Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Saint Isaac the Syrian on Fasting

The man who during his whole life loves the conversation of this yoke-mate fasting is a friend of chastity. Just as the satisfaction of the belly is the source of all evils, and as the slackness of sleep kindles the lust of fornication, so fasting, vigil, and wakefulness in God’s service by withstanding the sweetness of sleep through crucifying the body throughout the day and night, are God’s holy pathway and the foundation of every virtue. Fasting is the champion of every virtue, the beginning of the struggle, the crown of the abstinent, the beauty of virginity and sanctity, the resplendence of chastity, the commencement of the path of Christianity, the mother of prayer, the well-spring of sobriety and prudence, the teacher of stillness, and the precursor of all good works. Just as the enjoyment of light is coupled with healthy eyes, so desire for prayer accompanies fasting that is practiced with discernment.

When a man begins to fast, he straightway yearns in his mind to enter into converse with God. For the body that fasts cannot endure to sleep upon its pallet all the night through. Fasting naturally incites wakefulness unto God, not only during the day, but also at night. For the empty body of a faster is not greatly wearied by the battle against sleep. And even if his senses are weakened, his mind is wakeful unto God in prayer. It is better for a man to desist from his liturgy because of weakness due to fasting, than because of sloth due to eating.

When the seal of fasting is set upon a man’s lips, his thought reflects with compunction, his heart pours forth prayer, gloom lies upon his countenance, shameful thoughts are far removed from him, cheer cannot be detected in his eyes, and he is an enemy of lusts and vain conversations. No one has ever seen a discerning faster enslaved by evil desires. Fasting with discernment is a spacious mansion for every good thing; but he who neglects fasting makes every good totter. For fasting was the commandment that was given to our nature in the beginning to protect it with respect to the tasting of food, and in this point the progenitor of our substance fell. There, however, where the first defeat was suffered, the ascetic strugglers make their beginning in the fear of God as they start to keep His laws.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Children and Obedience by Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Obedience constructs and self-will destructs. A child has to learn to be obedient to its parents and to God. It’ll remember the words of its parents all its life and will always respect its elders, and not only those but people who are younger, too. It’ll be polite and careful with everyone. Unfortunately, there are very few families who bring their children up in this way. 

The spirits of evil provide a distraction in the minds of our children and they try to upset them. Children have to be taught obedience, especially before they’re five years old because it’s at this age that their characters are formed. So the traces of the way their characters have been shaped will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Parents should teach their children total obedience at this time of their lives. When one of the parents says something, the response should be: “Whatever you say”. Today, unfortunately, parents don’t know this and teach their children exactly the opposite. But then they’re bringing them up.

If parents say, “Stay here” then the child should stay where it’s been told to. But the child’s a child; it can’t stay still in one place. What usually happens is that the parents smack the child for its disobedience. This isn’t a good way to teach a child obedience. It may be that, sometimes, such a reaction is necessary, but it should be performed with love and the child should feel this love. Parents should never smack their children in anger. Because if you start chastising someone when you’re angry, you’ll get nowhere. You’ll damage the person in front of you and yourself, as well. If you want to set someone on the right road, you should teach them and advise them. You should first humble yourself and speak to them with a great deal of love. They’ll accept your advice if it’s given with love. But if you want your own will to be imposed at all costs, you won’t achieve anything at all. That’s what makes children react badly. When a child is disobedient, the answer isn’t to smack it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Deliverer by Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk

The very incarnation of the Son of God and His coming into the world strongly encourages sinners to repentance. For whose sake did Christ come into the world? For the sake of sinners. To what end? For the sake of their salvation. O how dear to God was our salvation! He Himself came into the world, O sinners, for the sake of our salvation. 

Listen, sinners, and understand! God Himself came into the world for the sake of our salvation, and He came in our image. O truly great is the mystery of piety! God appeared in the flesh. "Lord, what is man, that Thou art made known unto him? Or the son of man, that Thou takest account of him?" (LXX-Ps. 143:3 [KJV-Ps. 144:3]).

Truly wonderful is the grace of God toward man, wonderful also is this work of His. Foreseeing this the prophet cried out to Him with fear and terror, "Lord, I have heard Thy report, and I was afraid; O Lord, I considered Thy works, and I was amazed" (Abbac. 3:1-2). Sinners, let us call to mind this great work of God, which He wrought for our sake, and let us repent. Let us remember how for our sake He was born of a Virgin and became a child, and was nourished on His mother's milk. The Invisible became manifest, and He that was without beginning had a beginning, and He that was intangible became tangible and was wrapped as an infant in swaddling bands: "And the Word was made flesh" (Jn. 1:14).

Let us recall how while yet a child He fled from the murderers of Herod the King. Let us recall how He lived on earth and was a stranger, how He went from place to place, and labored for the sake of our salvation. Let us recall how He Who is unapproachable to the Cherubim and Seraphim kept company with sinners; How He who has Heaven as His throne and the earth as the footstool of His feet and Who abides in light unapproachable, had nowhere to lay His head; How He who was rich became poor, that by His poverty we may become rich.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Purification of the Heart by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi

Our entire life is preoccupied with the spiritual law. This is the reason why we have withdrawn from the world and have forsaken family life, which itself is not something sinful. We have abandoned these in order to express our love towards the Lord in a unique way, obeying the first commandment precisely. Having been called by the Lord, we have followed Him in order to obey this commandment. We withdrew from society and denied our family to follow the proper, or rather the undisturbed way, preoccupying ourselves with inwardness and paying attention to the meanings of things. 

In this way, we hope to be able not only to win over practical sin but also to eliminate it as soon as it appears. That is, not only not to commit a sin in practice but also to deny any mental association with it. In this way we are able to attaint to our Lord’s beatitude: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Matthew 5, ). Our Jesus has also told us that ‘what comes from outside into the heart does not defile man’. What defiles him is what comes out from the inside of his heart ‘For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies’ (Matthew 15, 19). These are the things which overflow from the heart and constitute the widespread wickedness.

Thus the freedom of man’s personality has been disgraced; the former gentile, created ‘in the image and likeness of God’ became wicked and corrupted. Since we are also part of this sick condition, we withdrew from the world for this reason. When we are talking about ‘the world’ we do not mean ‘people. ‘The world’ is the entire system of the former self, which according to Paul is ‘passions and desires’. According to John the Evangelist ‘the world’ is ‘the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes’, foolishness and generally speaking ‘vain glory’.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Saint Gregory Palamas: The Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple

If a tree is known by its fruit, and a good tree bears good fruit (Mt. 7:17; Lk. 6:44), then is not the Mother of Goodness Itself, She who bore the Eternal Beauty, incomparably more excellent than every good, whether in this world or the world above? Therefore, the coeternal and identical Image of goodness, Preeternal, transcending all being, He Who is the preexisting and good Word of the Father, moved by His unutterable love for mankind and compassion for us, put on our image, that He might reclaim for Himself our nature which had been dragged down to uttermost Hades, so as to renew this corrupted nature and raise it to the heights of Heaven. For this purpose, He had to assume a flesh that was both new and ours, that He might refashion us from out of ourselves. Now He finds a Handmaiden perfectly suited to these needs, the supplier of Her own unsullied nature, the Ever-Virgin now hymned by us, and Whose miraculous Entrance into the Temple, into the Holy of Holies, we now celebrate. God predestined Her before the ages for the salvation and reclaiming of our kind. She was chosen, not just from the crowd, but from the ranks of the chosen of all ages, renowned for piety and understanding, and for their God-pleasing words and deeds.

In the beginning, there was one who rose up against us: the author of evil, the serpent, who dragged us into the abyss. Many reasons impelled him to rise up against us, and there are many ways by which he enslaved our nature: envy, rivalry, hatred, injustice, treachery, slyness, etc. In addition to all this,he also has within him the power of bringing death, which he himself engendered, being the first to fall away from true life.

The author of evil was jealous of Adam, when he saw him being led from earth to Heaven, from which he was justly cast down. Filled with envy, he pounced upon Adam with a terrible ferocity, and even wished to clothe him with the garb of death.Envy is not only the begetter of hatred, but also of murder, which this truly man-hating serpent brought about in us. For he wanted to be master over the earth-born for the ruin of that which was created in the image and likeness of God. Since he was not bold enough to make a face to face attack, he resorted to cunning and deceit. This truly terrible and malicious plotter pretended to be a friend and useful adviser by assuming the physical form of a serpent, and stealthily took their position. By his God-opposing advice,he instills in man his own death-bearing power, like a venomous poison.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Homily: On Perfect Love

We read in Saint Paul’s writings that “there now abideth faith, hope, love, these three things; but the greatest of these is love [1 Cor. 13:13].” Saint Chrysostom asks, “How then is love the greater? In that those pass on.” Saint Paul had perfect love for God in accordance with what he wrote. Love is the greatest gift in the Church and at the same time the most important of the Gospel commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second is like this: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these [Mk. 12:30, 31].”

The first human failure, transgression of the commandment, was the making the choice not to love and obey God. Since all the commandments are summed up in these words: “If ye love Me, keep My commandments [Jn. 14:15].” And, “These things I command you, that ye be loving one another [Jn. 15:17].” Saint Chrysostom remarks, “We need everywhere both works and practises, not a mere show of words…God requires that love which is shown by works. For this cause He was saying to His disciples, ‘If ye love Me, ye will keep My commandments.’ For after He said to them, ‘If ye should ask anything in My name, I will do it,’ that they might not think it was so simply on the strength of asking, He added, ‘If ye love Me,’ ‘then,’ He says, ‘I will do it.’”

Therefore, love for God and neighbor are interdependent and mutually beneficial. Saint Maximos writes: “Love for every man must be preferred above all visible things. This is the sign of our love for God, as the Lord himself shows in the Gospels…Do you see that this love for one another makes firm the love for God, which is the fulfilling of every commandment of God?”

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Saint Nektarios: The Wonderworker of Pentapolis

Our Holy Father Nektarios was born on 1 October 1846 at Selymbria in Thrace. His parents, Dimos and Maria Kephalas, were pious Christians but not rich in this world’s goods. Their son was baptized Anastasios and, from infancy, showed great piety and love for study. When his mother taught him Psalm 50, he liked to repeat the verse: I shall teach thy ways unto the wicked and sinners shall be converted unto thee. After finishing elementary school, he was sent by his parents to Constantinople to continue his education, at the same time as working in a shop. The boy did not become entangled in worldly cares but fixed his mind entirely upon building up the inner man in the image of Christ by prayer and meditation on the writings of the holy Fathers. When he was twenty, he left Constantinople for a teaching post on the island of Chios. The young people and villagers where he taught were encouraged to live in piety and virtue by his words and above all by the example of his ascetic, prayerful life. 

On November 7, 1876, he became a monk in the famous Monastery of Nea Moni, for he had long desired to embrace the Aesthetic life. Seeking only those things which are above, he was beloved by all the brethren as the very pattern of gentleness and obedience and was ordained deacon after one year. Thanks to the generosity of a pious islander and to the protection of Patriarch Sophronius of Alexandria, he was able to complete his studies in Athens and to obtain the diploma of the Faculty of Theology. In 1885, he arrived in Alexandria where he was soon ordained a priest, then consecrated Metropolitan of Pentapolis (an ancient diocese in Cyrenaica, in what is now Libya). He was appointed preacher and secretary to the Patriarch, whose representative he became in Cairo, where he had charge of the Church of Saint Nicholas.