Friday, November 15, 2019

On Spiritual Struggle by Elder Porphyrios


What makes a person holy is love, the adoration of Christ

When Christ enters our soul, everything within us will be altered

Man is a mystery. We carry within us an age-old inheritance – all the good and precious experience of the prophets, the saints, the martyrs, the apostles and above all of our Lord Jesus Christ; but we also carry within us the inheritance of the evil that exists in the world from Adam until the present. All this is within us, instincts and everything, and all demand satisfaction. If we don’t satisfy them, they will take revenge at some time, unless, that is, we divert them elsewhere, to something higher, to God.

That is why we must die to our ancestral humanity and enrobe ourselves in the new humanity. This is what we confess in the sacrament of baptism. With baptism we enter into the joy of Christ. As many as are baptized in Christ, have put on Christ (Gal. 2:27). Confession is a second baptism in which we are purified of our passions, in which our passions are benumbed. Thus divine grace comes through the sacraments.

The Lord said to His disciples, ‘When the Holy Spirit will come, it will teach you all things’ (Cf. John 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us everything. It sanctifies us. It assimilates us to God. When we have the Spirit of God, we become incapable of all sin, incapable of sinning. When we have the Holy Spirit, we cannot do evil. We cannot be filled with anger or hate or speak evil.

We must become filled, replete with the Holy Spirit. This is where the essence of spiritual life lies. This is an art – the art of arts. Let us open our arms and throw ourselves into Christ’s embrace. When Christ comes, we will have gained everything. Christ will alter everything within us. He will bring peace, joy, humility, love, prayer and the uplifting of our soul. The grace of Christ will renew us. If we turn to Him with intense longing and desire, with devotion and love, Christ will give us everything.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Discourse on the Nativity of Christ by Saint Gregory the Miracle-Worker


Brethren, we behold now a great and wondrous mystery. Shepherds with cries of joy come forth as messengers to the sons of mankind, not on their hilly pastures with their flocks conversing and not in the field with their sheep frolicking, but rather in the city of David Bethlehem spiritual songs exclaiming. In the highest sing Angels, proclaiming hymns Archangelic; the heavenly Cherubim and Seraphim sing out praises to the glory of God: "Holy, Holy, Holy…" Together all do celebrate this joyous feast, beholding God upon the earth, and mankind of earth amidst the heavens.

By Divine providence the far distant are uplifted to the highest, and the highest, through the love of God for mankind, have bent down to the far distant, wherefore the MostHigh, through His humility, "is exalted through humility." On this day of great festivity Bethlehem hath become like unto heaven, taking place amidst the glittering stars are Angels singing glory, and taking the place of the visible sun—is the indefinable and immeasurable Sun of Truth, having made all things that do exist. But who would dare investigate so great a mystery? "Wherein God doth wish it, therein the order of nature is overturned", and laws cannot impede. And so, of that which was impossible for mankind to undertake, God did aspire and did descend, making for the salvation of mankind, since in the will of God this is life for all mankind.

On the present joyous day God hath come to be born; on this great day of arrival God is become That Which He was not: being God, He hath become Man, so to speak as though removed from Divinity (though His Divine Nature be not divested of); in being made Man, He hath remained God. Wherefore, though He grew and flourished, it however was not thus as it were by human power to attain to Divinity nor by any human ability to be made God; but rather as the Word, by miraculous sufferance, wherein He was incarnated and manifest not being transformed, not being made something other, not deprived of that Divine Nature which He possessed previously. In Judea the new King is born; but this new and wondrous nativity which pagan Gentiles have come to believe, the Jew have eschewed. The Pharisees comprehended incorrectly the Law and the prophets. That which therein was contradictory for them, they explained away mistakenly. Herod too strove to learn of this new birth, full of mystery, yet Herod did this not to reverence the new-born King, but to kill Him.

That One, Who did forsake the Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, and all the constant and luminous spirits—He alone having come a new path, does issue forth from an inviolate of seed virginal womb. The Creator of all comes to enlighten the world, indeed not leaving His angels orphaned, and He appears also as Man, come forth from God.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Stages of Spiritual Perfection


Christ said: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). This means that the Christian, by the grace of God, should continually ascend the steps of spiritual perfection.

By the stages of perfection we certainly do not mean certain fixed points, certain stages in time and place. It is a matter of how the grace of God works in people. God’s uncreated grace is active in the whole of creation and in man. When the grace of God cleanses someone, it is called ‘purifying’ grace, when it illumines it is called ‘illuminating’, and when it glorifies him it is called ‘glorifying’.

We see this in Holy Scripture when it speaks of man’s purification: “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). There is a characteristic passage which shows the stages of spiritual perfection in St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians: “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). The phrase “you were washed” refers to purification, “you were sanctified” refers to illumination, and “you were justified” refers to glorification.

Christ is the Light and all who are united with Him receive Light and are radiant. Christ said to His Disciples: “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14) and “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

The Holy Fathers move in this context. St Dionysios the Areopagite speaks about purification, illumination and perfection. St Maximos the Confessor talks continuously about practical philosophy, natural theoria and mystical theology. St Symeon the New Theologian writes Practical and Theological Chapters. St Gregory Palamas refers to natural, theological, moral and practical chapters, and so on.

Friday, September 27, 2019

On Using Time Wisely by Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov


"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven" (Ecc. 3:1)

The holy apostle Paul, warning us not to spend time in vain, lawfully instructs us to use each minute of our life wisely: “See then, – he says, – that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” In talking about “redeeming the time” the apostle makes us aware that time is used to purchase true blessings, just as money is used to acquire all that we need for physical life, and that, consequently, the proper use of time is very similar to the use of money in good hands. A wise master does not spend foolishly, totals up his assets properly, and assigns a special purpose to each sum of money. We should handle time in a like manner: assign hours and minutes for one or another good purpose; redeem each day by doing good deeds for ourselves or others; each year pass as many steps on the way to spiritual perfection as there are days in a year, and not waste a single hour needlessly, doing nothing, and least of all in using it for sinful deeds.

The day usually begins with our awakening from sleep. How should we look upon the moment of awakening? Just as we would look upon the moment of being born into the world or upon resurrection from the dead, because there is a great similarity between awakening from sleep and being born. When we are asleep, it is as though we do not exist. When we wake up from sleep, it is as though we are being born anew, we are coming alive, we are being resurrected.

The time immediately following sleep should, first of all, be spent in prayer. Each morning brings us the pious joy of glorifying God for the Creator’s having allowed us yet again to see His world, so beautifully designed for us. In beginning the day we are beginning a new life, and in life there are so many grounds for temptation and sin that a weak person absolutely cannot do without the help of God, which is acquired only through prayer. And secondly, time should be spent in reading the word of God: it is the book of life, it contains everything we need to know, to do, to hope for. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, it is God’s letter or epistle to mankind. Whoever does not nourish his soul with this celestial gift – starves his soul.

Afterwards comes the time for activity, time for work. Everyone has his own duties, his own affairs, his own job, his own diverse needs. But whatever they may be, there is one cardinal rule for all of them: “Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is,” i.e. at the beginning of each deed ask your-self whether or not it conforms to the will of God.

How should we spend the time of leisure or rest? In fulfilling the following words of the apostle’s instruction: “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to your-selves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” That is, if you like to read in your free time – read that which reveals to you the wisdom of God. Do you like to go out in society? Do so, but keep to pious discussion, wise conversation, good counsels and discourses. Do you like singing and music? Do sing, but particularly those songs which contain the outpourings of pure and lofty souls. Worldly songs can sometimes corrupt the soul by glorifying passions, vices, and human folly.

In other words, do what you always do, but in reverse: exchange the sensual for the spiritual, the body for the soul, the secular for the religious.

By Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov

Friday, August 23, 2019

Love Above All


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

Let me give you an example. There was a monk who had two disciples. He tried very hard to bring them up to scratch and make them better. But he was worried about whether they were really making any progress in the spiritual life, if they were making headway, and if they were ready for the kingdom of God. He waited for a sign from God about this, but didn’t get an answer. One day, there was going to be a vigil in another skete that was a good few hours away from theirs. They’d have to make their way through the desert. He sent his disciples off early, so that they’d get there early and get the church ready, while the Elder himself was to leave later in the afternoon. The disciples were well on their way when suddenly they heard groaning. There was a man there, badly hurt and asking for help;

– Take me with you, please. Ι’m stuck out here in the desert. Nobody ever comes by. I’ll never get any help. There’s two of you. Pick me up and carry me to the nearest village.
– We can’t. We’re in a hurry to get to the vigil. We’ve been told to get it ready.
– Please! Take me with you. If you don’t, I’ll die and get eaten by wild animals.
– We can’t. Sorry, but we have to do what we’ve been told.
And they left. In the afternoon, the Elder left for the vigil. He went along the same path. He got to the place where the injured man was lying. He saw him, went up to him and said:
– What’s the matter, man of God? What is it? How long have you been here? Didn’t anybody see you?
– This morning a couple of monks came by and I asked them to help me, but they were in a hurry to get to a vigil.
– I’ll take you. Don’t worry.
– You can’t. You’re an old man. You can’t lift me. No way!
– No, I’ll take you. I can’t leave you.
– But you can’t lift me’
– I’ll bend over and lift you on top of me. It’ll take time, but I’ll get to the nearest village. A little bit today, a little bit tomorrow, but I’ll get you there.
So he lifted him, difficult though it was, and started to trudge through the sand. He was sweating freely and thought: ‘Even if it takes three days, I’ll get there’. As he was tramping along, he began to feel that the burden was becoming lighter, and then, at one point, he seemed not to be carrying anything at all. He turned his head to see what was going on and, to his amazement, saw he was carrying an angel. The angel said to him:
– God sent me to tell you that your two disciples don’t deserve to enter the kingdom of God, because they don’t have any love.

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

About the Great and Small Supplication (Paraklesis) Services to the Theotokos


There are two forms of the Paraklesis (Supplication) Canon to the Theotokos (Mother of God), The Small Paraklesis which was composed by Theosteriktos the Monk in the 9th century (or some say Theophanes), and The Great Paraklesis. During the majority of the year, only the Small Paraklesis to the Theotokos is chanted. However, during the Dormition Fast (Koimisis Nesteia) (August 1-14), the Typikon prescribes that the Small and Great Paraklesis (Supplication) be chanted on alternate evenings, according to the following regulations:

  • If August 1st falls on a Monday through Friday, the cycle begins with the Small Paraklesis (Supplication), if August 1st falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the cycle begins with the Great Paraklesis (Supplication).
  • On the eves of Sunday (i.e., Saturday nights) and on the eve of the Transfiguration (Metamorphosis) (the night of August 5th the Paraklesis (Supplication) is omitted.
  • On the Sunday nights, the Great Paraklesis is always used unless it is the eve of Transfiguration (Metamorphosis).

In the Russian Orthodox Church, the equivalent of a Paraklesis (Supplication) is because the faithful gather to supplicate the Theotokos to intercede on their behalf to her Son and Our God for our salvation and for the relief of anything that burdens and ails us. They are the prayers of suffering and hurting children addressed to their compassionate Mother, who is their only hope, protectress, and surety in time of need.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

What Has the Feast of Pascha Left in Our Souls?


And so, the Feast of Feasts has passed by us: and the Royal Gates in the Lord’s temples are shut; and the service is no longer as triumphant as it was during Bright Week. What, then, brethren, has this feast left in our souls? Christian holidays, you see, do not pass before us, one after another, just to leave our souls idle, but in order to discharge us from the cares and affairs of life’s concerns; to put it another way: the Lord provides us with holidays in order that we might temporarily put aside thinking about, concerning ourselves with, rejoicing at, grieving over, that which is worldly, earthly, quick to pass; but, instead, that we might meditate upon, concern ourselves with, rejoice at, that which is heavenly and eternal. It was precisely for this reason, as well, that the holiday just past was given us.

The Lord made us worthy of beholding the all-radiant feast of Christ’s Resurrection in order that we might descry in it the first-fruits of the universal resurrection of all mankind in that last day of the world: Christ rose from the dead, being the first-fruits of those who had died (Cor. 15, 20), says the Word of God. It was for us, you see, that the Lord suffered, died, was buried, and arose: and His death, burial and resurrection is, as it were, our own death, burial and resurrection. It is for this reason that we sang during Mattins of Bright Week: yesterday was I interred with Thee, O Christ; conjointly with Thee do I rise today (Pasch. Can. Ode 3, Trop. 2). Yes, we all of us, invariably, shall rise up; and we all look for, i.e., await, the resurrection of the dead. This is as certain as it is certain that there will be a day tomorrow. Has this ever entered your heads; have you given any thought to this during the holiday? Yet it was necessary to think upon this, without fail. All the great holidays of the Church,—and the Feast of Pascha, in particular,—remind us of our redemption, through Jesus Christ, from the age to come.