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.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Elder Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia on Child Development


Education, says Elder Porphyrios, lasts throughout life (lifelong education) and starts from fetal life, and constantly evolving. The most important educations and upbringing is the one held by the family.

According to Elder Porphyrios, the family is the first physical means of upbringing and educating people. In the first five years of human life the family with all functions – visible and hidden, conscious and unconscious – helps on shaping the personality. The child and the adolescent observe the family roles played by parents. Children often identify themselves with the roles of parents. Sometimes, however, the children reject their parents and adopt a reactive behavior. This is obvious especially in dysfunctional families.

Elder Porphyrios teaches that the core of the personality of young people is organized in the framework of the dynamic relationships in the family. Elder Porhpyrios in all the cases that came to him for confession, he studied their background of their intra-familial and marital relationships. What makes good children, says Elder Porphyrios, is the virtuous lives of parents at home. Parents should love God. Parents, according to Elder Porphyrios, should become ‘saints’, ‘holy’ near their children and have gentleness, patience and love. They should be always available for their children, with enthusiasm and love for them. Then, with the grace of God, and their ‘holiness’ they will transfer their good and virtuous feelings to their children.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Concerning the Resurrection by St. John of Damascus


We believe also in the resurrection of the dead. For there will be in truth, there will be, a resurrection of the dead, and by resurrection we mean resurrection of bodies. For resurrection is the second state of that which has fallen. For the souls are immortal, and hence how can they rise again? For if they define death as the separation of soul and body, resurrection surely is the re-union of soul and body, and the second state of the living creature that has suffered dissolution and downfall. It is, then, this very body, which is corruptible and liable to dissolution, that will rise again incorruptible. For He, who made it in the beginning of the sand of the earth, does not lack the power to raise it up again after it has been dissolved again and returned to the earth from which it was taken, in accordance with the reversal of the Creator’s judgment.

For if there is no resurrection, let us eat and drink: let us pursue a life of pleasure and enjoyment. If there is no resurrection, wherein do we  differ from the irrational brutes? If there is no resurrection, let us hold the wild beasts of the field happy who have a life free from sorrow. If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves. For observe how we see most righteous men suffering hunger and injustice and receiving no help in the present life, while sinners and unrighteous men abound in riches and every delight. And who in his senses would take this for the work of a righteous judgment or a wise providence? There must be, therefore, there must be, a resurrection. For God is just and is the rewarder of those who submit patiently to Him. Wherefore if it is the soul alone that engages in the contests of virtue, it is also the soul alone that will receive the crown. And if it were the soul alone that revels in pleasures, it would also be the soul alone that would be justly punished. But since the soul does not pursue either virtue or vice separate from the body, both together will obtain that which is their just due.

Nay, the divine Scripture bears witness that there will be a resurrection of the body. God in truth says to Moses after the flood, Even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, for his blood his own shall be shed, for in the image of God made I man. How will He require the blood of man at the hand of every beast, unless because the bodies of dead men will rise again? For not for man will the beasts die.