blasphemy" (Philokalia IV).

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Why Does God Allow the Existence of Evil?

Many people wonder: “How is it that God, the Benevolent, the Omnipotent, Who is Love - allows evil to exist?”

If one does not think this question through, it can often lead to a denial of God’s existence. “If God knows everything, foresees everything and yet allows evil to exist, then He is either not Benevolent, or not Omnipotent!” Thus say those who doubt… And the logical conclusion follows: “If God is not Benevolent or not Omnipotent, then He cannot be God, or, in other words, there is no God.”

Such doubts and such atheism are sometimes inherent to serious and honest people as, for example, the French writer Albert Camus. But even deep believers such as Dostoyevsky are also beset by doubts before they reach the final stage of absolute belief.

These doubts are based either upon a lack of knowledge of the basic truths of the Christian faith, or upon an inability - or more often an unwillingness - to accept the Truth.

From ancient times to our own days the Church Fathers and many other Christian writers have provided us with conclusive answers to these doubts. The answer is quite simple, but it is not enough to understand it and remember it, one must likewise experience it, because supreme truths are revealed not only to the mind, but also to the heart.

The Church teaches that, naturally, God is benevolent, that God is omnipotent, but that His omnipotence is the omnipotence of love, because God is Love. For this reason God has not created evil and one may even say that He could never have created it.

According to the teaching of the Church, evil appeared only because God made His highest creations - angels and men - in His image and likeness, i.e. beings who are totally free and can thus even follow a path not planned by God.

God is Love first and foremost, and man embodies the image of God, i.e. becomes most like Him, when he loves, when his capacity for love grows. But is it possible to love not freely, but out of necessity or constraint? Of course not! Love can only be given freely; consequently, it must be said that love is the true incarnation, manifestation or realization of freedom.

It is for this reason that God has created angels and men as free beings. He has created them for Love, in order that they may share in that rapture of mutual love in which He Himself, the Triune God, dwells.

But, as it was said, freedom presupposes the risk of making the wrong choice, the risk of deviating from the true path and, unfortunately, this wrong choice was made by some of the angels and by the first people, which gave rise to evil.

It is impossible to explain why this treacherous choice was made. Each creation, having been made by the All-wise God, is filled with deep substance and can be described. Evil, however, has not been created by God, and thus in itself it lacks substance, it is nonsense that is hard to explain. The Holy Fathers teach that evil, not having been created by God, does not exist in reality.

Evil is a phantom, a vice, an illness, a negative value, a minus, but a minus which can dominate by force. This force is like the force of a parasite, (and evil is a parasite), it lives only by means of the organism on which it feeds. The power of evil lies only in its acceptance by the will of a free being that has been created by God. Evil can exist on earth only while the will of man inclines towards evil, and this situation shall continue until man freely returns to the only true path of a voluntary and loving acceptance of God’s benevolent will.

God naturally foresaw that angels and men could make the wrong choice; moreover, He knew that the wrong choice would be made, and He pre-eternally (speaking in human terms) “took measures” to correct man’s terrible mistake. In accordance with His boundless love, God responds to all man’s mistakes, all man’s evil, all man’s suffering with Self-sacrifice. He takes all the mistakes, all the evil, all the suffering upon Himself, as though He - innocent of all evil - is to blame for it.

Man turns away from love, strays from the path of love, but God always remains Love and only Love. The meaning of the Lord’s sacrifice is that it gives mankind the opportunity to once again choose the right path. God does not wish to and even “cannot” save mankind by force. He only calls us and encourages us, but in Jesus Christ God now calls men to Himself in a totally new way. Now the fullness of divine love has been revealed to us (Christians), the curtain has fallen and in the Lord’s sacrifice divine love has revealed itself fully, while His glorious Resurrection has revealed the all-victorious power of this love. It is only left to us to partake of this divine love: “O taste and see how good is the Lord.”

Such is the teaching of the Church on evil and escape from evil, and this is how St. John of Kronstadt, one of the last righteous ones in the Russian land, comments on the matter: “The Creator is accused - why did God not create us in such a manner that we would not fall into evil? Should He rather not be considered more benevolent for having given us this gift (freedom), disregarding our ingratitude? And has He not indeed proven His boundless love in granting us freedom, when after our fall He sent His Only-begotten Son to us and gave Him unto suffering and death for us?” Evil has obviously no positive basis and there could not be and should not be any justification for it, but since it exists, God wishes to turn it to good use, and for this reason temporarily allows its existence. St. John says the following about this: “If you do not experience the actions of the evil spirit upon yourself, you will never know or truly value the bounties bestowed upon you by the benevolent Spirit; if you do not learn to recognize the spirit who kills, - you will not recognize the Spirit Who gives life…”

Archimandrite Alexander (Semenov Tian-Shansky)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Abortion: The Finishing Blow by Elder Ephraim of Arizona

My beloved children,

Today, our earth is constantly being saturated with torrents of blood from wars and various other events. It is also saturated, however, with blood that is more innocent than that of Abel’s: the blood of executed infants. It is the blood of innocent babies—these defenseless children—, which is spilt by their very own mothers.

Clinics and obstetricians’ offices have become the “new” slaughterhouses of Herod. Millions upon millions of babies throughout the entire world have been thrown into garbage cans and septic tanks. People don’t even dispose of cats in this way! As we have seen in a startling video documentary, the doctor, obstetrician, and murderer initially kills the child within the mother’s womb using a scalpel. Then with a special instrument, he proceeds to crush the infant’s delicate head, and, finally, removes it. The mother, of course, witnesses none of this and very peacefully departs for her home.

A few days ago, I came across an article written by a physician, and I would like to read it to you, as I think it will help you to understand what abortion is from a practical and scientific point of view. The title of the article is: “The Finishing Blow.” I will read you the original text.

“As the daily media informs us, there will be a vote. In particular, a vote on what will be the most villainous bill ever to pass through the Greek Parliament. At a time when the Greek nation is on the verge of extinction, this decision will serve as the ultimate finishing blow. Unfortunately, this crime is becoming legal. Before, however, members of the parliament approve the aforementioned legislation, we wish to make the following two recommendations:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Fasting as Medicine by Saint John Chrysostom

Fasting is a medicine. But medicine, as beneficial as it is, becomes useless because of the inexperience of the user. He has to know the appropriate time that the medicine should be taken and the right amount of medicine and the condition of the body which is to take it, the weather conditions and the season of the year and the appropriate diet of the sick and many other things. If any of these things are overlooked, the medicine will do more harm than good. So, if one who is going to heal the body needs so much accuracy, when we care for the soul and are concerned about healing it from bad thoughts, it is necessary to examine and observe everything with every possible detail.

Fasting is the change of every part of our life, because the sacrifice of the fast is not the abstinence but the distancing from sins. Therefore, whoever limits the fast to the deprivation of food, he is the one who, in reality, abhors and ridicules the fast. Are you fasting? Show me your fast with your works. Which works? If you see someone who is poor, show him mercy. If you see an enemy, reconcile with him. If you see a friend who is becoming successful, do not be jealous of him! If you see a beautiful woman on the street, pass her by. 

In other words, not only should the mouth fast, but the eyes and the legs and the arms and all the other parts of the body should fast as well. Let the hands fast, remaining clean from stealing and greediness. Let the legs fast, avoiding roads which lead to sinful sights. Let the eyes fast by not fixing themselves on beautiful faces and by not observing the beauty of others. You are not eating meat, are you? You should not eat debauchery with your eyes as well. Let your hearing also fast. The fast of hearing is not to accept bad talk against others and sly defamations.

Let the mouth fast from disgraceful and abusive words, because, what gain is there when, on the one hand we avoid eating chicken and fish and, on the other, we chew-up and consume our brothers? He who condemns and blasphemes is as if he has eaten brotherly meat, as if he has bitten into the flesh of his fellow man. It is because of this that Paul frightened us, saying: "If you chew up and consume one another be careful that you do not annihilate yourselves."

You did not thrust your teeth into the flesh (of your neighbor) but you thrusted bad talk in his soul; you wounded it by spreading disfame, causing unestimatable damage both to yourself, to him, and to many others.

If you cannot go without eating all day because of an ailment of the body, beloved one, no logical man will be able to criticize you for that. Besides, we have a Lord who is meek and loving (philanthropic) and who does not ask for anything beyond our power. Because he neither requires the abstinence from foods, neither that the fast take place for the simple sake of fasting, neither is its aim that we remain with empty stomachs, but that we fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual things, having distanced ourselves from secular things. If we regulated our life with a sober mind and directed all of our interest toward spiritual things, and if we ate as much as we needed to satisfy our necessary needs and offered our entire lives to good works, we would not have any need of the help rendered by the fast. But because human nature is indifferent and gives itself over mostly to comforts and gratifications, for this reason the philanthropic Lord, like a loving and caring father, devised the therapy of the fast for us, so that our gratifications would be completely stopped and that our worldly cares be transferred to spiritual works. So, if there are some who have gathered here and who are hindered by somatic ailments and cannot remain without food, I advise them to nullify the somatic ailment and not to deprive themselves from this spiritual teaching, but to care for it even more.

For there exist, there really exist, ways which are even more important than abstinence from food which can open the gates which lead to God with boldness. He, therefore, who eats and cannot fast, let him display richer almsgiving, let him pray more, let him have a more intense desire to hear divine words. In this, our somatic illness is not a hindrance. Let him become reconciled with his enemies, let him distance from his soul every resentment. If he wants to accomplish these things, then he has done the true fast, which is what the Lord asks of us more than anything else. It is for this reason that he asks us to abstain from food, in order to place the flesh in subjection to the fulfillment of his commandments, whereby curbing its impetuousness. But if we are not about to offer to ourselves the help rendered by the fast because of bodily illness and at the same time display greater indifference, we will see ourselves in an unusual exaggerated way. For if the fast does not help us when all the aforementioned accomplishments are missing so much is the case when we display greater indifference because we cannot even use the medicine of fasting. Since you have learned these things from us, I pardon you, those who can, fast and you yourselves increase your acuteness and praiseworthy desire as much as possible.

To the brothers, though, who cannot fast because of bodily illness, encourage them not to abandon this spiritual word, teaching them and passing on to them all the things we say here, showing them that he who eats and drinks with moderation is not unworthy to hear these things but he who is indifferent and slack. You should tell them the bold and daring saying that "he who eats for the glory of the Lord eats and he who does not eat for the glory of the Lord does not eat and pleases God." For he who fasts pleases God because he has the strength to endure the fatigue of the fast and he that eats also pleases God because nothing of this sort can harm the salvation of his soul, as long as he does not want it to. Because our philanthropic God showed us so many ways by which we can, if we desire, take part in God's power that it is impossible to mention them all.

We have said enough about those who are missing, being that we want to eliminate them from the excuse of shame. For they should not be ashamed because food does not bring on shame but the act of some wrongdoing. Sin is a great shame. If we commit it not only should we feel ashamed but we should cover ourselves exactly the same way those who are wounded do. Even then we should not forsake ourselves but rush to confession and thanksgiving. We have such a Lord who asks nothing of us but to confess our sins, after the commitment of a sin which was due to our indifference, and to stop at that point and not to fall into the same one again. If we eat with moderation we should never be ashamed, because the Creator gave us such a body which cannot be supported in any other way except by receiving food. Let us only stop excessive food because that attributes a great deal to the health and well-being of the body.

Let us therefore in every way cast off every destructive madness so that we may gain the goods which have been promised to us in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Abridged from St. John Chrysostom homilies "On Fasting"